Unnurtured elsewhere, the New Aestheticist writer must perforce be a great and wide reader, taking heart from, for instance, classical Chinese poetry, Willa Cather, and van Gogh’s letters, such as the one where he complains of his contemporaries that “they do not admire enough.” Fortunately, the New Aestheticist cares little for self-expression, for his or her own special individual specialness. They are just as happy to see beauty in another’s work as to make it themselves. They tend to be translators. They do not fear accusations of plagiarism. They look backward, and outward. Some names to conjure with: Peter Handke. Alvaro Mutis. Anne Carson. Their books tend to be short, their long books in sections. In the movies: Kusturica’s Underground, Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I and Cleo from 5 to 7, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. Only rarely does New Aestheticist art take on political topics, and even more rarely does it have a discernible message. For all its implicit timelessness, New Aestheticism will no doubt one day be seen as a reaction to its age and therefore part of it, like the Chinese literati in dark times who turned away from a corrupt court to tend to their gardens. Whom has all our genocide testimony helped? Has deconstructing the bourgeois subject of linear narrative served any purpose but to construct an escapist ghetto for intellectuals who might otherwise have been among the best minds of their generation? And then of course there’s the Bush years. But hear how shrill this all sounds. The New Aesthete would rather be beautiful than shrill. “I don’t know why literary people spend so much time apologizing for their perfectly harmless little books that no one will ever read. You don’t hear generals apologizing for killing people” (Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet). If you write interesting sentences then people will want to read them if not then not, that is the truth.
more from Damion Searls at the Quarterly Conversation here.