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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Sontag: Silence

The scene changes to an empty room.

Rimbaud has gone to Abyssinia to make his fortune in the slave trade. Wittgenstein has first chosen schoolteaching, then menial work as a hospital orderly. Duchamp has turned to chess. And, accompanying these exemplary renunciations of a vocation, each man has declared that he considers his previous achievements in poetry. philosophy, or art as trifling, of no importance.

But the choice of permanent silence doesn’t negate their work. On the contrary, it imparts retroactively an added power and authority to what was broken off; disavowal of the work becoming a new source of its validity, a certificate of unchallengeable seriousness. That seriousness consists in not regarding art (or philosophy practiced as an art form: Wittgenstein) as something whose seriousness lasts forever, an “end,” a permanent vehicle for spiritual ambition. The truly serious attitude is one that regards art as a “means” to something that can perhaps be achieved only by abandoning art; judged more impatiently, art is a false way or (the word of the Dada artist Jacques Vaché) a stupidity.

From The Aesthetics of Silence, (1969) by Susan Sontag; the whole essay reprinted in Aspen: The Minimalism Issue.

One Response to “Sontag: Silence”

  1. J. C. says:

    What a great writer she was, thanks a lot for this.