Quotation from Susan Sontag’s The Pornographic Imagination

by suu4leaf

In daily life, to be sure, we may acknowledge a moral obligation to inhibit such states of consciousness in ourselves. The obligation seems pragmatically sound, not only to maintain social order in the widest sense but to allow the individual to establish and maintain a humane contact with other persons (though that contact can be renounced, for shorter or longer periods). It’s well known that when people venture into the far reaches of consciousness, they do so at the peril of their sanity, that is, of their humanity. But the “human scale” or humanistic standard proper to ordinary life seems misplaced when applied to art. It oversimplifies. If within the last century art conceived as an autonomous activity has come to be invested with an unprecedented stature — the nearest thing to a sacramental human activity acknowledged by secular society — it is because one of the tasks art has assumed is making forays into and taking up positions on the frontiers of consciousness (often very dangerous to the artist as a person) and reporting back what’s there. Being a free-lance explorer of spiritual dangers, the artist gains a certain license to behave differently from other people; matching the singularity of his vocation, he may be decked out with a suitably eccentric life style, or he may not. His job is inventing trophies of his experiences — objects and gestures that fascinate and enthrall, not merely (as prescribed by older notions of the artist) edify or entertain. His principal means of fascinating is to advance one step further in the dialectic of outrage. He seeks to make his work repulsive, obscure, inaccessible; in short, to give what is, or seems to be, not wanted. But however fierce may be the outrages the artist penetrates upon his audience, his credentials and spiritual authority ultimately depend on the audience’s sense (whether something known or inferred) of the outrages he commits upon himself. The exemplary modern artist is a broker in madness.

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