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[Nettime-bold] Aphorisms on Satire, Feb. 11 2001, by FS
Nmherman on 15 Feb 2001 07:31:41 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Aphorisms on Satire, Feb. 11 2001, by FS

Aphorisms on Satire, Despair, and the Social Role
of the Artist

Hope has two lovely daughters: Anger and Courage
St. Augustine 

Preface: It is a little known fact that the Seven Muses had an eighth sister, 
named Satire. She fancied long fur robes and high riding boots made from 
human skin, a tiara and scepter made from bones. She was known to have 
voracious appetites and to be capricious and playfully cruel. Yet, all that 
knew her praised her fundamental decency and generosity. And in an age of 
socially manufactured despair, satire becomes the artist's true Mother--wise 
and fiercely beloved.  

The artist must strive to always think poetically, to transform all sensory 
perception into moments of shimmering luminosity. The artist must be willing 
to suffer reality in all of its forms. He or she never blinks before the 
truth. The artist must be willing to see truth, must be willing to name it, 
no matter who is damned in the process. But the artist must also 
fundamentally refuse despair. The social role of the artist is to remind us 
that joy, and not despair, should be the fundamental reality of human 

The artist must live primarily outdoors and among other people. He or she 
retreats into private rooms only when it becomes necessary for the work. Even 
the poet of the middle class knows in his soul that a wall is an abomination.

The artist never accepts an invitation to the royal court. If the artist 
enters the royal court at all, it is only to cause disruptions or perhaps to 
spy. A hint from an old veteran: Espionage is best carried out in the most 
humble of disguises. When the artists accepts a more prestigious role, he or 
she compromises all ability for poetic thought. The artist never agrees to be 
celebrated. It goes without saying: If the ruling class wants to reward an 
artist, clearly the artist has done something fundamentally dishonest, has 
abandoned poetic thought. 

Every human being is biologically hardwired to think poetically. It is the 
birthright of every human being to revel in the sensory experience of reality 
and to communicate this joy to other people. But the manufacture of despair 
by the ruling class has led to a widespread breakdown in this natural human 
ability. Thus the artist is a kind of First and Last Human. Through some 
miracle, he or she has retained the natural human ability to think 
poetically. Therefore, he or she contains the seeds of Universal Salvation. 
The artist's social role is to remind humanity that it's most natural mental 
condition is to think poetically. This will never be accomplished by toadying 
to, and identifying with, the ruling class.

The artist is often accused of making things sound "too simple." The artist's 
response to this is a casual shrug and a smile. When you think poetically, 
nothing is ever simple. But then, too, when you think poetically, everything 
is simple.

The ruling class has always recognized the fundamental social role of the 
artist, and so they have made no small effort to combat it. At times the 
artist has faced real physical danger, the point of a bayonet, the barrel of 
a rifle. But more often, the ruling class is subtle and cold: lonely 
obscurity for most, and soft, comfortable chains to enslave the very few: 
grants and prizes, even tenure. It takes a special discipline to be an 
artist, to refuse the juicy table scraps of the ruling class.

The artist is biologically, historically, and socially determined. Hence, the 
artist has a fixed age, is a man or a woman, is straight or gay, is a member 
of a social class, an ethnic group, a nationality, etceteras. These are 
limitations, and the artist is humbled by them. But not too much. The artist 
thinks poetically and communicates with others who think poetically. Thus the 
artist always in some ways contains aspects of many genders, races, all 
manner of categories of biological, historical and social determination. To 
think poetically is to stand in a particular fixed spot on the social, 
cultural, biological, geographical, historical vortex and look in every 
direction at once. The artist contains multitudes.

Social injustice and despair are violent affronts to poetic thought. For this 
reason, the artist always attempts to side with the victimized and the 
oppressed. And not the victimized and the oppressed of 50 or 200 years ago, 
but the victimized and the oppressed of right now. The artist knows that 
profit is always an act of theft against another person. Profit is always an 
act of violence against the essential beauty of the world.

Clearly the artist refuses to define terms. Although perhaps pragmatically 
necessary at times, defining terms is mostly a parlor game for academics, 
policy makers and litigaters-in other words, the managerial class. The 
insistence that all discourse take place in a rational, orderly manner is the 
necessary condition for establishing soulless market-place oppression. No, 
the artist communicates in poetic language, and he or she does not worry 
about being understood. Such a concern is silly, after all, for it is the 
natural state of human existence to think and communicate poetically. 

The artist strives to be at all times a dangerous threat to the ruling class. 
A real and genuine danger. Not the lap dog that dreams of having fangs, but 
the lean and angry wolf on the hill overlooking the fortress, baying to the 
moon, calling out the rest of the pack.

 But it is true and should never be ignored: The social manufacture of 
despair has been a terrible impediment to poetic thought, making it 
impossible for most human beings to think poetically in daily life, in many 
cases creating the illusion that poetic thought has actually been destroyed. 
The artist, too, can feel overwhelmed by all the world's despair. For this 
reason, the artist must learn to employ satire and irony. Satire and irony 
are the only modes of poetic thought capable of containing the current horror 
of existence. Without satire and irony, poetic thought breaks down, leaving 
only terrified self-interest. A world where decisions are motivated only by 
shortsighted greed, a world where art is impossible. 

By employing satire and irony, the artist engages the ruling class in poetic 
warfare-a type of warfare the ruling class is entirely incapable of waging. 
The uses of satire and irony must be vicious and violent. Let the squeamish 
cower behind barricades. Being squeamish is a luxury, anyway, and one that 
very few citizens of the world can afford. For the artist, being squeamish 
means renouncing all authenticity, willingly closing the mind to poetic 
thought. In other words, it is impossible to be squeamish and an artist at 
the same time. The artist is not afraid to have his or her shirt stained with 

The highest form of satire or irony is Utopian, perhaps more commonly known 
as Socratic, satire or irony. It is satire or irony employed out of 
desperation, a dark, laughing attempt to force society onto a more tolerable 
course. The artist gets the blood running down his or her own chin and stands 
as close to the ruling class as logistics will allow, chewing with mouth open 

 The goal of all Utopian satire is to return humanity to a state of universal 
and continual poetic thought. In such a world, the artist would become 
indistinguishable from all other people. Thus, the true social role of the 
artist is to help bring about his or her own obsolescence. Likewise, the 
ultimate goal of Utopian satire is the creation of a world in which satire is 

The artist subscribes to no moral, ethical or political doctrine. But the 
artist does hold one idea sacred: Cakes and ales and kinky omni-sex for 
everybody! And the true artist always puts strongest emphasis on the word 

Many who call themselves artists fear the possibility of Utopia. They are 
happy with their current cultural status, or still optimistic about their 
chances for acquiring greater cultural status. They have managed to insulate 
themselves thoroughly from despair, even as they live among it, even as they 
invariably profit from it. Of course, these people are not really artists, 
but rather members of a priesthood, a subset of the managerial class. "House 
niggers" is a particularly vicious, offensive and above all appropriate term 
that comes quickly to mind.     

The artist has many enemies, and he or she never forgets that fact. But he or 
she never forgets a much more important fact, either, that he or she has 
many, many more friends. 

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