The years between the death of Nietzche (& Queen Victoria) & 1914 constitute a dawn of Modernism that never happened into day. Instead it was smashed to nihil by the one long war (1914 – 1989) of the ghastly XXth Century. The liberté libre of trends like Symbolism, Expressionism, anarchism / socialism, lebensreform, Cosmicism etc. turned into the cynicism of dada, the fascism of Futurism & so on. Hope seemed dead.
L. Broadmoor III (who circa 1975 first turned me on to the idea of “living in 1911″) wanted to be an ordinary person in rural America (but with decayed millionaires as neighbors, hence his choice of Dutchess Co.) – he read only books published in or before 1911 that were truly popular at the time, such as novels with happy endings by long-forgotten lady novelists. In the 1970s you could buy old books like that for 25¢ a pound, yellowing & crumbling. Many by now must’ve disappeared completely.
I understand this “taste” or rather discipline as that of the spiritual dandy: an impenetrable cool of exotic ordinariness & secret impeccability. In effect one’s life becomes one’s art – completely. I could never aspire to such bodhisattvahood: fundamentally I’m simply not that serious. In fact neither was Broadmoor: he gave up 1911 & went into Reichean therapy. But still I take 1911 as a kind of metaphor or ideal double for my art, & to a certain extent my life as well. I’ve lived for 20 years now with no TV or other people’s cars – I pay people to use the internet for me (to buy books!) – & so on. I just don’t want to own the fucking things. I admire the Anabaptists for refusing electricity & infernal combustion in their homes. But you need communitas to live in that manner. You need place.
Even reading & writing is contaminated with Civilization’s technopathologies. Oral / aural culture would constitute the Luddite ideal. But as an isolated individual & lifelong print addict I can’t give up books – that necessary poison – like certain drugs… “Life in 1911″ requires books just as it might ideally include cheap & legal laudanum or tincture of Indian hemp.
Charles Fourier praised the Pigeon Post. It seemed quite modern in 1830, “utterly modern” as Rimbaud would say. In 1911 we’re allowed telegraph & even telephone, but our hearts still go into writing & receiving letters – handwritten, private, mysteriously brought to yr very door by unseen hand for only pennies per message, the money having been transformed into beautiful stamps. None of these pleasures are afforded by electromagnetic CommTech, which eliminates everything (including privacy) except text & image.
Imagine perfumed letters sealed with red wax & heraldic imagery, letters like Prince Genji used to write, or Proust, who could send little blue notes by pneumatic post anywhere in Paris. Think of mail-order degrees in Rosicrucianism. Yes, the POST – under the sign of Hermes – is sheer magic.
If only I could find a working mimeograph machine (or even better a roneograph, the kind that printed only in purple) (they had one in my high school in the 1950s) I’d certainly publish these manifestos on it. At least I can still use a manual typewriter, another surrealist-looking machine we enjoy here in “1911.”
June 14 2011