Speaking Art to Power

Andy Nowicki

A while ago, I wrote an article entitled “Alt Right Art,” a sort of mini-manifesto for dissident aesthetic voices who find their scope impaired by the machinations and ministrations of a dully ultra-conformist and punitively small-minded age, an age wherein the once-revolutionary Left has seized hold of nearly all established citadels of thought, its entrenched cultural commissars ruthlessly enforcing their ever more pernicious institutional “innovations” with monotonous fervor and plodding regularity, and in so doing, rendering adherence to embattled traditional mores the only possible means of rebellion, excitement, redemption, and relief.

I don’t retract a word from the text of that earlier piece, as I honestly don’t think it contains a speck of untruth. However, I now discern that, apt though “Alt Right Art” is in in diagnosing what is needful, it nevertheless lacks a sense of completion. Put simply, there is more that must be said on the subject.

It is not enough, after all, simply to buck the trends of the times. Determined and thoroughgoing defiance does show guts, of course, and this is something to be praised and admired in and of itself, to be sure. But he who would be an caroler of dissidence ought not merely assign himself the task of being as offensive as possible with his song of sublime subversion, rendering himself a mere aural nuisance or (to shift to a different metaphorical sense)  an “eyesore in the architecture.” Instead, the willingness to offend, even mortally offend, must be accompanied by an awareness that one isn’t primarily addressing himself to those of his time. Topicality must ever be tempered with patient comprehension of the arc of history. “Today is not forever,” as the saying goes; put otherwise, the temporal is not the eternal.

As grating as present preoccupations of our would-be rulers can be, their prescribed ideologies ought not vex us too greatly, because these gruesome manifestations of “totalitarian humanism” possess no intellectual heft whatsoever; they amount to little more than shoddily-constructed fortresses made of mud, which have no chance of surviving the soon-to-be incoming tide. We give our highly-placed detractors too much credit if we take them too seriously; the best response is laughter and mockery: namely, in the words of Martin Luther (famously invoked by C.S. Lewis), to “jeer and flout at the Devil, for he cannot bear scorn.”

We are, after all, not really speaking to the opinion-shapers, but more properly, past them. And a careful study of the course of human affairs will reveal that our own given dispensation is in fact not categorically different at all from past epochs. There have always been oafish oligarchs, brutal bureaucrats, putzy politicians, and cunty commissars; our times didn’t invent such specimens, nor will such creatures be removed from our sight in some ostensibly bright and shimmering future world of miracle and wonder. We are not the first to face off against the “machine” of organized authority, and we won’t be the last. Truth has always been, and ever will remain, the great enemy of power, and vice versa.

One temptation, however, must be resisted, and that is the desire to feel oneself to be a part of “something greater,” a “movement” which will eventually “prevail.” If the purpose of art is to expose and champion truth, then truth must be the artist’s only byword. Truth is never an instrument of mass movements; it only grows diluted, if it doesn’t disappear entirely, in the presence of base propaganda. Truth is not a company man, nor is it a charismatic rabble-rouser; it neither smilingly spouts bland platitudes in a 30-second PSA spot, nor does it stand on a platform and shout shrilly into a microphone before a throng of adoring worshipers. Truth is no glamour-monger; it doesn’t preen or posture, with puffed-out chest, for a photo op, nor does it sashay with verve and panache down the red carpet, drawing the awe and admiration of smitten passerby.

Truth’s features are always gritty, never glossy. One looks for it in vain among the nice, sweet, pretty, palatable things of the world. Truth is not a faction; instead, it transcends factionalism. Whoever is in charge, truth tends to be on the opposite side: this isn’t to say that it merely pitches its tent among the camp of the faction that is temporarily on the outs until the next election rolls around. Its opposition is more radical, even—one might say—total.

Indeed, truth is an exceedingly lonely, tormented figure, a “man of sorrows,” perpetually enduring the eternal recurrence of his own (eternally willed) scourging and crucifixion. Truth never “wins” on a mass scale, since its very existence is inimical to the world, yet it is forever in the habit of winning people over within the still, small space of their hearts. Truth never operates on a ramifying, exponentially imposing level, because only destructive forces—like bombs, hurricanes or riots—thrust themselves so brazenly upon the world; rather, truth is communicated via an earnest, one-on-one encounter with an open-hearted hearer. The personal nature of truth means that it only adds its adherents one at a time, which is one reason why its ranks remain so tiny; the only ones who choose it are those who are ready to weather the storms that it brings.

The artist who strives for truth in a world of lies (and any worthwhile artist would never think of doing otherwise) must thus lose any delusion of glory or phantasm of grandeur concerning his calling. He will never be feted by kings or exalted over by high-placed functionaries or otherwise ostentatiously praised for his troubles. Instead, he will remain ignored, if he is not actively frowned over, denounced, and ridiculed. Moreover, he will be ruthlessly ostracized and isolated. 

Truth, after all, exists solitarily, while power instinctively metastasizes, forever colonizing new territory before uniting with all of its minions, the better to collectively blot out that which would render it irrelevant. Truth’s most compelling trait is surely the authoritative flavor of compulsion it invariably carries, making a person feel that it cannot be refused, even though it exerts no actual force and makes absolutely no threats. This intangible quality is what renders truth powerful, even when it has no apparent semblance of what is usually reckoned to be “power,” even when it stands alone against the full fury of a mob. Power must do its best to separate and thus contain truth; this is why power spares no expense at using its nearly unlimited resources to dissuade people from the opting for the trappings of truth and convincing them instead to dwell within the good graces of those with power.

The artist who makes truth his ally thus renders himself a solitary figure, alienated from his age, cast adrift from the fellowship of his fellow man. Not everyone is cut out for such a life, to be sure. The true artist must be boldly disposed, sternly-built, and temperamentally self-contained, with enough desperado swagger to scorn the feckless herd and their unscrupulous handlers, yet at the same time he must be possessed of the requisite humility to serve his true Master, even unto death.

Andy Nowicki, assistant editor of Alternative Right, is the author of eight books, including Under the NihilThe Columbine PilgrimConsidering Suicide, and Beauty and the Least. Visit his Soundcloud page and his YouTube channel. His author page is Alt Right Novelist.