Didactic Elegy — Ben Lerner


Formalism is the belief that the eye does violence to the object it apprehends.
All formalisms are therefore sad.
A negative formalism acknowledges the violence intrinsic to its method.
Formalism is therefore a practice, not an essence.

For example, a syllogism subjected to a system of substitutions
allows us to apprehend the experience of logic
at logic’s expense.

Negative formalisms catalyze a certain experience of structure.
The experience of structure is sad,
but, by revealing the contingency of content,
it authorizes hope.

This is the role of the artwork—to authorize hope,
but the very condition of possibility for this hope is the impossibility of its fulfillment.
The value of hope is that it has no use value.
Hope is the saddest of formalisms.

The critic’s gaze is a polemic without object
and only seeks a surface
upon which to unfold its own internal contradictions.
Conditions permitting, a drawing might then be significant,
but only as a function of her search for significance.

It is not that the significance is mere appearance.
The significance is real but impermanent.
Indeed, the mere appearance of significance is significant.
We call it ‘politics.’


Typo — Issue Two