Where is our avant-garde?
So I'm reading With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker, a series of conversations between William Burroughs and a variety of characters — Tennessee Williams, Warhol, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and others — and I'm thinking: hey, I wanna be there, in the Bunker with Burroughs and the gang. But where, today, would I go? Where is the avant-garde? Who is our avant-garde?
Marc Lafia has argued this to me: they're in Silicon Valley. In Lafia's generous reading, the avant-garde's interest in the instrument over content reaches its apogee with the algorithm and the app. Just as Burroughs created the cut up and Oulipo — Perec, Queneau, Calvino, et al — created the productive restriction, Silicon Valley created the means of putting on the world, the instruments to create and disseminate. Who needs Warhol's factory when we have Twitter? Twitter is the ultimate tool of pop art. Everyone's famous! Everyone publishes! And everyone can put on the world (forget, for a moment, what people do with Twitter; here, the tool's the thing).
The obvious difference between Silicon Valley and Burroughs' Bunker is that one fuels the capitalist engine and one threatens it (even if there is a publishing economy, it pales rather conspicuously next to Google). Capitalism got smart and it got fast. No sooner does the specter of an avant-garde appears before it is quickly folded into the engine. Think: Vincent Gallo hocking Belvedere Vodka and posing for H&M.
Maybe I'm missing something. I will admit I am not the most plugged in guy. Perhaps there's a burgeoning avant-garde that I don't know about because, well, I'm not cool enough. And you know what? That would be just fine with me.
But I fear that is not the case. I believe the latte has displaced the syringe as acid has been replaced by Adderall — today's drugs drive productivity, not mind trips. Today's avant-garde is doing yoga and rolling in money and probably wind surfing. I ask you this: Are we healthier for it?