The churn of human movement is the one thing that no one mentions when you move to the city and join the creative classes.
Partly this is because most people in the arts are themselves caught in the whirling currents. And partly this is because no one likes admitting that being a member of the creative classes isn’t that much different than working any other stupid job.
There used to be some unique benefits (weird sex, hard drugs, bodacious living) but these were actualized out when Republicans realized they too could declare, publicly, their love of fucking and shooting smack.
Now the only differences between the creative classes and everyone else are worse pay and the perpetual threat of being ostracized by your political allies when you use stale jargon to describe the marginalized.
As you age, you develop the ability to comprehend the churn. You understand the tides. You realize that in, say, New York, every four years are marked by an actual, measurable cycle.
There is always an incoming class of actresses, actors, writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, video and performance artists. They are always replacing an outgoing class of actresses, actors, writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, video and performance artists.
And these departed aren’t clueless aspirants. The clueless last twelve calendar months before failing back into the American Middle West’s warm obscurity, doomed to walk an uncertain term while insisting that Chicago is a major city and Detroit-style poverty can make wooden artists into real boys.
The ones who last the full four years are, generally, those with some small measure of success. Group show, stories or poems in literary journal, stint as understudy, some commercial bookings, maybe a novel. Alas, this turns out unsustainable. And so they disappear.
Sometimes you find yourself in an East Village bar, years after you have left the city, talking to an actress who is saying things that are indistinguishable from things another actress said to you four years earlier and indistinguishable from things another other actress said to you eight years before.
And you see yourself hovering above, like it’s 1918 and you’re a peasant in Portugal and you’ve been struck with influenza and your fever has generated a dissociative state.
Your consciousness is attached to your body through a transparent silver tendril and you can see the pointlessness of it all, all the striving, all of the imaginary pretense of making your mark, of generating a point of view, of becoming one of the benighted idiots who believe that they too can achieve something measurably different from all the hundreds of thousands who’ve gone before.
But it’s the Twenty-First Century. Even if you do join the 0.00001% who make it last, all that’s waiting is an apartment decorated in ersatz mid-century modern, airkisses in Topher Grace’s house above Sunset, being told by John Green how awesome it is to be awesome with awesome people who are also awesome :), pretending that Steve Aoki is a talent rather than the guy you see in the Vitamin aisle at Erewhon. All that’s waiting are dinner parties where you must overlook the fact that some of the other guests are the children of war criminals. All that’s waiting are those doleful moments when you read Salman Rushdie’s tweets whilst being frigged sans mercy like the heroine from a piece of minor Victorian erotica.
It’s 2014. You were born too late. Every city looks the same. There’s nothing left to buy. Your money is worthless. Your success sucks cess.
It is this mood which animates Lodovico Pignatti Morano’s Nicola, Milan, published last month by Semiotext(e).
Morano’s anonymous narrator works in some vague capacity as a lower cog of the creative classes. He follows a man named Nicola around Milan.
Nicola, in his thirties, appears in possession of himself and his position in the world. Nicola is a higher level cog of the creative classes.
You have seen him in every European city upon which your holy foot has trod. You have watched him watching Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards projected on a wall at The Standard’s rooftop pool party. You have imagined his sex life and felt pity for his dates. You imagine him bumming for nylons in the American zone. You apprehend the man but never know him. He is a blank cipher about whom Morano’s protagonist and you are doomed to wonder: Who the fuck is this guy? How the fuck does he live? How the fuck do any of these people live?
In the same state as everyone else, hairless apes driven by the banality of evolutionary impulse disguised as bodily functions. In the same state as everyone else, titillated by behavior that exists either in accord or in conflict with the dictates of an imaginary civilization.
Personality is the illusory quirk of consciousness attached to base meat by transparent silver tendrils.
The protagonist finds Nicola in bars, at parties, at home. The protagonist imagines Nicola’s travels and travails. The protagonist reads a woman’s blog about her sexual affair with someone whom he presumes is Nicola. The protagonist attempts to piece together the jigsaw monster. The pieces fit but reveal no image. There is little more to Nicola than a slightly embarrassing man sewing symbolism into his clothing and forever threatening to write.
Nicola is threatening to write because Nicola is a creative.
And all creatives are full of stories.
They’ve much to say about Joshua Tree. They really, really, really want to talk about Palm Springs.
One is impressed yet again with the necessity of Semiotext(e). (Full disclosure: my own book ATTA was published in the press’s Intervention Series.)
In an era where every publisher feels obsessed with a kind of pointless American immediacy– the kind that appears in FULL CAPITALS AND BOLD TYPE— it’s impossible to think of any other outlet that would issue a book as High European as Nicola, Milan that is: (a) not a translation (b) not a reprint (c) not from an established author.
What other press would publish this as a new novel from a relative unknown?
Which is a shame, as reading Morano reminds us that even though certain approaches have fallen into disfavor with the creative classes, these tools remain valid as methods and modes of expression.
The drifting, the aimlessness, the purposelessness are all to great effect. There is a real pleasure in engaging with a new work in the style.