Why Lettrism


Whilst always exercising a praiseworthy intolerance to the outside world, towards 1950 the Lettrist group fostered a fairly large confusion of ideas amongst its members.

Onomatopoeic poetry itself, having appeared with futurism and much latter reaching a certain perfection with Schwitters and some others, no longer was of interest as the absolute systemisation which was posed as the only poetry of the moment, and so condemning all the other forms to death and giving itself a short shelf-life. However the consciousness of the true role we were allotted to play was neglected by many in favour or an infantile conception of genius and fame.

The tendency still in the majority saw the creation of new forms as the highest value of all human activity. This belief in formal evolution without cause or end other than in-itself is the basis of bourgeois idealism in the arts. (Their imbecile belief in immutable conceptual categories lead some ex-members of the group to Americanised mysticism.) Drawing conclusions which an idiot like Malraux didn't dare or know how to draw from essentially similar premises, the rigorous application of the benefits of experience brought about the definitive collapse of this formalist demeanour by taking it to its limit; the giddy acceleration of evolution around emptiness, in clear rupture with all human needs.

The usefulness of destroying formalism from within is clear: it does not leave any doubt that the intellectual disciplines, whatever the interdependence they share with the rest of social development, are subject to the relatively autonomous crises arising from the discoveries necessitated by their own determinism of whatever technique. To judge everything, as we are being invited to, as a function of its content, is to return to judging acts as a function of their intentions. Just as surely as the explanation of the normative character and persistent charm of various aesthetic periods must always be looked for alongside the content - and the change in the times, or of contemporary necessities, makes other contents touch us, leading to a revision of the classification of the "great epochs" - it is no less evident that the power of a work during its own time would not solely depend on its content. This process can be compared with that of fashion. After half a century, for example, all costumes belong to equally outdated fashions, from which contemporary sensibility can rediscover all sorts of appearance. But everyone notices the ridiculousness of the feminine bearing of ten years ago.

Thus the 'precious' movement, despite being obscured by the scholastic lies of the seventeenth century, and just as the forms of expression that they had invented are as strange as can be to us, is coming to be recognised as the principal current of ideas of the 'Grand Siècle' because the need that we feel at this time for the constructive overthrow of all aspects of life uncovers the way that emergent Capital contributed through behaviour and decor (conversation and strolling as privileged activities - in architecture, the differentiation between living places, changes in the principles of decoration and furniture). On the contrary, when Roger Vailland wrote "Beau-Masque" in a Stendahlian tone, despite its almost estimable content, it had only the chance of pleasing as a prettily done pastiche. That is to say, no doubt contrary to his intentions, he addressed himself to intellectuals with an outdated taste. And the majority of criticism which foolishly attacked the content, praised the prose style.

We'll return to this historical anecdote.

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