A Review of “The Artist in Question” by Michael J Seidlinger

Spencer Dew

What is exciting about this book is how unlike other books it is. A compendium of bits, in different san-serif fonts and styles, ranging from aphorisms to flash fictions, notes on larger projects, and editorial asides enclosed in parentheses. The document begins with “an editor’s note” (and note here the article, its anonymity) that “editing the following documents has been limited to comprisal, arrangement remains ‘as-is’ according to how all documents birthed, and typeface alterations transpose the nature of transcription, be it bold, italicized, underlined or otherwise constrained to reflect the proposition and dissuade any proposal unintentionally made.” And with that prose, so begins the problem–whether in an awkward attempt at intentional opaqueness or merely as a result of associative exercises or even a blend of both, the writing in this book is such that many brave readers will throw the thing away.

Then there is the content: “He writes of himself like a character, from the third person to filter out discomfort,” one unpaginated page says in large font, nicely. Another declares, “‘The concept’ is my main source of interest” while somewhere else we see this definition: “The avant-garde–really, the intent on changing and challenging forms is an art in itself–an art of an art/ an art in an art.” All fine so far, especially if coupled with, say, any sense of this uneasy third person, this concept, this meta art. Instead, we are barraged with platitudes. “No love is as precious as a need for a new idea.” “Dreaming is a form of development.” “Entertainment is the most important aspect of this society.” It feels, quickly, like going through Barbara Kruger’s trash. But then it get worse. “To use politics is simply to engage in the methodology of managing something,” we are told. Now please tell me what that means. “Morale shall never be forced; panic into justice yields ignorance. One must speak from stability. Never must we follow by alarm for self-preservation, we must identify and recognize. We must truly care.” Huh? Thus we go from the cliché of “We all create stories to protect ourselves from ourselves” to the gaseous musing that “Even with the civil services in First World countries, all it takes is a five-car pile-up to have your house burned down before the firefighters could get there in time. Insurance or not, a policy could have a loophole that only compensates for a certain amount of damages, and there are [sic] the obvious increase of charges. A single spark and that ‘safety’ could be gone.”

If your idea of an enlightening time is flipping through a thick text for tidbits like “Arts and Sciences are both forms of expression–much like anything else that presents humanity in a manner–yet have different qualities,”  then, by all means, go for it, but others will likely feel that Seidlinger’s work could have benefited more from an editorial presence than this extended wallowing in rather cheap, even lazy, interpretations of so-called death of the author theory.

“I write this as I am here,” it is written, “anxious;/ I’m writing to stay busy, to look busy to avoid being singled out. My spastic scrawls/ double as a/ defense/ mechanism…. freely writing in the wake of boredom, droplets of irritation immaculately irrigating a desperate battle defense of pen, scribbling to paper, eyes averted in order to attain the image of concentration.” This reads like first person from the writer. Maybe it’s a conceptual trick, but, in any case, it’s dull, arguably inexcusable. Likewise, “When doodling, words creep in through certain contexts: band logos, personal names, words from notes often randomly chosen/highlighted. Our association with language AND art transcends any limitation coming from the subconscious response to boredom to keep the pen moving.” But, brother, might it not be better to pause the pen from time to time? Might a little silence and stillness and thinking be what’s required to make a work of writing that’s worth reading?

“Whether or not the world will remember you, is not important; it is about whether you ever find yourself.” One gets the sense that all of this is about precisely that–or, rather, is precisely that, the author’s own coping mechanism, the author’s way of trying to make sense of the world, pen in hand, etc. As is said somewhere here, “For every novel approach, there’s an underlying personal need.” If only a little more of that “personal need,” that motivation, showed through, and showed through in such a way that it was conveyed and could be felt. Instead, we have parenthetical notes to the effect that “certain statements can nearly be considered as evidence of the supposed disappearance and expected demise of creative license,” bits of description such as “The cold that’s just too low numbered for comfort, doing its best to break down subsistence, freezing then shattering the top layers of proposition, tensing only the lowered mists as they huddle together to preserve” and such snippets of farce as “To compare, will only cause disrepair. Vacant stares. Swiftly downstairs, twin pairs would fall down, fading despair.” But wait, there’s politics, too, of a (again, as with the insurance premium discussion, shockingly bourgeois) sort: “Already common, obesity is a result of no self-control and poor diet because of many factors, one of which involves the food within reach of the common citizen. The common citizen cannot afford to eat healthy salads, cuisine, and even power/energy bars.”

This book may be many things, including, certainly, a record of a wrestling with the act of writing and the concept of textuality itself. It will not, however, function for many readers anything like a “power/energy bar.”

Official Civil Coping Mechanisms Web Site

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