Art is no longer understood as consciousness expressing and therefore, implicitly, affirming itself.
Art is not consciousness per se, but rather its antidote — evolved from within consciousness itself.
But it was exactly three decades earlier that another of humanity’s most incisive intellects made the finest — and timeliest today — case for the generative function of silence in a creative culture drowning in noise.
In Shortly after she wrote in her diary that “art is a form of consciousness” and shortly before Pablo Neruda penned his beautiful ode to silence and Paul Goodman — who shared a mutual admiration with Sontag — enumerated the nine kinds of silence, she writes: Every era has to reinvent the project of “spirituality” for itself.
Perhaps the quality of the attention one brings to bear on something will be better (less contaminated, less distracted), the less one is offered.
Furnished with impoverished art, purged by silence, one might then be able to begin to transcend the frustrating selectivity of attention, with its inevitable distortions of experience.
For, to be a victim of the craving for silence is to be, in still a further sense, superior to everyone else.
It suggests that the artist has had the wit to ask more questions than other people, and that he possesses stronger nerves and higher standards of excellence.
(Spirituality = plans, terminologies, ideas of deportment aimed at resolving the painful structural contradictions inherent in the human situation, at the completion of human consciousness, at transcendence.) In the modern era, one of the most active metaphors for the spiritual project is “art.” The activities of the painter, the musician, the poet, the dancer, once they were grouped together under that generic name (a relatively recent move), have proved a particularly adaptable site on which to stage the formal dramas besetting consciousness, each individual work of art being a more or less astute paradigm for regulating or reconciling these contradictions. Whatever goal is set for art eventually proves restrictive, matched against the widest goals of consciousness.
Art, itself a form of mystification, endures a succession of crises of demystification; older artistic goals are assailed and, ostensibly, replaced; outworn maps of consciousness are redrawn.