I’m a sucker for manifestos. There is something sublime to ideas laid out in a mandatory tone. I thoroughly enjoy the urgency, the immutability, the unambivalent demand that the reader not only absorb the argument, but immediately swear allegiance and start “singing of great-breasted locomotives,” or whatever the prescription happens to be.
Why shouldn’t we have strong aesthetic convictions, amid the uncertainly of material life? I hear enough sales pitches these days. I get threatened with being left behind by the forces of history in radio advertisements for economy automobiles. I am hand delivered waste paper from banks and religious institutions. I see a thousand hells open in a thousand 30-second spans if I do something as foolish as turn on a television. Why not sit and consider potential aesthetic enlightenment over the span of a blog post? That might actually be worth something to me. At the very least, it’s presented through old fashioned rhetorical argument, rather than a half-researched attempt at libidinal interpolation through baseline heteronormativity. Or, talking animals, or whatever.
The shape of manifestos are changing. Consider the New Aesthetic, one of the better-known niche ideas that “everyone” was recently drawn to discuss—at least “everyone” who thinks niche aesthetic ideas ought to apply more widely than they ever will, and therefore would be the entirety of the audience for manifestos about such things. Bruce Sterling, on “Beyond the Beyond” (the blog that launched a thousand manifestos) said about it:
And naturally so, because the best manifesto that we ever received on the New Aesthetic was a Tumblr, and the canonical criticism is only what amounts to somewhere in the neighborhood of of twenty-five to seventy-five blog posts by different authors, scattered across the networks without even as much as a Web Ring to connect them. That is “the thing” about the New Aesthetic—it’s loosely theorized and open to rampant speculation because that is what it already was. The only manifesto for such a thing could be a Tumblr, and the confusion and consternation that such a lack of directness would cause is its own militancy. It may be irritatingly meta, but that an aesthetic that is largely about glitchy digital networks should be discussed only via glitchy digital networks is hardly surprising.
What is comforting to me, is that despite the gooeyness of the large-button blogging platform, the urgent status of the manifesto remains. There is a consistency in the drive to move past the manifesto itself, to let the aesthetic actually take over. The aesthetic may be a gooey sort of object-oriented ontology, or it might be a fetishization of pixels, but at some point we move past the urge to talk about what it is that we’re doing, and just start doing it. The forced rhetorical conviction becomes superfluous as the proposition becomes reality.
The Eamespunk Manifesto, an ironic-turned-serious manifesto inspired by a “throw-away line” blogged by Sterling, in turn produced its own throw-away line about the production of such throw-away, internet meme manifestos:
And in this potential is the sucker appeal for me. Each manifesto is something that could be more than an aesthetic exploit proposed in strong language or a thousand image files. If we pretend hard enough, it can become reality. I will click on that all day long.
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