The civilized man who thinks too much is inseparable from the survivor. Philip Roth, in conversation with Primo Levi.

If you can make it here you can make it anywhere. So, having made it in the Pit of Hell, why not head elsewhere and make a heaven of Heaven? After forty-six years of exile in New York (a hundred sixty-six if you count the family), I'm heading back to Europe.

As Milton's Satan knew, the pits of Hell can be good places to develop as an artist, and Heaven may be the worst. When I first came to New York there was the saturnian sense that being an artist was like being an exile: Would you ever get home to a home that no longer existed, that you needed to make up in your own mind? Already in 1931 the critic Malcolm Cowley had pointed out that the Lost Generation was no more at home on their return from Europe than they'd been abroad. Under such conditions the best one could do was to make oneself comfortable, wherever one was: to find cheap rents and as much comfort as one needed to work in quiet. Would there ever be a resurgence for Yiddish Poetry? Italian Folk Music? All things being equal, New York would do as well as any place, anywhere; and anyway, New York's role in American Culture has always been that of a second-best substitute for Europe.

Things started to change around 1973, when I had to call a certain Iris O'Malley at the New York State Council on the Arts: I explained that I sat on the Board of Trustees of a small not-for-profit; that I was concerned because the Director was pretending to deliver services to artists under a NYSCA grant, and wasn't: he was faking the figures. There was a brief pause, and then: "If you think I have time to listen to a bunch of artists!" That's when I understood that artists in New York were employees of the Free State of Market, just as they'd been in the Soviet Union except without the benefits and the security: what was demanded of them above all was partiinost, solidarity with the CP, the Capitalist Party. Since then a whole generation of artists has moved in, jostling to prove their loyalty, 24/7 on the alert to anticipate the shifts in the Party Line. Being an artist in New York isn't about making stuff or even thinking about making stuff, it's about proving your worth-to-capital by hanging at the right bars, living in the right neighborhoods, going to the right shows and being viciously competitive. If you can make it here you can make it anywhere. Too much intolerance for those who don't "make it," and too few trying to define for themselves what "making it" means in the first place: an artist who doesn't manage to "make it" in the new New York is just another instance of what Zygmunt Bauman calls the flawed consumer.

Joan Didion claims the breaking point comes when a New York exile realizes there are places where she can't stand to go any more; and there are many places, now, where no New Yorker wants to go. For me it's the Lower East Side, where one great-grandfather ran with Emma Goldman and another owned real estate: I got pushed out by the allrightniks and the Sammy Glicks. Once I was thrown out of the Cooper Union for looking like a Lower East Side Jew:

...At least the layman knows
That none are lost so soon as those
Who overlook their crooked nose,
That they grow small who imitate
The mannerisms of the great,
Afraid to be themselves, or ask
What acts are proper to their task.

In Austria I should worry about antisemitism?

All that is solid hangs on the stoop of a summer evening. It's a peculiar fantasy of capital that provincialism consists in refusing to drop the past; but nothing's as provincial as the good old Modernist fantasy that the past can be blithely trampled. The School of Visual Arts in New York, where I once taught, no longer offers courses in the History of Art, only in Theory, though as one student explained to me, "It's sometimes good to take a break from all that Important Thought with a course in something easy and useless, like Baroque Art." New York has become American, and I mean that only in the sense of that Midwestern new-rich insistence that there is no American tradition except for the tradition of conformity:

“The ruler no longer says: ‘Either you think as I do or you die.’ He says: ‘You are free not to think as I do; your life, your property-all that you shall keep. But from this day on you will be a stranger among us.” Tocqueville, de la Démocratie, II, p. 151.

This is not to say the same provincialism hasn't gained a foothold in Vienna, where the massively funded Museumquartier houses a couple of plantations; where local field artists are hired to perform as backdrop to the latest international brands. Vienna, however, also has a strong tradition of social-democracy in the arts and elsewhere: not so much the arrogant fantasy that "High" Art (the right kind of art, the kind that just happens to be bought by the big-time speculators) must be made available to the poor deprived low-lifes, but the belief that all art, from Alban Berg to Oom-Pah-Pah, should be equally available to those who happen to want it, from those who happen to make it. Which is to say the art scene in Vienna is relatively free of manipulation and coercion, at least outside of the Museumquartier and the Ringstrasse.

A couple of nights after landing here I went to see a show two artist friends of mine had put up in a local café. This would be unimaginable in New York City, where putting your art on a café wall is the kiss of death: it tells the world (by which we mean the World of Riches) that you don't have a gallery, and in New York only the dealers and the bankers have the capital to run a space and underwrite your art career. In New York the Laws of Art and the Laws of Real Estate are one and the same : none but the best, the most aggressive and the most capitalized, will survive.

Of course the Laws of Art and Real Estate are as tightly intermingled in Vienna as anywhere else, only it might be different set of laws after all. Two Viennese architects, Michael Klein and Andreas Rumpfhuber, suggest that the global branding of Vienna as the "Fin-de-Siècle-Habsburg-Empire-Centre with Lots of Waltz" is all wrong: wouldn't it be better to brand Vienna as the city where social policy is directed towards equal distribution of resources over predatory competitiveness and growth at any cost? Where the City's judicious control of the housing stock, combined with one of the best transportation systems in the world, restrains social stratification and ensures a more egalitarian distribution of resources, including the resources of Culture? (Catchy.) The authors refer back to the era of Red Vienna (1919-1934), about which I myself have written in the past; at the same time, as I have done, they refer forward as well, to another kind of future in which, they argue, such strategies might provide models on a global scale for another type of city, another form of culture. Against the new model of the "artist" as just another consumer, they suggest one might retool the old social-democratic ideal of the citizen as a creative producer. (The opposition party in Vienna has chosen to attack the Social Democrats who control the City Council over this issue in the forthcoming municipal elections.)

In Vienna a small success like having your works up in the local café is usually treated like a small success at the local café. In America, to parse a line in a Bud Schulberg novel, the American Culture Industry behaves like those Roman emperors of the Decadence: "Every piddling little success becomes an excuse for staging a triumph." This is the "Double Entry Bookkeeping" of which Max Raphael wrote, common even a hundred years ago among so-called progressive artists: progressive in their outward content, thoroughly regressive in their behavior, serving before all else to perpetuate the capitalist system of production and consumption in all its viciousness. As Marx put it, it's the system of production that determines relations among producers: determines that aggressive, consumer-oriented "organization of enthusiasm" of which the Austrians have seen quite enough already. The American art critic Thomas B. Hess used to say that Art is not War: somehow the news hasn't penetrated the Global Art World yet. Time that it should.

So I'm not leaving New York, after all, I'm merely expanding my operations to a global level: a global citizen, a New Yorker in partibus. Because, if you can help shape the sense of community and cooperation here, you can help to shape community and cooperation everywhere:

It's up to you, Vienn-A, Vienn-A!





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