'The world must be romanticised. So it's original meaning will again be found. To romanticise is nothing other than an exponential heightening.
In this process the lower self becomes identified with a better self. Just as we ourselves are part of such an exponential sequence. This process is still wholly unknown. By investing the commonplace with a lofty significance, the ordinary with a mysterious aspect, the finite with the semblance of infinity, thereby I romanticise it.' 68
Novalis, Fragmente des Jahres 1789
If the Avant-Garde is difficult to define, the Romanticism of the late 18th and early 19th century is impossible to define, cultural historians cannot agree, even the key historical figures of Romanticism are divided.
Certainly it is a revolt against tradition, against established taste, against the emotionless and conventional imagination of classicism. For Victor Hugo Romanticism is liberalism in literature 69, for Ludovic Vitet it is protestantism in the arts and letters 70 , for others it is the defining spirit of all great Art, and the poet Alfred de Mussett (1810-57) couldn't actually work out what it was.
For this undertaking my pivotal proposition is that the Romantic movement is the root of both the Avant-Garde and the anti-Art Underground, and that from the historic conflict between these two traditions , the Avant-Garde has emerged as the agent that the Art institution uses to eliminate all subversive threats against its legitimacy. To be plain, the function of the Avant-Garde, as the vanguard of autonomous bourgeois Art, is to ensure that all cultural products that penetrate the realm of the bourgeois are rendered superfluous.
As the bourgeoisie ascended to power so the decline of the Courtly and Sacred arts reached it's crisis. Nowhere was this crisis more extreme than revolutionary Paris, where the feudal infrastructure that confined the bourgeoisie was transformed by the successive revolutions of 1789, 1830 ,1848. In the revolution of 1789 the break with feudalism was felt to be so absolute that history was stopped and a new history is begun, 1789 became the 1st Year of Liberty. This is the first year of progress.
According to the Situationist Guy Debord the bourgeoisie changed the nature of time from the feudal cyclical time of seasonal agrarian production to the irreversible time of capitalist production;
'The constant movement of monopolisation of historical life by the State of the absolute monarchy, transitional form toward complete domination by the bourgeois class , brings into clear view the new irreversible time of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is attached to labor time, which is liberated for the first time from the cyclical. With the bourgeoisie, work becomes labor which transforms historical conditions. The bourgeoisie is the first ruling class for which labor is a value. And the bourgeoisie which suppresses all privilege, which recognizes no value that does not flow
from the exploitation of labor, has justly identified with labor its own
value as a dominant class, and has made the progress of labor its own progress.' 71
The rise of the bourgeoisie creates a new type of history, no longer an eternal organic cycle of harvests, generations, festivals, dynasties, death and renewal, bourgeois history becomes the progress of it's own ascendancy, accomplished and recorded by the new technologies of capitalism. The eternal God, the eternal King, all that was eternal is now recognised as provisional. At the very core of bourgeois capitalism, the old eternities are replaced by the principle which the bourgeoisie used to take power: innovation . In the time of the bourgeoisie, only the new is irreversable, only change is eternal, each new bourgeois age will have its Zeitgeist. Romanticism is the Art of bourgeois time, the beginning of the desperate search for originality. And this also is a factor in the development of the aura, because as Poggioli notes 72 , in Classicism there is no kitsch, there is no ex-beauty, no stereotypical beauty. Bourgeois capitalism develops a new kind of ugliness , the ugliness of the cheap imitation, the ugliness of the fake.
As I have outlined, the aura depends upon the rise of the bourgeoisie for it's development, it is the fetish of feudal power in a capitalist economy, the ultimate luxury. As the bourgeoisie takes power, as Art becomes autonomous, so the Artist is thrown into alienation , a crisis of function which is the essential state of the modern Artist, caught in an anachronism, rejecting both the feudal and the bourgeois . Hobsbawm observes;
'The real problem was that of the artist cut off from a recognizable function, patron or public and left to cast his soul as a commodity upon a blind market, to be bought or not: or to work within a system of patronage which would generally have been untenable even if the French Revolution had not established it's human indignity. The artist stood alone, shouting into the night, uncertain of even an echo. It was only natural that he should turn himself into a genius, who created only what
was within him, regardless of the world and in defiance of a public whose only right was to accept him on his terms or not at all.' 73
The genius of original Art is the Romantic genius, but he did not simply create himself by nature. Without the prestige of function the aura of bourgeois Art has no referent. Since more than a thousand years of sacred and noble art function could not be eliminated in a revolution the Artist became the referent of the aura: the priest, the saint, the witch, the Count, the Princess, the devil, the martyr, the messiah. The autonomisation of Art traps the Artist in a vestigal feudal ritual, for since aura can only emanate from the divine hierarchy of Christ and his chosen nobility so the Artist must shun 'trade' 74 as a proof of their sacred and noble caste. Aura as a commodity can be bought and sold on the capitalist market, but the Artist can never enter capitalist industry, to do so would be to lose the gift of aura, to become a designer, a copywriter, an illustrator ...to become an employee.
Romanticism opposed capitalism, the factories, the urban squalor, the degradation of the human spirit, but this opposition was based on an idealised organic feudalism 75 , a return to a pre-capitalist realm of nature, chivalry and spirituality. The Avant-Garde as vanguard of Art has pioneered this feudalisation, from the mediaeval fantasies of William Morris and the mysticism of the Symbolists to the stigmata and self immolation of Orlan, Franko B. and Stelarc. The Artist becomes for the bourgeois viewer bearer of all sublimated passion, myth and romance, in return the Artist is allowed the freedom of the Year King, the pagan symbolic King, the shamen, the drunk, the taker of drugs, the over reacher,the prophet, the promiscuous, the impotent. This is why the bourgeois public is fascinated with Artist martyrs like Van Gogh, Gwen John, Pollack, Kahlo, Rothko and Basquiat.
The work of the Artist martyr is a reliquary, they have become immortal in the new bourgeois chronology. The Artist carries the feudal past out of cyclical time into progress, they have been Romanticised, they produce aura by repeating the myth of the alienated messiah king endlessly but always new.
The pure gaze of the bourgeoisie is disinterested, Art turns loneliness, despair, horror and madness into beauty. As capitalism has specialised labour, the Artists have become specialised as those who are allowed to express alienation on the condition that it is superfluous. Moreover it has been those Artists who expressed their alienation most originally, most radically and most shockingly who have pioneered new types of irrelevance.