Brilliance Under the Radar
I’ve been thinking recently about some of my favorite writers, favorite artists, favorite musicians — and how some of them have never “made it” in the traditional sense of the phrase. They are not renowned; they do not make money directly off their art. Most not only don’t make money from their art, their art costs money to make.
If I write an essay about the films of Wes Anerdson, people may read it. If I write an essay about the films of Marc Lafia, no one gives a shit. If I quote Lafia in an essay I’m writing, the citation carries no weight; if I quote Deleuze, then I must know my shit.
But are these people any less great than the well-known, well-distributed, and well-paid? There is an alarming prejudice that declares that for something truly to be great, it must be well known. It must receive accolades; it must have the imprint of capitalist, popular success.
And yet many of my favorite artists, none of whom will likely ever be so imprinted, have changed my life in profound ways. Because they are fucking brilliant.
I am thinking of the great poet and writer, Lisa Robertson, who’s written the downright devastatingly brilliant, The Weather and Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture (whose title alone is an entire pedagogy and is so smart it makes me want punch myself in the face out of joy). She performs a new kind of knowing, a phenomenology, a way of going that is at once physical and affective and exquisite.
And of my excellent friend, Marc Lafia, who’s been making short films, long films, images, and experiences for 30 years and whose work has taught me what vision is and what technology is. He operates in this incredible space that always already considers the form of something, engages the form of something, while articulating it with an incredible intelligence and beauty.
And of my fellow rhetor, Lohren Green, whose Poetical Dictionary is one of the greatest contributions to literature imaginable — at once shifting the very terms of knowing, of speaking, of writing and doing it with the utmost grace and eloquence.
Or my favorite band, now disbanded, Here Are The Facts You Requested,who take on the entire history of pop music to create what they call avant-normal — incredible songs that interrogate the very nature of a song with every note.
Now I imagine writers, musicians, artists like this all over the world — this entire strata of outrageous brilliance hovering over this globe, a strata that rarely moves, that does not enjoy dissemination but that persists out of diligence and passion. When I imagine this, I am at once inspired and saddened — inspired by the thought that despite the overwhelming stupidity and ugliness of the world, there are these flares of brilliance everywhere; and saddened that I, and you, will never know them.
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I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”
To begin, I got totally screwed over in the dental genes department. I was born with a pretty severe overbite and a mouth that was too small.