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. TC mark


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  • Michael Koh

    Lisa Robertson is really good.

  • Guest

    I really enjoy these things others never recognize,they are like treasures only you know, and in that way it makes them more intimate and more personal.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      You're absolutely right. I like that a lot — it feels like a special secret of power.

  • Greg Petliski

    “…incredible songs that interrogate the very nature of a song with every note.”

    Ooh how philosophical and useless!

    • Daniel Coffeen

      And then there is the widely distributed strata of douchebagness.

    • Aelya

      God forbid something is published on TC without the author being attacked for petty things.

    • rhodeislander

      Really think so, Greg? Because I thought it was unspeakably pretentious! I guess the experience really IS subjective after all!

  • Wolfsenshi

    Art is subjective. For instance, I absolutely couldn't stand the song posted on this article. But if that floats your boat then that's cool. Thankfully, with the internet, it's easy to find a lot of underground/independent artists now.

  • rhodeislander

    Dear hipsters:

    Of course nobody's ever heard of your favorite [insert cultural product here], because if they did, that might mean your tastes are not quite as unique and refined as you thought. And what could be worse than that?

    Rest assured, we squares treasure your quirky eclecticism as much as we do your perpetual rebellion against your parents, and your use of clever irony to pretend you actually like things you do not actually like.

  • devin howard

    The paradox of artistic 'success', if success is defined as translating artistic effort into financial reward, is that much of the originality, independent spirit, and unencumbered emotive and creative voice which goes into producing art for arts sake is killed when those efforts are commercialized for a wider audience.

    Is it possible to be successful and not a sell out? Again, under the conventional definition I'm not sure. We need a new definition of success or a new economic model (which arguably is occurring, as, as some previous comments point out, the shareable nature of digital media is expanding both avenues of consumption and the means by which an artist can be remunerated for their work).

  • scribler

    Some people might argue that if you quote Deleuze, you're full of shit.

  • scribler

    “She creates herself a new bedrock, a geology of the soul; it is a method of being that is at once sedimentary and igneous and metamorphic.”

    “He studies evolution in this pristine laboratory that always already considers the sequence of the genome, engages the double helix, while articulating it with a terrible precision and ardor.”

    “[…] at once shifting the very terms of integrating, of differentiating, of forming separable parts of equations, series and expressions and doing it all with the utmost rigor and absolute convergence.”

    “[…] who take on the entire history of chemistry to create what they call avant-caloric — incredible fluids that interrogate the very nature of matter with every step of the Carnot cycle.”

    Some quotes from Mr. Coffeen's forthcoming series of articles on math and science

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