The lust after silence is a remnant of the philosophical desire for superiority, excellence, elevation, and purity — poetry is its material machine, its ideal reflection.
But Baudelaire’s desire, learning from Poe, was different: a literature that would paint modern life in all its crowdiness, without animosity or resentful critique à la Nietzsche. An embrace of the disconcerting flux of bodies is not at odds with a sensibility for the rare, which silence symbolizes and never fails to recall, but that appears jeopardized in a noise-filled world. This thesis was however disproven by Cage, who affirmed silence to the extreme, but this time through the refutation of its possibility: zen for New York City like a flower of evil for Paris. These advancements, however elitist they seem, are undoubtedly developments in the direction of a Marxian fusion of theory and the masses — against a Mallarmean verse of the void and a Malerian tragedy of tones, though not without sharing a few traits. Ennui and play, within the frame of no escape from the city: these are the terms for a liberation of aesthetics from its philosophical overdetermination by silence.
But they are not yet the sparrow in the cafe, who fascinates us with his graceful swoops, his clever pecks and steals. His naturalness, so expected yet so photogenic, announces a miracle to us: he is as comfortable here as he is in the woods, and no doubt does not make the differentiation. His presence punctuates our planned afternoons, accompanies our downtime — or, for those whose feathers ruffle easily, he is a nuisance to be shooed away, an unwelcome guest who does not belong at our tables. The attitude of aristocratic thinkers toward the new generic thought is simliar: curious, tiny, and constantly in flight, it is at first tolerated, mostly because it is so cute, until it starts snatching crumbs and interrupting the conversation, whereupon it annoys and annoys even more as it so easily hides away; thus it provokes surveillance, ruining the meal even when absent.
Meanwhile, children go on chasing after it, not to catch it but to befriend it and learn about the shifting movements of its head. St. Francis was not by accident an early herald of the generic: he realized a simplicity of immanence that not even the transcendence of Christ could complicate. This loving preacher to birds understood a silence that the enlightened elitists cannot help but transform into the sublime presence of a void. In the name of purification and peace, they hang a sign telling the birds they aren’t allowed here, and erect a million walls, debate a thousand problems, just to avoid a confrontation with the generic. They return always to their spiritual journeys and flights, unable to see the simple elevations dancing before them.
The fusion of theory and the masses requires a practice as clever as the sparrow in the cafe and thus equally capable of capturing the childlike attention of any human. The old idea of aesthetic excellence should be displaced in this direction. It is absurd to imagine birds erecting a nest to wow humans, but their murmurations, their unisonical flights and formations, impress us without them having to know a thing about it. We too must invent new knowledges, and make them dance to a new use that ‘impresses’ without reflection or recognition, without oeuvre, with only the working itself — but this time a lived work, as simple as the birds’, who do not scrounge for crumbs but play a game with finding them. Our crumbs are all the knowledges, thoughts, and events that strike us as we move through the crowds and libraries, here understood in their radical equality, their equal useability, for generic thought.
Like the sages of old, we too know how to be quiet, but it is not the quiet of withdrawal or rarification; it is the quiet of the bird’s wing, transporting a tiny body from rafter to floor and back, from table to open sky. Excellence remains here, but it is no longer the aesthetic replacement of the banal, that ‘monotony’ from whch we seek refuge in vain. For the birds, nothing is monotonous about the city: one time each time, they peek and peep, each time in a different corner, for a different crumb. They never return upon the same place, but fly their patterns in a novelty of immanence with the grace of a knowledge they are without knowing it.
Generic thought, too, knows this, without learning it — and look, it has already hopped on to someplace else.