Posted by The Happy Tutor
The real artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths - So reads the words inscribed around a spiral of neon lit glass that the artist, Bruce Nauman, hung in the front window his grocery store, in 1967, facing the passing crowds. Private truths in a public place.
Rhetoric tells us that discourse to be well made requires a speaker who has credibility, or character, a message crafted for an audience, on a particular occasion, most often with particular force or effect in mind -- to pass a bill, to call for war, to get across a moral, to enrage, or placate, to sell, seduce, or amuse. Today, for discourse in the public square what can we assume about our audience? How can we anticipate their reactions, and marshall our methods and our means to achieve an intended result? The actual audience streams by Wealth Bondage on the porno/product superhighway, as on the old 42cnd in New York City before it was taken over by Disney. As a hooker might beckon from a lighted doorway, so WB beckons Google's hot terms, Bondage, Wealth. When the poor souls enter seeking the secrets of wealth, or scenes of erotic abandon, when they come looking for subjection, or triumph, as they go from bin to bin, seeking their predictable fix, what will they make of Nauman's sign?
Rhetoric can be a "trap play," a Socratic, or satiric trap, to force the reader, the real reader, our fellow citizens cruising the public square, to stop, puzzle, and walk away indignant, bored, confused. The Tale of the Tub, by Swift, or his Gulliver's Travels, or his piece using astrology to predict (and later announce) the death of the famous astrologer, Partridge, each depends on a double audience -- those who understand and those who do not, those who catch the author's glance from behind the mask, and those who are "bit," "gulled," taken in. Marketing, political speeches, spam -- they too work this way, except too often we are not meant to see through them. The only audience who matters in manipulative forms of practical rhetoric are the gulls who accept the fiction as true enough, or appealing enough. Those who see through to the real motives and reasoning of those who created the ploy or gambit are working against the intent of the piece. Here, with satire and with Nauman, as well as with inside jokes, the better audience, the audience of peers, understands not only the message, but why the sign, whose message can understood only by a few, was hung facing a crowded street, and how it is that the lonely passersby who stop and stare are part of the installation, the dupes, a constant stream, breaking like an ever-flowing wave against the rock. (Fung-Lin Hall has been kind enough to show me many works of conceptual art over the last few weeks, but this one piece, I will never forget. Wealth....Bondage, blinking on and off, fitfully, boldly claiming a mystic truth, that art and kindness heal. To some it is a come on, to others an ironic gesture, but to me it is a truth rescued from contempt and forgetfullness, a rallying point, perhaps a futile and hopeless gesture, but not made lightly. That art and kindness is heal is both a private truth and a public truth.)
I have taught sales systems, phone scripts, answers to objections, closing lines, and power phrases, to salespeople all over the country, down some of dustiest streets you could ever see, and in some of the most expensive Class-A Office Towers. When I say that I want a public square, that is what I mean. I want to stand there on the corner, with the sad old man with his bottle, with the mad prophet and his Bible, with the insurance salespeople, and the hookers, and the stockbrokers going back to work, and the sailors on leave, and I want to say, "America is a Democracy, your voice matters, your mind -- yes, even yours, Sir -- matters. If I can not interest you in that, may at least I sell you a set of chains, Madame? Or a whip, Sirrah, with which your Master can beat you?"
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