PRINT October 2004


Wayne Koestenbaum

WARHOL CHEERS ME UP ABOUT GETTING BAD REVIEWS. Lousy press didn’t stop him, so he’s my role model for the shat-upon artist who bucks up (despite harsh criticism) and continues to produce. Being unlikable was his endeavor’s foundation.

Warhol cheers me up about never transcending kindergarten, never shedding infantile fascinations. Often my brain can’t accommodate what it receives; information glut shuts down my mainframe. Warhol processed perceptions in a peculiar way: He listed, atomized, cut, reformatted, and hybridized the angry corpuscles of fact that streamed into his system. His example helps me believe that no matter how elementary or convoluted my aesthetic method may seem, I am stuck with it, so the choice is either to kill myself or to practice—patiently—my flawed mode.

Warhol cheers me up about constant horniness—call it constitutive prurience or permanently dirty mind. He may not have gotten a lot of sex (has this ever been factually established? And by what responsible means might we prove such a hypothesis?), but he certainly squeezed in a lot of sexual scoping.

Warhol cheers me up about living adjacent to insanity or retaining a pipeline to altered cognitive styles. His behavioral peculiarities, his attraction to odd people, and his ready transformation of acting out into art show how invigorating (if potentially lethal) it can be to embrace what Deleuze and Guattari prescribe in Anti-Oedipus as a ludic schizophrenia, a madness that might be good for you.

Warhol cheers me up about family, its absence and its antidotes. Opt out of the nuclear family or convert it into the Factory. Live with your mother as long as you please, and forget public verdicts on your backward ménage. Warhol rethought the meaning of “ensemble”: His novel practices of entourage, collaboration, isolation, and twinship give salty pointers in collective and solitary misbehavior. For me they constitute parables akin to Eric Berne’s Games People Play, Stephen Sondheim’s Company: A Musical Comedy, and the New Testament.

Warhol cheers me up about difficulty. Though sometimes simpleminded, I am drawn to obdurate, complicated art. Indeed, Warhol’s opacity and polyvocality have led me to nominate difficulty as my aesthetic compass. Warhol sends me into Derrida’s arms. Without Warhol I would never have sat through all of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980). Without Warhol I might not have appreciated John Cage and Pierre Boulez, and without them I would not have backtracked to Arnold Schönberg (who seems Warhol’s antithesis but is in fact his compatriot in the art of being odd—see Schönberg’s 1937 lecture “How One Becomes Lonely”). Warhol has taught me patience and thereby changed the way I “consume” music, literature, and art. Trained by Andy, I no longer demand instant digestion; all I want is boredom, a turgidity I can turn inside out to find its erotic silver lining, inscribed, “With love from A.W.”

Wayne Koestenbaum is a poet and the author, most recently, of Andy Warhol (Penguin Putnam, 2001). His contribution to the April 2003 issue of Artforum, “My ’80s,” appears in the new edition of The Best American Essays (Houghton Mifflin, 2004).