GEORGES SEURAT once said he wanted to be paid by the hour. The nineteenth-century painter thus pinpointed the central contradiction of the modern artist and, by extension, the modern writer: Like a ragpicker or a flaneur or a hack, the artist and critic were always already compromised by capitaland by the rapaciousness of the new, the fashionable, the ever obsolescent. In our own century, each advance in culture is also a step back, a capitulation to the commodity (in any form, whether object, image, datum, or experience) and to the forces of inequality and regression.
But art is never simply the sum of the political, economic, and social systems that surround it. Art can never fully be explained away by the market, or ideology, or identity. Art and writing and looking will always exceed their contexts.
It is this excess, this irreducible surplusthe profound magnanimity and
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