Never Stay in Your Lane

Sensitivity readers are the cultural police, and a sure sign that the party is over.

Imagine: you are an artist and you find yourself drawn toward a certain articulation, and then someone sidles up to you, puts their hand on your shoulder, and says gravely that you cannot proceed. You ask why and the answer follows: “Your articulation belongs not to yourself, but to others; not to you, but to me.”

It turns out that in our age - the age of the sensitivity reader - all kinds of artistic configurations must be eliminated for the sake of multiplicity. By multiplicity is meant not variety, but its opposite: the maintenance of a blind replication of identities in their most static form.

The truly playful phase of postmodernism having definitively passed - giving way now to a new canon of compulsion and a monoculture of difference - the contemporary artist finds himself bound to himself, and forbidden to contemplate reaching beyond, reaching across, and reaching to the depths where all true artistic rapture is to be found.

The avowal that an individual dare not venture beyond the confines of his own identity is the anti-artistic call for him to remain forever stunted, forever locked within himself, and forever in need of the validation and gratification - fundamentally, the pre-approval - of others.

For the artist to have his thoughts admonished and prevented from reaching their end, to have them slowed down so as to comport with the physiognomy and prejudice of others, is to bar his art from anything new and to keep it trapped in a closed loop of fearful stereotypes.

That is what sensitivity readers are: the stern gatekeepers and practitioners of our most worn stereotypes. Like all dogmatists who forbid what is wrong and who enjoin what is right, the artistic guards of today’s art are the corrupt and corrupting cultural police of free creation. Like all moralists in history, they have forgotten that the lanes of good and evil are not apportioned according to type, but run through the core of each of us - and in so forgetting, they have elevated themselves above us, and now presume to decide for us what we can and cannot say and write and think.

The call to “stay in your lane” - beyond being a presumptuous breach of ordinary etiquette and an impertinent violation of basic manners - is, in the end, a call for the elimination of all art, and for the elimination of the individual as the fundamental factor of art. Theirs is art by vintage, art by category, art by canon and dogma, art by control and inheritance.

There is an antidote to this too-clean conception: when the possessors of the new precepts put their hands on you and tell you to stop creating and following your own articulation, take their hands off and keep writing. Keep creating. You may not get published, for the righteous lane-tenders now staff the ramparts of that crumbling citadel.

But that hardly matters: publication is the least interesting aspect of creation. What is interesting is what is truly new, what is truly multiple and diverse, and what, therefore, violates any kind of lane and sets itself against the breed-mentality that would seek to impose them.

In art as in life, the pre-approval of the cultural police is simply the opposite of anything that can claim to be truly free.

Make your art, and fear not the admonitions of the sensitivity readers. Their “lanes” are cul-de-sacs of sameness and conformity.

Your art is the only thing that really matters.


The view from the citadel:

The Republic of Letters NFP

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