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Morellet: An Objection (1967)

My aim here is not to justify my neons, but to respond to a frequent critique which sees in them a reflection of the aggressiveness of the modern world.

There is a cliché. that indiscriminately defines the world we live in as aggressive, hard, inhuman.

This definition is evidently correct when it comes to the social condition and psychological state of modern man, whose alienations have been amply demonstrated by philosophers, his neuroses by psychiatrists.

It becomes false when affirmed by common sense with regard to man’s contact with the perceptible contemporary world.

For the majority of the members of so-called civilized society, this perceptible world consists principally of the products created by that society to eliminate, for man, all natural external aggressiveness.

We put dark glasses between the sun and our eyes, cushions between bumps and our buttocks, air conditioning between the climate and our skin.

As for those products of our civilization commonly judged to be aggressive, what are they?

Advertising and television which seek only to smile and reassure? Chastened automobiles? Forbidden horn-honking? Censored films? Dampened political ideologies? Regulated city lights?

Do the latest artistic movements in fashion react against this voluntary mildness?

Pop art, which claimed to adhere to the principles of Dada, is in fact the opposite, because it accepts the modern world wholesale with nothing but a complicit wink.

Op art, after a beginning that seemed plausibly to be a refusal of the immediately agreeable, has now turned toward the mildness of sophisticated variations, toward delicate objects that go well with all styles of furniture.

I will not attempt here to prove, though I am convinced of it, that there are certain moments when aggressiveness and brutality in art are a social necessity. I would like only for it to be conceded that our society, if we compare it to those that came before, is characterized by the suppression of any aggressiveness and any brutality in aesthetic, ethical, and political domains.

In reality, all this smiling and reassuring conceals something else. It conceals structures that are far less smiling; it can also conceal a future that is much less reassuring, in that the taste for false mildness may just as easily give way, one day, to a taste for false power (Nazism also being perfectly well equipped to flatter intellectual laziness).

So, if my neons hurt your eyes, if the drums hurt your ears, if the spices hurt your stomach, if love hurts your heart, do not blame the zeitgeist: turn around and sleep tight.

Translated by Daniel Levin Becker. © Dia Art Foundation. English translation originally published in Béatrice Gross with Stephen Hoban, eds., François Morellet (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2019), p. 195-196.
Originally published as “Morellet: Protestation,” in Robho, no. 2 (November–December 1967), n.p.