A critic, let's call him Eliot, questioned my criticism of Kevin Bewersdorf's "leaving the web as art," which seems to have become a canonical new media gesture.
The gesture itself had several components.
The artist had a body of work, just a couple of years in duration after he left school, consisting of Church of the Subgenius-like ironic scriptural writings (but on the whole, not as good) where the aims of religion were combined with corporate branding happy talk. This was augmented by art and video.
He was invited to participate in a performance event in connection with the New Museum's Younger Than Jesus show. From the stage, he announced that he was going to remove all his work from the web over a three year period. Gradually the website diminished, until all that remained was a tiny image of a flickering flame.
During this time period he was meditating, and also continued to be involved anonymously with the Spirit Surfers group blog.
This year he "re-emerged" as a sincere follower of the Tao, and now writes Taoist poetry about the internet, a reading of which Rhizome.org recently organized.
My criticism has several components:
There was confusion as to whether the artist's interest in "the spirit," pre-quitting, was ironic or sincere.
There is confusion about whether he really left -- is the art work about leaving the web or just erasing your "brand"?
Does it matter if the brand isn't sincere to begin with?
In response to canonizing quitting, I tossed off on twitter the statement that "the real heroes are the people who kept working while the seeker was off wandering in the wilderness."
He asked if going offline couldn't also be working. And he said that comparing working and non-working was an apples/oranges scenario that he wasn't interested in.
This changed the frame of the discussion from "good vs bad gesture" to the virtues of work vs non-work.
If Eliot believes that Bewerdorf's gesture is good, he is making an evaluation, in the face of an argument to the contrary. But he doesn't have to debate it, he can ascend to the lofty plane of not wishing to weigh a Judeo-Christian or Taylorist notion of work against a Zen-like or Dadaist gesture of denial. That's just not instructive, you understand.
Update: cosmicsands has transcribed the text of Bewersdorf's Issue Project Room reading on Rap Genius, a site for crowdsourcing lyrics, poetry, etc. Based on this, the phrase "Taoist poetry about the internet" above is a bit confining. There is Eastern influence but also a tone of Walt Whitman-esque celebration, in poems such as "Who is using the internet?" Missing is some of the delicate balance of some of the earlier work, between understandable revulsion at phenomena such as dozens of stock photos of people praying and an attempt to write sincere praise in a tone that mimics both religious awe and corporate sales motivation.