The Day The Movement De-Railed

Dave Orsborn

We'd been at the park for two hours. We'd gone through three bottles of burgundy, and we'd renamed our entire generation of artists. We'd been looking for a movement, a sense of belonging. We needed a common philosophy to call our own. We needed to be reclassified. The old tag of postmodernism was wearing thin and it really didn't describe us at all. We needed a new monicker.

"Neo-romanticism!" Mikhail offered.

"I like that," I replied, drunk enough to see the entire movement materialize before me. I smiled and looked over to a group of black children practicing a march. Their radio belted out a jazzy refrain to accent every revelation we had that day.

"Postmodern just means after modernism," said Mikhail. "And what the hell does that really say? Nothing. You can't define a period just by comparing it to what came before it."

"Every movement in the past has been born out of iconoclasm," I replied. "But as postmodernists we cannibalize the past and don't offer anything new. We restructure what has come before so that it suits our style."

Mikhail took a final swig of our latest bottle of wine. It was a cheap $3 burgundy with a twist-off cap. He put the emptied bottle into the plastic Rite-Aid bag beside him and reached for his Montclairs.

"Lemme have one of those," I said. He flicked his wrist dramatically as he offered it to me, like a magician producing the card you picked out of his deck of cards. Then he lit both our cigarettes with his lighter.

" I prefer neo-romantics, because I think our goal in art is to find spiritualism by returning to the classics. Natural things; the human body. We look for beauty even in ugly things. Modernists wanted to simplify everything. A square building. Ugly. Functional. Not art."

I leaned forward resting my elbows on my knees, taking in what he was saying and attempting to make sense of it. Being Russian, and having only lived in this country for five or six years, he had an amazing grasp of the English language. But it was times like this, drunk, with a mind full of ideas, that he started slipping. He'd try to speak in soundbites, summing everything into one sentence designed to bring it all into perspective. It seldom worked. The soundbite is a tool of the postmodern. Flowery descriptions had no place in these high-tech, high-velocity, high testosterone times. We have too much information to get through in such a finite amount of time. So we simplify our ideas into tidbits of dialogue. Cut to the chase.

"Look," Mikhail said, grasping his own ideas more firmly now. "We have a modernist building, square, undecorated, and ugly. The modernists didn't want to decorate it. The art is in its simplicity. But we think it's ugly, so we plant flowers and trees in front of it. We bring nature to it, involve it in the things surrounding it. That's a romantic idea. So we are neo-romantics."

"That's not a too-convincing argument, but I see what you're saying. And I agree with calling us neo-romantics. I always thought postmodern was too-broad a term and I didn't feel it defined a lot of the work out there. Granted, postmodern ideas have been assimilated into our world so much it's almost unnoticeable, but I feel there is something else popping up here and there. This whole return to spiritualism is a major movement. It's indicative of something more than postmodern."

"You're all so full of shit!" shouted Adolphus, who was walking towards us now. He'd obviously heard our drunken banter about the state of art. Adolphus was a writer looking to carve his niche in the old world so he could destroy it from the inside. "I am a cancer of words! My sentences are tumors in the bellies of the masters! I will write you all a good death and you can thank me on the shores of the river Styx." He was always full of mythological allusions and we were always full of shit.

"What are you yelling about you fucker?!" shouted Mikhail.

"I've heard your ideas and they're not yours," Adolphus replied. He came up to the park bench and sat down with us. He pulled a pack of Marlboro reds from his shirt pocket and placed one between his lips. "You're regurgitating Samuel's ideas. Neo-romanticism. Jesus Christ, he told me that whole philosophy of his this summer in Paris. I told him he was full of shit and now I tell you you're full of shit."

We were all drunk. We had no right to re-name anything. And who were we anyway? Did we think our ideas would be heard by anyone but ourselves? On the airs of alcohol it didn't matter. We sang our philosophies from every bar stool. Now we sang from a park bench in New Orleans. It didn't matter. No one ever listened.

"I offer you neo-pragmatism," Adolphus said. "Our means are limited but our ambition is frightening!"

I looked for something to drink. I saw a half-bottle of Colt45 lying at the top of a trashcan. It was tempting. I thought about it for longer than I care to disclose.

"Ah, fuck your philosophy," Mikhail said.

"No," Adolphus shouted. "Let me tell you about it..."

"Kitchen sink philosophers! All of you will stand trial when neo-baroque becomes the fashion." It was Claude, that architecture student from down the street. He was always designing cathedrals in his spare time, horrific drawings that incorporated every architectural movement of the last 1000 years. He smoked hashish he had sent in from friends in Portugal. Other than that we had no real use for him.

"I think we're all getting lost in our own ambition," I said, occasionally glancing over at that bottle of Colt45. "Everyone wants to coin our generation something new, and be remembered as the one who coined it. A bunch of Jack Kerouacs arguing the term 'beat'."

Adolphus stood and reached into his back pocket, withdrawing a small dagger. He pointed it at my face and I realized it was a letter-opener. How appropriate.

"You're a fucking leach, my friend," Adolphus roared. "You're waiting for the best philosophy to present itself and then you'll carry its banner. And I say it is neo-pragmatism!"

"Sit down," Mikhail said, "and shut the fuck up. Your ideas are nothing more than pretty words placed next to each other. There is no grounding for your beliefs, you merely want to her yourself talk. Neo-romanticism has meaning and relevance."

Adolphus swung violently toward Mikhail, aiming his letter-opener which nicked Mikhail's ear. Mikhail grabbed Adolphus' arm and pulled him to the ground. They wrestled.

"And I still say baroque will see its prominence again," Claude said as we watched them wrestle each other.

"Your ideas are entirely too self-serving," I said. "Just because you have an arcane obsession doesn't mean the rest of us must follow suit. Your philosophy is as flamboyantly indulgent as your architecture. Forgive my honesty."

This provoked Claude and he flew into a rage. First, he clipped my left ear with his hand and then swung a fist into my ribcage. Mikhail and Adolphus still tumbled at our feet, blocking blows and biting hands. I returned Claude's aggression and kicked his shin before jumping to my feet. As he bent to grab hold of his shin, I lifted my knee into his face. He sunk to the ground. Mikhail knocked the letter opener from Adolphus' grip and it spun toward my foot. I reached down for it but Claude grabbed it seconds before I could grasp it. He sliced at my hand.

"Neo-pragmatism calls you all under its shield!" Adolphus yelled.

"Neo-romanticism is the answer to our grief!" Mikhail yelled back.

"Neo-baroque will reign!" Claude bellowed, waving Adolphus' letter-opener.

I had nothing to offer and felt suddenly foolish. I kicked Claude out of sheer habit. Mikhail climbed to his feet again and looked at me.

"Cast a vote you fuck," he said. "The movement depends on your loyalty."

"What movement?" I cried.

Adolphus and Claude got up and sat on the bench.

"We all could use a drink," Adolphus said. "Then you can see the error in your thinking."

"What movement?" I said again.

"The movement you will get a drink for," Adolphus answered. He reached into his coat pocket, produced a wrinkled five dollar bill, and tossed it at my feet. Behind him, Mikhail grinned savagely. I picked up the bill. I saw Claude hand the letter-opener to Mikhail as I turned to go to the store.

"And now we shall drink to the birth of neo-pragmatism," Adolphus roared. "And you can help me pen the greatest manifesto yet borne of my genius!"

I continued walking, bill in hand. I could sense behind me the struggle that was erupting. I threw a glance over my shoulder as I walked away and saw Mikhail lunge at Adolphus with the letter-opener. He aimed for the throat and caught it dead-on. A stream of crimson squirted from his jugular like a morning piss. I saw Claude dive for Mikhail's legs and take him down. The letter-opener jumped from Mikhail's hand and Adolphus caught it with his own. He dropped to his knees, stunned, and stabbed blindly at the ground before him. The blade gouged Claude's calf and he kicked Adolphus with his other leg. Mikhail had grabbed a stick from beside the bench and began pummeling Claude's head and shoulders.

There was blood everywhere. I could see Claude taking the letter-opener from Adolphus and he swung it blade-first into Mikhail's gut. Blood gushed from the wound and Mikhail yelled in pain. "The only acceptable movement is neo-romanticism, you bastards!" he screamed. He continued bashing Claude over the head.

"Neo-baroque..." Claude mumbled under the drubbing.

With a tremendous gush of blood, Adolphus puked out, "Neo-pragmatism for us all!" He and Mikhail collapsed over Claude's now-defeated body. It was a scene of pure gore, arrogance and stupidity. Our movements had been eaten at birth, all our fury for the future of our arts spent on beating each other to the punch. I watched from a safe distance and decided not to get involved. I thought about the ideas we'd spit at each other and realized nothing we said was very interesting.

I observed the mound of bloodied pulp that was once my friends, and realizing that I was five dollars richer, I decided to get a drink.