import_contacts 15 credibility street

reviewed by Tom Hartman

Published in Issue No. 42 ~ November, 2000

15 Credibility Street is the official publication of The Anti-Naturals, an Amherst, Mass.-based group that styles itself as avant-garde theorists as well as artists and writers. In their manifesto, accessible by following the “to contributors” link in the table of contents, they advocate “the total aestheticization of one’s experience.” They write,

The aesthete makes of life an art object, and by doing so, asserts the superiority of the constructed self/society over the ‘natural’. . . artists [must be removed] from their shallow roles as entertainers, advertisers, and comforters. Instead, artists will represent the vanguard of total aestheticization.

The Anti-Naturals oppose post-modernism, and, more broadly, any conformity to the demands of the unholy trinity of “consumer capitalism, Judeo-Christian morality and the positivist science of the mind.”

While all of this sounds very nice, the theories outlined by 15CST editor Timothy Shortell and his fellow Anti-Naturals are hardly new. The bit about making one’s life a work of art is straight out of Wilde, and other passages of the manifesto are little more than glosses on Walter Pater or D.K Huysman – with a little Marx, a little pro-environment stuff thrown in for good measure. Essentially, the Anti-Naturals are pitching a sort of revised aestheticism, which, as theoretical perspectives on art and literature go, is about as cutting-edge as Harold Bloom.

Ultimately, the windy elitism of the Anti-Naturals makes them difficult to warm up to. (This smugness is evident in both the manifesto and in newer manifesto-styled material like “Simple-mindedness” from the latest issue of 15CST.) Consider, for example, the following passage from Shortell’s essay “If You Are Thinking About Writing A Novel, Read This,” which bemoans the state of contemporary fiction. “Fewer people should write novels,” declares Shortell. “We [the Anti-Naturals] expect the artist to create a world, not report on the details of this one.” He continues:

I don’t care about your experience of ethnicity or gender. I don’t even really care about your experience of class. I’m not interested in your experiences of trauma, passion or courage. Stories about your growing up would only bore me. I don’t find your dreams, or their interpretation, fascinating in the least. I’d rather take a bullet in the head than hear about your spirituality. . . The advantage of a diary is that you get to write all about yourself, and I don’t have to read it. Nor do any of my friends, who are all as sensitive as me in this regard. You can record your reflections and musings, your observations and fantasies – all your moments, large and small. Your unique experience will become a part of the record of modernity. Perhaps, some day, a historian will discover your work and add you to his insightful analysis. Your contribution to civilization and human progress will be assured.

Facing such presumption, one can almost imagine the Anti-Naturals sitting in a sidewalk cafe, all decked out in suitably-Boho gear, revved up on double espressos and too many Camel Lights, sneering at the thoroughly bourgeois ordinariness of passersby while reciting favorite lines from Kant or “a rebours.”

Oddly enough, particularly given the Anti-Natural’s suggestion to examine the work from the latest issue to get a sense of the kind of work the group admires, there’s hardly any writing in 15CST that isn’t didactic or which provides a sufficient example of A-N’s vision for contemporary writing/art put into practice. Karla Borecky’s poem “Annelides,” for instance (the new issue’s lone poem), while certainly a competent (even commendable) poem, hardly displays the musical effects or the sheer sensuousness one might expect from a presumed exemplar of this new aestheticism. Looks like we’ll have to wait, too, for an example of the fiction that Shortell would have replace the Mary Karr/Oprah’s Book Club stuff that he so derides in “If You Are Thinking About Writing A Novel, Read This.”

The bulk of 15CST‘s content is visual art from Shortell and fellow Anti-Natural Graham Lambkin. While pleasant enough, Lambkin’s contributions, the whimsical “Duck Walk”, the vaguely Asian-influenced “Red Bird” and the almost Escher-esque “Dog Eggs”, suggest an artist still groping for a signature style while weighing influences culled from Pop and naive art. Shortell’s own pieces, on the other hand, (from the “Rooms Series,” Nos. 1 and 2) are worth examining. In these minimalist pen-and-inks, Shortell calls our attention to the mundane details of several rooms (door knobs and locks, an umbrella, a chair) by rendering them in color while all else is depicted only in outline. They’re charming images, if hardly revolutionary, not unlike coloring book pages that a child has abandoned after carefully coloring a few bits.

Unfortunately, Shortell’s drawings can hardly compensate for 15CST‘s ‘tude or its lack of real content in support of the various manifestos. At this juncture, this ‘zine is little more than a staging ground for the Anti-Natural’s pretensions.

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Tom Hartman has been a regular contributor to Pif since 1999. He lives in Philadelphia.