As I got off the train at Columbus Circle today, I passed by a guy wearing a red shirt that read “Yeshu” in a Hebrew styled font. “Fucking Jews-for-Jesus,” I thought. I looked down at the pamphlets he was handing out and saw a cartoonish drawing of a guy holding a sign that read “Beware of religious fanatics handing out pamphlets.” I stepped back and took one. Perhaps I had him all wrong. Perhaps there was a different intention here. I opened the pamphlet and looked through it and saw a bunch of cartoons and a weird questionnaire. It would have been better if the pamphlet was empty, but this still looked vapid enough. What was this supposed to be? A secular humanist doctrine? A bit of ironic performance art? A bit of Dada? I skimmed through the pamphlet looking for the message, truly hoping that I wasn’t going to find one. I got through the first page and, so far, so good. I found nothing espousing a concrete world view. I started to get a little mad at myself that I hadn’t had the balls to do this, and this unassuming, unsociable looking guy had. What a wonderful idea to go out onto the street during the morning rush hour and hand out pamphlets to commuters, with messages intended to subvert the meanings of the common political or religious pamphlets commonly seen on these streets. Or better, yet, to hand out pamphlets that reject the idea of meaning at all. I mean Dada is old, decrepit, and perhaps even incontinent, but not dead.
What kind of message would I have in there? “Ceci n'est pas une brochure?” No. That is far too derivative. A cookie recipe? A print ad for a product that hasn’t been in existence since the 1940s? Perhaps a banal piece of my own day, like so many tweets that are posted today, but instead handing it out in hard copy under the hot sun. (Ah, the digital age, when messages are so plentiful and so easy to ignore, it is almost refreshing to have some jerk try to foist his views into my hand as I am trying push my way by him to get to work. Almost.) It is not as though this type of thing has never been done before, but now, in age of Facebook and Twitter, it seems so anachronistic to make such an effort. Indeed, it is the sheer effort involved in this gesture to inflict meaninglessness on a group of people is what makes it art, not how the meaninglessness is constructed.
I got to the bottom of the pamphlet and, to my dismay, it did evolve into some treatise for Jews-for-Jesus. I was frustrated at myself for being fooled for even a moment (he was wearing that stupid shirt, after all), but more frustrating was seeing this opportunity for a beautifully empty gesture wasted. I tore up the brochure and threw it away, amazed at the audacity of this guy to try to differentiate himself and his group from “religious fanatics.” Actually, that was a pretty good joke, but one that the pamphleteer was not in on.