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Stupid Gurus

The Thing called Monty Cantsin is an explicitly empty figure, a name open to occupation by anyone who wishes to stand in the stupid guru's place in order to see that it doesn't exist. There is, in fact, no such individual as Monty Cantsin; he is a pure alias. In principle, anyone who wishes to adopt this false identity, this identity as falsehood, and for whatever motives, whether it be to preserve the strictest anonymity or from the most venal band-wagon opportunism, can claim to be Cantsin.
Canadian 'total media artist' Monty Cantsin is something between an enigma and an institution. He is a being around whom a vast contemporary mythology has accumulated. Nemesis seems to dog his footsteps; retribution is incapable of tracking him down. He is voracious of appetite, prolific of explanation, eternally on the brink of affluence yet forever in the slough of debt. He is, moreover, a prince among parasites, a model of optimism, and a master of obtuseness. He can achieve more, and at less cost to himself, than a gypsy. He is as ancient as the hills, as genial as the sunshine, as cheerful as an expectant relative at the death bedside of wealth. He is unthinkable, unforgettable, unejectable, living on [in] all men for all time. Nations die and rise again; Kings come and go; Emperors soar and fall ... but Monty Cantsin lives on and on*.
The stupid guru is always a locus of exaggeration: a "vast mythology" surrounds the leader of even the tiniest sect. Here, the purposely vacuous description could apply to any guru, and that is its point: it is offered as a null set, and hence as the proper set of the guru himself. He lives on and on because he never existed, just as no guru, no king, no pop star has ever existed. But that is not to say that one can ever go beyond him. In the very act of evacuating this figure, his sovereignty is reconfirmed. The history of Neoism demonstrates that once one stands in his place one can easily forget one is standing nowhere: Cantsin becomes a disputed figure, as certain Neoists claim to be the real Cantsin in the very act of inviting others to partake of Cantsin's persona (a rather messianic offer: this is my body), as if mere contact with this name was enough to erase the memory that there is nothing at stake in the name, that emptiness is all that was ever at stake in it.

One is reminded of the wars for possession of the term dada, equally vacuous and equally invaluable. Thus Cantsin is not only an anarchistic be-your-own guru, a figure of a poésie fait par tous, but both the attempted subversion of this structure and the immediate failure of that subversion in a proprietary struggle.

From: Stupid Undergrounds by Paul Mann, Department of English, Pomona College
Published in Postmodern Culture v.5 n.3 (May, 1995)