Making Love and Art in the End Dimes
Review of Matthew Gasda's play "Dimes Square"
I keep hearing about how literature sucks these days, how it’s sterile and inoffensive, all about identity, stifled by politics. They say things are no longer judged according to artistic merit but to political correctness. Not too long ago there was “alt lit”—whatever happened to that? Maybe it just fell out of fashion, or maybe it was cancelled, murdered, assassinated. Whatever it was, it’s over, and New York City’s young writers and artists and models and fashion designers and creative directors and all the other culture hustlers are tripping over themselves trying to find something, anything, to ground their aspirations for artistic greatness.
So, what comes next? Well, according to The New York Times and The Cut and whoever else you can rely on to tell you what’s hot and what’s not, the answer may be in the art scene known as “Dimes Square.” And if Matthew Gasda is to be trusted as a spokesman of that crew, it can be expressed in the psychological tensions of naturalist theater. In his play, Dimes Square, the scenesters play themselves in what they believe is their authentic form, which is chasing clout and doing a lot of cocaine in a Chinatown apartment.
You’re supposed to laugh at the backstabbing coke-binging clout chasers not because of how alien they are but because of how familiar they are. You’re one of them. After all, what brings you there to Ty’s Loft in Greenpoint (or wherever it’ll be playing in SoHo) to see this play? How did you find out about it? I don’t need to tell you what Dimes Square is, how the name refers to the restaurant Dimes that straddles the border of the Lower East Side and Chinatown. I don’t need to tell you how the scenesters hang out there and at the bar Clandestino, or “Clando,” with Dimes “Square” itself being the corner where Canal Street meets Essex Street right next to the East Broadway F train station. I certainly don’t need to tell you that this place is also, emphatically, not in Brooklyn. You already know how Brooklyn is too political, too woke, too soft, too soy, too consumed by cancel culture to be a fertile climate for artistic expression. You’ve already heard about how the vibes are shifting back to downtown Manhattan, which is grittier and sleazier. It’s a place where older literary men can have younger muses, free from the prudish Robespierres of the North Brooklyn DSA—which is how things were back when New York City’s art world had real bad boys like Vincent Gallo. But if you didn’t know about any of those things, if you weren’t already plugged in to Twitter and trying to schmooze and fuck your way into New York City’s media world, you’d think you were just watching a slightly more contemporary version of Girls, or perhaps Friends.
But you know all those things. You go to the Dimes Square show and look exactly like the actors milling about before the show starts, you look like you could be in it yourself, you could just get on stage and interrupt the performance to offer them some of your own ketamine you brought to do during intermission, but you don’t do that because it’d be rude and you have a reputation to maintain, so instead you hang out after and talk to the actors and introduce yourself and tell them how much you enjoyed the show (I didn’t actually do this because I took acid before), you’re a niche twitter microcelebrity and they already know you, or at least know of you, but despite your flattery it’s still a little cold because they know you’re an enemy, either an ideological enemy who’ll cancel them out of principle or just another two-faced social climber who’ll throw them under once any opportunity presents itself, once it’s time for you to get your book deal.
I’m an ideological enemy, I’ll admit it. I really don’t care about how the heirs of New York City’s media elite are struggling to create meaningful art and feel oppressed by how they aren’t allowed to say slurs or fuck their students or whatever. I want more politics in art, not less, because I want communism. Or maybe you don’t believe my political commitments—I’m just a bourgeois social climber from the swagless Northern Virginia deep-state upper-middle class who just moved to Brooklyn. But whether it’s from a genuine commitment to proletarian revolution or from intra-bourgeois resentments, I still want worthy enemies. I want my enemies to create texts to really wrestle with, texts that I can’t help but grudgingly respect, texts that demand a response, that must be overcome to create truly radical transformative art.
For all the hype around the Dimes Square/downtown scene there aren’t too many examples of the groundbreaking artworks we’ve been promised. Most of what’s produced seem to be podcasts and substacks, which resist evaluation as discrete artworks. There’s Dasha Nekrasova’s horror film The Scary of Sixty-First, which was only really shocking in that it featured Jeffrey Epstein-themed ageplay, and then sort of fizzled out of the discourse. And then there’s Dimes Square.
What frustrated me about Dimes Square was that there are a lot of interesting threads that could’ve been explored but are only briefly alluded to. One of the characters briefly alludes to the trend of converting to catholicism in one throwaway punchline. Presumably this is referring to Dasha Nekrasova herself—the character imitates Dasha’s distinct vocal fry, says the word “retarded,” and so on. Catholicism is just a meme among all the other memes, just like socialism is a meme that’s been getting particularly annoying and threatening to the play’s protagonists. No one could possibly be seriously committed to catholicism or socialism, or anything at all. But I think this treatment of catholicism, which is a real trend among this milieu at this moment, is one particularly glaring missed opportunity for the play to actually articulate some aesthetic or political commitments (even if I think those commitments would be ultimately reactionary). I genuinely want to know, why are all these young influential creative people becoming catholic? What does it actually mean? Surely it can’t be that shallow, right?
Or maybe it all really is that shallow. Maybe that’s the point. These people were all socialists five years ago and now that socialism has gone mainstream they become catholic, because neither of those concepts mean anything, there’s no point in going any further because there’s nothing more to it. And if it’s the point then all this play is saying is that there’s an art scene of superficial mediocrities that do lots of coke. Wow! That’s so dangerous and subversive. O, decadence! And then we’re supposed to relate to these people and believe that they’ve really got their finger on the pulse of the moment!
From what I can tell, the only recurring motif through Dimes Square texts that I think is treated some serious commitment has to do with age gaps in sexual relationships. That is, saying it’s actually hot for there to be age gaps or “power imbalances” in sex. It’s hot for professors to fuck their students, students desire to fuck their professors and to become their “muses.” This is even worked into how the character Dave, played by critic Christian Lorentzen in his first acting role, steals the show in the second act as the boisterous and unfiltered representative of the literary old guard whose boundless shit-talking jouissance “cucks” the younger socialites. Anyway, art was great when artists used to be able to act on these vaguely pedophilic fantasies without their art being shut out of the public sphere. This is the thing that the liberals and leftists don’t want you to realize, because they hate Eros, they hate desire itself. Reclaiming the sexual age gap—is the one “shocking” thing, the one thing that’s really supposed to offend polite contemporary sensibilities. After all, drugs are mundane now, they’re basically legal, no one dies from overdose in Dimes Square, the 4AM coke binge is just another Thursday night. And what else is shocking? What else is worthy of being cancelled? I guess that they say the r-slur. But the Red Scare girls already popularized doing that and their careers have just taken off since. Boring!
I’m reminded of Dean Kissick writing about the New York art world in 2018/19: “What’s thrilling here are not the exhibitions, which nobody seems to find that interesting at the moment, but the artists and writers and mystery figures that one encounters at openings and parties, and the extraordinary levels of self-belief that so many have cultivated… Most gallery openings are little more than good places to find some friends to journey into the night with. ‘As soon as I started to hang out in the art world,’ a historian told me recently, ‘I stopped caring about art. I go to an art opening and literally ignore the paintings. They don’t register, I don’t care about them.’ Voice of a generation!”
Well, there you have it. You sort of just have to be there. The art itself is basically an afterthought. I guess I gotta just go to parties around town and offer people coke and listen to their ranting if I want to get a real committed answer about what’s coming next in the world of art and letters. I personally don’t have a problem with that, but it would be nice to have some art that does more than tickle the enjoyment of seeing oneself in the cocaine mirror.