I thought of this tonight while watching the Season 4 premiere episodes (and there were two) of Louie - which could yet become the greatest show I've ever seen.
“[Czeslaw Milosz] is just like the rest of them (literati of a certain school, raised on “social” problems), and experiences strife, torment, and doubts that were completely unknown to writers formerly.
Rabelais had no idea whether he was “historical” or “ahistorical.” He had no intention of cultivating “absolute writing” or of paying homage to “pure art,” or too, the opposite of that, articulating his epoch. He intended nothing at all because he wrote he wrote the way a child pees against a tree, in order to relieve himself. He struck at that which enraged him and fought that which stood in his way. He wrote for his and another’s delight and he wrote whatever came to mind.
Nevertheless, Rabelais expressed his epoch and felt the impending times. He also created the purest and most enduring art and this happened because by expressing himself in complete freedom, he also expressed the external essence of his humanity and of himself, as a son of the times and the seedbed of the new epoch.
Today, however, Milosz (and he is not alone) puts his finger to his temple and ponders: How and what am I supposed to write about? Where is my place? What are my obbligations? Am I to immerse myself in history? Or should I perhaps seek the “other shore”? Who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do? The writer Zeromski, bless his soul, used to say at such times: Write what your heart dictates! And this is the advice that rings most true.
When will we put an end to the tyranny of the mulches of abstraction in order to see the concrete world anew? The power of these philosophized antinomies is so enormous that Milosz completely forgets whom he is addressing and imputes the role of defender of “pure art” to me, giving me practically the role of an aesthete. What do I have in common with him? If I oppose schemas which threaten a too topical literature, it is not at all to impose another schema. I am not speaking for an eternal art or a pure art, I am only telling Milosz that one must be careful that the life beneath our pen not be transformed into politics, philosophy, or aesthetics. I do not demand applied or pure art, I clamor for freedom. I demand a “natural” creativity, the kind that is the unpremeditated realization of man.
But he says: I am afraid, I am afraid that when I move away from History (that is, from the truisms of our day), I will be alone. To which I reply: This fear is indecent and what is worse, imaginary. Indecent because it is, in fact, a resignation not just from excellence, but also from one’s own truth, just as it is a withdrawal from the only heroism that makes up the pride, power, and vitality of literature. He who fears human scorn and loneliness among people, let him be silent. This fear is also imaginary because the popularity that one gains in the service of the reader and the currents of the epoch means only large editions and nothing, absolutely nothing more. Only he who is capable of standing apart from people and existing as a separate man and who only later wins two, three, or perhaps ten admirers, only he, my brothers, has overcome the isolation within the established boundaries of art.
He says (continually held in thrall by that reasoned vision, which is at odds with the most valuable characteristics of his person): Today we Poles can look down on the West and speak to it boldly (and here I cite him verbatim) “simply because our country is the scene of the most important changes that can take place and in these songs is the ‘song of the future’ which will rise up when Moscow’s reign over nations will come crashing down. I would respond to this with advice that he apply this thought to Bulgaria or China, which are also in the historical avant-garde. No, Milosz, no history will replace your own personal consciousness, maturity, depth. Nothing will absolve you of yourself. If you personally are important, then even if you live on the most conservative place on the face of the globe, your testimony about life will be important. No historical steamroller will squeeze important words out of an immature people.
So all of this becomes difficult, doubtful, dark, and muddled under the invasion of the complex sophistry of our times, but it can regain its crystalline purity when we understand that today we do not speak or write in a new and specific way but this is how it has been since the beginning of the world. No concepts will replace the examples of the great masters and no philosophy will replace literature’s geneological tree, so abundant in names that instill pride. There is no way around it: one can only write like Rabelais, Poe, Heine, Racine, Gogol -- or not at all. The legacy of this great race, which was passed down to us, is the only law that governs me. Yet I am not polemicizing with Milosz, who is a thoroughbred, I am polemicizing with that horse-collar, with that wagon full of scruples to which the past has hitched him."
- Witold Gombrowicz - Diaries