Friday, March 11, 2016

ET: Almanac

Man's fundamental instinct is desire to dominate. He wants to rule over things dead and alive, bodies and souls, future and past. All the many and varied activities to which he devotes himself are oriented to that end. Domination is the secret force which helps him to outgrow the limitations of his animal nature, and to this passion he owes the increasing spiritualization of all his vital impulses.

But nature and life go their own way according to superhuman laws. On one side is obtuse matter, with its passive and yet insurmountable resistances; on the other, the world of the soul, intangible and strange and inscrutably complicated. And above it all is destiny, that directorial force innate in all occurrences, which never concerns itself about man. Everything evades him; he is surrounded by shadows and riddles. The physical and the spiritual world stand under the same law of impenetrability.

What is he to do, then? Ruling is his foremost necessity in life, and it lies in the nature of every organism to obtain its necessities in all circumstances either by force or, failing this, by cunning. Thus it came about that man thought out a ruse by which to satisfy the basic depths of his will: he invented art.

"Reality" withstood him. The world of the body was too hard for him and too inert in its massive immobility, and the world of the soul too light and insubstantial in its problematical intangibility. That is why the cry arose in him: Away from this rigid reality, away from the world of things as they are! He conceived the ingenious idea of leaving those intolerant and obstinate realities to themselves and constructing a new world of his own above the other. This newly-created world was his property, his unlimited, sovereign domain, which he could shape according to his will. In this kingdom, his own free creation, he might hope at last to be a complete tyrant. Art became the sublimest form of his will to power.

But at this point the oddest thing sometimes happens with the artist. There is, after all, something stronger than himself: that formative power which created this whole kingdom of his and dominates it. His art is more than he is: for he is a helpless individual organism, a man as other men, but it is a terrific natural force. And with horror he begins to realize that his curious ability to create has made him more dependent. His "births" stand there, released from his will. And gradually there grows within him a dislike and hatred of this art, and he fights against it. Then, when clever folk come and say to him that this is contradictory, since in fighting against art he is fighting against himself and the whole meaning of his life, he might reply to them:

True, I hate art, just because I am an artist. You others may love and admire it, but I am bound to curse it. For you, it is an "inspiration," but for me a doom. I wanted to achieve domination and freedom through it, but it is the same art which has made me entirely unfree. It is the super-tyrant in me. Gradually, without my noticing, it has grown up and swelled into a powerful, terrible creature that is alien and hostile to me. I wanted to make images after my own wishes, and ideals after my free sovereign whim. But art never inquired about my wishes and ideals. The people who come and go in my poems are not creations of my will. I wanted to create a world of beauty, and there grew up before me a world of truth. I wanted to construct a world of happiness, and there arose a world of damnation. My figures were not subordinate to me, they were never my compliant creatures. They stood there like their own lawgivers, endowed with autocratic vital forces, and they frightened me, for that was how I had conceived them. And therefore I now fling my curse at art. It is the hereditary enemy of my life. It has set itself above me and robbed me, destroyed me, split me in two halves. It is the monster in me. Lying is human, but my art will have the truth and again the truth. Faith is human, but my art brings doubt. Blindness is human, but my art is the power of seeing. I did not know that the gift of seeing was so terrible a thing. Everywhere the artist bores passages, digs up subterranean things into the light. With his doubts he hammers at everything. He asks: but is greatness really great? and is goodness really good? and beauty beautiful and truth true? Why has he, and he alone, this frightful mission? He is, after all, a man like other men, with the instinct to believe, and the wish to believe; why, then, was he given this horrible function of seeing, being forced to see? I cannot see that the artist has reason to love art. Far rather would I have been a simple peasant; who thinks everything is equally big and good, equally true and beautiful. I will make haste and try to turn into one. But I fear it is too late.

But I retain my hatred. Who else, indeed, could hate art so profoundly, have to hate it, as we artists? Surely not you semi-artists! You amateurs and artists by accident. You may love art, for you have never suffered through it. For neither, for that reason, does it belong to you. For only those things through which we suffer most deeply, only those belong to us.

Egon Friedell: A Cultural History of the Modern Age, Volume III

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