Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Freedom from Repression?

Justice demands that all be treated equally--that no one viewpoint be forced upon others who may wish to go their own way--that everyone should be free to go his own way, separate from majorities, if that be his wish, so long as no one else is deprived or harmed thereby.

Camille Paglia is quoted in the Spring, 1995 issue of "Free Inquiry" (pages 6-7) as saying that "the strange truncations, limitations, and repressions of Judeo-Christianity ... have produced the cult of the striving, heroic, turbulent, individual artist. ... [and that] this is part of the greatness of the West. It's based on neurosis and repression. ..."

Or, as interviewer Timothy Madigan paraphrased in the same article: "The artists are somewhat like oysters producing pearls from the irritants of their upbringing."

Firstly, let me say that I am inclined to agree with the accuracy of the above observations. But they raise, however, some intriguing questions--questions which I believe are important enough to deserve honest answers (or honest attempts at answers). Try (if you will) to sharpen your mind on THESE:

Do we not desire a just and equitable society--in other words, a society free from repressions? Do we not desire (as much as reasonably possible) to eradicate those very repressions that (apparently) have historically been the 'friction which produced great art'? Or do we, after all, really wish merely to preserve the 'status quo'--all for the sake of maintaining our present culture, so that still more 'great art' may continue to be produced?

Question: What sort of art would be produced in a society in which such frictions--such repressions--are largely absent? Would it perhaps be nothing more than a visual form of socio-political propagandising, or like the admittedly bland, passionless 'tractor art' of the mid-twentieth-century Soviet Union?

Question: Is adequate justice (or freedom from repression) really POSSIBLE or realistic in present human societies, given our continued ties to and dependence on the primitive, irrational animal emotions of fear, taboo, superstition, and intolerance (or xenophobia)? Are we perhaps fools to desire that the human race evolve away from this animalistic heritage, and to desire moreover that it happen in the short space OF OUR OWN LIFETIMES?

Question: Is a state of freedom from repression (or 'justice') even DESIRABLE in some instances, seeing that such a condition would (so it seems) eradicate the basis of friction which has historically produced great art (or artists)?

It would thus seem that to desire a society where repression is absent is to desire a society where great art or artists (as we have historically known them) WOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE.

Question: If great art (and therefore culture) can only be produced under conditions of friction and repression, which do we then desire most--FREEDOM from that repression (and, presumably, more comfortable lives), or great art and culture, and lives made richer because of that culture?--because 'great' art is great, because it speaks more deeply, more directly, more RELEVANTLY, to the archetypes we perceive and feel, or to the strong emotions we experience over the courses of our lives.

Surely, then (I hasten to add), a life or society without great culture would be a fairly BLEAK one--at least to a sensitive, intelligent soul more finely attuned to the emotional or aesthetic content of life--to a human being with the feeling, sensitive soul of a poet (which is the defining hallmark of the true artist, as Thomas Mann said repeatedly earlier in this century).

Well, I frankly admit that I do not have any firm, final answers to these questions I have proposed; like many others before me, I merely seek answers--which phrase I suppose could be more accurately rendered as "I merely seek greater existential security or stability." In this, surely, I am not alone. More directly relevant to the above discussion, I will add that I myself desire both freedom from repression AND great culture. Perhaps I foolishly desire the impossible. ...

And yet ... and yet, we all of us, at some time or another, feel to say that justice and fairness MUST be actual possibilities, beyond mere abstract concepts, because our brains are capable of IMAGINING that they exist. And (more importantly), without the HOPE for a state of (eventual) justice and freedom, how could humankind continue to have the aspirations and the courage to continue living and struggling, and striving to make a better world? I therefore believe that these issues are of fundamental importance.

21 July, 1995--27 February, 1996.