Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Pretentious Blog Entry I Will Come to Regret Writing

Art's claims on us should be modest, restrained, and apologetic. The belief that art is transformative, consciousness-raising, even relevant is simply wrong. Art deserves to have no hold on us. It is just art after all. You go to see a show, movie, or exhibit, and then you leave. End of story.

Great art -- art that is non-exploitative, respectful of others -- recognizes its own irrelevancy. It has you, say, for half an hour, an hour, whatever; it does not seek to extend that time. You can easily return to reality once you put the book down or walk out of the theater.

Movies are not art (or not anymore). They are commodities, which is why, unlike good art, they seek an ironclad grasp on your reality. The narrative of film strives to engulf you. You are swallowed up inside it. Your reality becomes its property. The commodities marketed around movies -- toys, posters, soundtracks -- all give you the illusion that you are choosing to participate in the magic of the movie. In fact, you have no choice. The film has ensnared you. Buying its associated bric-a-brac is reflexive.

The powers of human imagination are greatly overvalued. Even the term imaginative is a euphemism for violent and destructive. The belief that the human imagination should be pushed to its limits and even beyond is nothing other than a desire for self-destruction.

I am now watching Shoah (this is a sign of mental imbalance, I know, but let's not to go into that right now). The most fascinating interview for me so far has been with a historian who describes the development of the Final Solution. He says that for the most part everything the Nazis did was unoriginal and entirely precedented historically. The rounding up of the Jews into their own segregated communities, laws against intermarriage, pilfering of Jewish riches -- all of this had been done before by secular and religious authorities. The Nazis may have implemented these tactics with greater efficiency, but they were still following in others' footsteps.

It was the Final Solution though, says this historian, that represented a complete break with the past. It was an unleashing of the powers of the human imagination so that the Nazis could come up with a more efficient and effective way of dealing with the Jews than anyone had ever before.

The historian (I wish I could remember his name) goes on to point out that in none of the correspondence or directives written by the Nazis do you ever see an explicit definition of the Final Solution. From this, Holocaust deniers have concluded there was no Final Solution -- where's the proof, they say? Another group might argue that this was an acknowledgment by the Nazis of how horrendous their behavior was. They could not bear to admit in print what they were doing.

I think though the omission was intended to incite Nazi officers' imagination. Go on, it said, imagine the worst, imagine what words cannot describe, push your imagination to its limits. It was just understood that when the imagination was unleashed like this, encouraged to transcend itself, the result would be barbarism.

So don't talk to me of the grandeur or greatness of the human imagination. Talk to me of the real challenge -- making our thoughts small and insignificant, doing no harm, acknowledging our limits and mortality.

1 Comments:

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