"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, December 16, 2021

A Progressive In An Art Museum–Huh, What’s That Hanging On The Wall?

Chekhov in his later short stories and plays wrote about the revolutionary changes coming to Russia.  Anticipating the 1905 Revolution ten years before it happened and the more radical Revolution of 1917, Chekhov debated the nature and value of work, Russia’s aristocratic and royal heritage and the class-based society which derived from it, the seemingly intractable poverty of the peasants, and the role of the committed individual.  

His characters were never single-minded or obstinately passionate about their political intent, for they saw both sides of the question.  Misail, the young main character in the novella, My Life, rejects his life of wealthy privilege, family, education, and promise of a rewarding future and moves to the countryside with his wife.  He wants to identify with the peasantry, work alongside them in the fields, dress and act like them, and in fact become one of them.  His wife, initially reluctant to give up her own privileged life and without the intellectual and political belief in the valor of manual labor, agrees to move from Moscow to the provinces.

There, despite Misail’s allegiance to the peasants of his community and his insistent attempts to bond with them and feel the glory of physical toil, and Masha’s complaisance and willingness to give the crude, disrespectful, and deceitful peasants a bye, and to tolerate their crass and rude behavior because of the factors that define it, they fail. 

Misail grows more and more disappointed with men who work only for vodka and a few kopeks; men without ambition, enterprise, or good will.  How can Russia ever progress, he wonders, when its future will be based on communal labor and the heroism of the working class which seems to look no farther than its gruel?

Masha, despite her intent to regard the peasants fairly and with justice, concludes that they do not deserve a bye, a second look, a leg up.  They are without spirit, without soul, and without promise.  Investing one’s youth and youthful energies in such a lost and hopeless cause is unconscionable; and worst of all is her husband’s naïve conviction that he can leave aside centuries of aristocratic, sophisticated, cultured life and become a witless, senseless, and cruel peasant.  

One should follow one’s instincts, genetic predisposition, and upbringing and contribute according to one’s will regardless of its consequences.  In her case, art is ennobling both for her and for those who see it and come to understand how it presents a profound and subtle aspect of human nature.

Tolstoy’s Konstantin Levin expresses the same sentiments.  His wife congratulates him on his agricultural reforms and how he has made his acreage remarkably productive, far more than that surrounding his property.  He has been ingenious in his methods of management, economic discipline, and technology.  These reforms will make the peasants’ lives better. 

Nonsense, he says.  Congratulations might be in order for my accomplishments but not for the supposed reason for my dedication.  If the peasants benefit from the fruits of my enterprise, all well and good; but I did not do it for them.  It is only individual enterprise and expression that count and may or may not contribute to history.

Tuzenbach and Vershinin, two characters in Chekhov’s play Three Sisters, debate the same issue without conclusion.  Tuzenbach argues that history rewards no particular individual achievement, for history is nothing more than a random series of events that effect each other in an unending series.  The great Russian revolution will come to nothing in the end, because something will subvert ordivert it.  Life is simply as it is, and if anything, it is the will and expression of the individual according to his own nature which has value.

Chekhov indirectly referred to Nietzsche who voiced the same opinions stated by Tuzenbach.  The only validation of human existence in a meaningless, randomly-ordered world is the expression of pure will.

In any case Misail and Masha separate because she can no longer tolerate her husband’s vanity and adolescent assumptions about worker solidarity, progress, and a Russian utopia; and because she feels that after so many years of personal desuetude, it is to art, beauty, and a poetic appreciation of life that she must turn.

Chekhov repeats this idea throughout his stories.  There is such a thing as human nobility and it comes from the highest achievement in art, literature, philosophy, and science.  If the world is to progress, or at least have moments of enlightenment, it will come from such nobility and not the pedestrian attempts to secularize, politicize, and degrade human enterprise.

American progressives continue to insist slavishly on race, gender, identity, and ethnicity as the only lens through which to view society; and on the deconstructionist assumption that there is no such thing as nobility, artistic creativity, or individual genius.

The works of Shakespeare are no different from and no better than the journals of American slave women.  Both are conditioned by history, society, economics, and politics.  Both are valid and valuable only as they reflect the variables that influenced them.

The result is a gross dumbing down of American cultural experience.  Personal expression, examining and expressing the most subtle and sophisticated aspects of human nature and life itself are not worth the time spent on them.  They are vain, senseless, retrograde, and anti-progressive.  The individual, progressives say, is nothing except when he is subsumed within the collective.  His identity, other than his race, gender, or ethnicity, is meaningless.  Only his collective, social enterprise has value.

So, in keeping with these assumptions, ‘artists’ should be chosen based on their social identity; and their works judged on how they further the cause of social justice.  Artistic talent is meaningless and cannot be defined, and therefore should never be a criteria for honor or selection.  To be an ‘artist’ it is enough to be black, gay, transgender, or female and color within the lines.

A class of students from a local Washington high school were taken on a field trip to the National Gallery of Art, and the guide was chosen from among the many docents within the Smithsonian system who had been educated in post-modern deconstructionism and progressive political interpretation.  The administration of the school, backed by the teachers union fully endorsed both the guide and the program she had selected for the students.

It was to select a number of paintings with approved themes – violence and rape against women, male patriarchy, white elitism, and black oppression.  Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina, a majesty of marble, emotion, and desire was discussed only in terms of the ‘assault’, the ‘abuse’, and the characteristic dominance of ignorant men.

Image result for the rape of proserpina

Manet’s evocative Olympia, a masterpiece of color, organization, line, texture, and tone was presented only from the perspective of the black servant and her subservience to whiteness, and wealthy, white, ignorant women.

Image result for Olympia full paintingImage result for Olympia full painting

The guide took them past Abstract Impressionists like Pollock, Rothko and Motherwell and explained how these were examples of artistic venality and self-centered  entered hubristic masturbation.  The guide went on to disparage any work without ‘social merit’, without a clear political or social intent.  The work of the American State, she said, was too important to be diverted from its cause by frivolity.

The guide was pleased with her performance, and happy that her charges nodded and smiled in understanding and support.  She had gotten her message across – nothing was more important than the radical socialization of America, and all intents, purposes, and efforts should be made consistent with that goal.

It is no wonder that progressives have become a dour, serious, self-important lot.  Anyone standing behind the group of students, listening in on the guide’s lecture, and looking at the masterpiece on the wall could not help but be amused.  What was deadly serious to the guide, to the high school administration, to the teachers union, and to the progressive establishment was claptrap to everyone else– dangerous for its corrosive result, but hilarious in the act itself.

As Tolstoy said and Chekhov surmised, this too will end.  History is a fluid stream that makes its own channel. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.