Thursday, May 26, 2005

I've been thinking about this: Creativity and Violence in the late 20th century (Ashis Nandy) - (pp. 214-221)

...Nothing probably has 'freed' the arts more than the two world wars. What we have done or not done with that freedom is a different matter. On this level, our passionate affair with dispassionate, professional, technicised mass murders have shaped our concepts of creativity and creative freedom. We know the source of our creative freedom but we do not want to know it. The colossal destruction that we have inflicted on our fellow humans has made us wary of our new unbridled creativity. That destructiveness has also made us terribly insecure; we are afraid that the same laboratory principles that have helped us kill millions in this century might be applied to us some day. Our destructiveness has brought us face to face with our deep fears of transcience, but without the benefit of theories of transcendence that made such fears bearable in earlier centuries.

The anxiety of self-confrontation, has been, perhaps understandably, matched by carefully nurtured forgetfulness, or as the presently fashionable expression goes, erasures.

Some psychoanalysts believe than human creativity is essentially restitution; it seeks to compensate for feelings of anger and hatred that we nurture within us, and the moral anxieties these feelings trigger. From this point of view, creativity is a form of atonement; it is born in our innate destructiveness and our fear of and guilt about such destructiveness. There has been ample reason for us to atone in this century and, if we take seriously what some of the early psychoanalysts ventured, our creativity should have not only flowered but also borne the stamp of this massive guilt. Perhaps, to some extent it does. However, it seems that we have been so brutalized, so exposed to and benumbed by the wanton, gratuituous violence in this century , either directly or through the media, that our creativity does not really carry the full imprint of the violence we have seen. Our creativity is built not on the ego defence of restitution and symbolisation but on massive, cultivated intellectualisation and on the more primitive defence of denial.

While our cognitive sense has been challenged by our exposure to large-scale violence, our emotional and intuitive selves has been more numbed than challenged. I have come to suspect that this style of studying and talking about violence may have something to do with the West's genocidal record outside the West during the last four hundred years. The extermination of millions is not easy to live with, it cries out for elaborate intellectualisation and rationalisation. Even the best-studied genocide in the world, the European holocaust, bears the mark of that cultivated forgetfulness.
Our creativity is partial, I suspect, because our atonement is partial. Our atonement is partial, in turn, because it does not acknwoledge the full range of the violence on which the modern, disciplinary knowledge of violence is founded.

However, I am not pessimistic. The limited creative understanding of violence is not the last word on the subject...Till the inter-war years, in the case of virtually every great artist or writer in Europe, it was possible to more or less precisely state what convention or norm he or she has broken to mark out a place for himself or herself in the world of creativity. ...That is now less true of the world of humanities, literature, and even music. Norms and conventions have already been broken with such impunity and ease in these disciplines that even minor writers and artists have gleefully got into the game. Often, you have to pretend to break a norm that already lies in smithereens around you.
This is mainly a plea to admit that the scale of destruction in this century has created an environment of inner exile and uprooting that has not allowed new conventions and traditions to crystallise in the world of creativity.

more to follow...

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