"Grand Style" New "Objective" Art’s

Positive Realism to Affirm Absolute Realities

as Alternative for Future Post-Bourgeois Art Empty Spiritual Space

(from “Ride the Tiger”)





Nonetheless, from the differentiated man's point of view the process of dissolution found in the most extreme art (I will address music later), with its atmosphere of anarchic or abstract freedom, may actually have a liberating value, as opposed to much of yesterday's bourgeois art. Aside from this, after the exhaustion of expressionism as a shapeless eruption of dissociated, psychic contents, and after the exhaustion of dadaism and surrealism, if their attitudes had persisted we would have witnessed the self-dissolution of modern art, which would have left an empty spiritual space. In a different epoch, it is precisely in that space that a new "objective" art might have taken shape, in that "grand style" to which Nietzsche referred: "The greatness of an artist is not measured by the beautiful sentiments that he arouses - only girls can think along these lines - but by the degree to which he approaches the grand style. This has in common with great passion the disdain of pleasure; he forgets to persuade, he wills ... To make himself master of the chaos that one is, to force his own chaos to become form, mathematics, law - that is the grand ambition. Around such despotic men a silence is born, a fear, similar to what is felt at a great sacrilege." But to think this way in the present world is absurd: our epoch lacks any center, any meaning, any objective symbol that could give soul, content, and power to this "grand style."

Similarly, in the field of fiction what is of interest today belongs to the documentary genre, which, with more or less expressive power, makes us aware of the state of contemporary existence. Only here, and in a few cases, is subjectivism overcome. But in the majority of literary works, in short stories, dramas, and novels, the regime of residues persists, with its typical forms of subjective dissociation. Their constant background, rightly called the "fetishism of human relationships," consists of the insignificant, sentimental, sexual, or social problems of insignificant individuals, reaching the extreme of dullness and banality in a certain epidemic type of American novel.

Having mentioned "social problems," I must also squelch the claims, or more accurately, the aesthetic and artistic ambitions, of "Marxist realism." The Marxist critic condemns the "bourgeois novel" as a phenomenon of alienation, but as I have already said, the intent of giving a social content or interpretation to the narrative, specifically mirroring the dialectic evolution of classes, the impulse of the proletariat, and so on, is merely a simian parody of realism and the organic integration of a divided and neutral culture. Here one kind of dissociation is replaced by another more serious one: that of making the socioeconomic element an absolute, detached from the rest. "Social" problems are, in themselves, of as little interest and importance as those of personal relationships and fetishist sentimentalities. None of these touches the essence; they fall far short of what might be the object of fiction and of a high art in an organic civilization. The few fictional writings brought to a difficult and artificial birth under the sign of "Marxist realism" speak for themselves; they are coarse material forced into a straitjacket by the demands of pure propaganda and "communist edification." One cannot speak here either of aesthetic criticism or of art, but rather of political agitation in the lowest meaning of the term. However, the present world is such that even where there was a demand for "functional art," for a "consumer art" (Gropius's expression) that was not "alienated," it was obliged more or less to end at the same level. The only sector that was preserved was perhaps architecture, because its functionalism does not require reference to any higher meanings, which are nonexistent today. When a Marxist critic like Lukacs writes: "In recent times art has become a luxury item for idle parasites; artistic activity, in its turn, has become a separate profession with the task of satisfying those luxury needs," he sums up what art is practically reduced to in our day.

This reductio ad absurdum of an activity sundered from every organic and necessary context parallels the other forms of internal dissolution that are present today, and as such facilitates the radical revision that the differentiated human type is forced to make concerning the importance of art in the earlier period. I have already mentioned how, in the climate of the present civilization and its objective, elementary, even barbaric tendencies, many people have discarded the notion of the period of bourgeois romanticism that art is one of the "supreme activities of the spirit," revealing the meaning of the world and of life. The man whom we have in mind can of course agree with this devaluation of art today. The fetishizing of art in the bourgeois period, connected with the cult of the "creative personality," the "genius," is alien to him. Even when it comes to some of the so-called great art of yesterday, he may feel no less distant than certain men of action today, who pay no attention to appearances, not even for "recreation," but are interested in other things. We may well share and approve this attitude - based, however, on the higher realism of which I have spoken, and on the sentiment of the "merely human" that is the constant basis of that art, in all its pathos and tragedy. It may even be that a differentiated man finds himself more comfortable with certain very modern art, because in itself it represents art's self-dissolution.

Incidentally, this devaluation of art, justified by the latest consequences of its "neutralization" and the new, active realism, had some general precedents in the traditional world. Art in a traditional and organic civilization never occupied the central spiritual position that the period of humanist and bourgeois culture accorded to it. Before the modern era, when art had a true, higher meaning, this was thanks to its preexisting contents, superior and prior to it, neither revealed nor "created" by it as art. These contents gave meaning to life and could exist, manifest, and act even in the virtual absence of what is called art, in works that sometimes might seem "barbaric" to the aesthete and the humanist who have no sense of the elementary and primordial.

We can draw an analogy with the attitude toward art in general that the differentiated man, looking to a new freedom, can assume in this period of dissolution. He is very little interested in, or preoccupied with, the current "crisis of art." Just as he sees no valid, authentic knowledge in modern science, similarly he recognizes no spiritual value in the art that has taken shape in the modern era through the processes mentioned at the beginning of this chapter; he sees no substitute for the meanings that can be kindled by direct contact with reality in a cool, clear, and essential climate. Upon objective consideration of the processes at work, one has the distinct feeling that art no longer has a future: that it is relegated to an ever more marginal position with respect to existence, its value being reduced to a luxury, in accord with Lukács's criticism quoted above.

It is helpful to return for a moment to the particular realm of modern fiction, where one deals with works that are corrosive and defeatist, so as to anticipate the same possibility of misunderstanding as in the case of neorealism. Clearly, my position has nothing in common with judgments based on bourgeois points of view; thus the accusation of the divided and neutral character of art must not be confused with moralizing, or with the censuring of art on the part of current petty morality. In the artistic works in question, it is not a matter of those "existential testimonies" pure and simple, to which one can apply this saying about Schoenberg: "All his happiness lay in recognizing unhappiness; all his beauty in forbidding himself the appearance of beauty," It concerns a particular art that directly or indirectly works to undermine any idealism, to deride any principles, to attack institutions, to reduce to mere words ethical values, the just, the noble, and the dignified - and all this without even obeying an explicit agenda (hence its difference from a corresponding literature of the Left, or the use and political exploitation of that literature on the part of the Left).

We know which groups raise an indignant protest against a similar, popular type of art. This is not the correct reaction, in my view, because it disregards its potential significance as a touchstone, especially for the differentiated man. Without anticipating coming chapters, I shall just say here that the difference between depraved and mutilated realism, and positive realism, lies in the latter's affirmation that there are values that, for a given human type, are not mere fictions or fantasies, but realities - absolute realities. Among these are spiritual courage, honor (not in the sexual sense), straightforwardness, truth, and fidelity. An existence that ignores these is by no means "realistic," but sub-real. For the man who concerns us, dissolution cannot touch these values, except in extreme cases of an absolute "rupture of levels." One must nevertheless distinguish between the substance and certain expressions of it, and also recognize that, on account of the general transformations of mentality and environment that have already happened or are in process, these expressions have already been prejudiced by the conformism, the rhetoric, the idealistic pathos, and the social mythology of the bourgeois period; thus their foundations are already undermined. Whatever is worth saving in the field of conduct needs to be liberated in an interior and simplified form, needing no consensus, and sound enough not to lean on any of the institutions or value systems of yesterday's world. As for the rest, it may as well collapse.

Once this point is settled (and it was already explained in the introduction), one can recognize that the corrosive action exercised by contemporary literature rarely touches on anything essential, and that many of its targets are not worth defending, cherishing, or regretting. Those scandalized, alarmist, and moralizing reactions stem from an undue confusion of the essential and the contingent, from the incapacity to conceive of any substantial values beyond limited forms of expression that have become alien and ineffective. The differentiated man is not scandalized, but adopts a calm attitude of understatement; he can go even further in overthrowing the idols, but then he asks:  "And now what?" At most, he will trace an existential line of demarcation, in the direction that I have repeatedly indicated. It does not matter that this corrosive and "immoral" literature does not obey any higher goals (though it likes to pretend that it does), and is only of value as evidence of the somber, tainted, and often filthy horizons of its authors. The evidence remains valid: it defines a certain distance. Times like these justify the saying that it is good to give the final push to that which deserves to fall.

From our point of view, a reactionary "re-moralizing" of literature appears inauspicious, even if it were possible, in the sense of a return to the style of Manzoni, and in general of the nineteenth-century specialists in the theatrical presentation of concepts of honor, family, homeland, heroism, sin, and so on. One has to go beyond both positions: that of the moralizers, and that of the proponents of this corrosive art whose transitional and primitive forms are destined to exhaust themselves, leaving for some a void, and for others, the free space for a higher realism. And these considerations should make it plain that my former accusations of divided and indifferent art are not to be interpreted as the desire to give art a moralizing, edifying, or didactic content.





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