Sunday, April 3, 2011

An Artist in Disguise?

On even days I see our dimension as a fallen world, on odd as a kind of reformatory. But such is the force of our culture that it shocks me when some person somewhere burns a Koran. This is the Age of Progress after all that naturally follows, doesn’t it, the Great Enlightenment? I’ve absorbed that ethos without being as sharply aware of it as I should to be. Therefore a sense of discomfort arises. It comes in waves. Did it really start with the Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie)? With the Mohamed cartoons (in the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten)? Will it end with the Reverend Terry Jones? That act has now cost some lives—and more yet to come. But the interesting aspects here are…

Well, the interesting aspects here are the vast upsurge of indigntion, the righteous defense of Rushdie, with prominent artists rushing to his defense back then…the outrage in the media over Muslim reaction to the cartoons…and now, surprise, an altogether contrarian reaction to the Reverend Terry Jones. Shouldn’t, for the sake of consistency, Terry Jones be staunchly defended, indeed even celebrated? Wasn’t he striking a blow for Free Speech, Freedom of Expression, and the People’s Right to Know just how the Reverend Terry Jones feels about things in general and Muslims in particular? Isn’t he, perhaps, an artist in disguise? Wasn’t he doing performance art? Shouldn’t that instantly justify him?

The interesting aspects here are that some things are sacred and others are not, but you have to have a really sophisticated and nuanced (to use one of those sophisticated words) sort of judgment to know precisely which is which. Artists and journalists are in—and religious zealots are out of—the zone, the Zone of the Sacred. Self-expression is in and religious convictions are out of the zone, unless the self-expression comes from a religious background.

The interesting aspect here is that evil stupid deeds are perennially with us (this is a fallen world or some kind of reformatory), but the current problem is itself the ripe fruit of the Enlightenment—although here the Enlightenment is in conflict with itself.

Remember the Piss Christ? Andres Serrano’s crucifix submerged in his own urine, photographed and displayed and winning the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art’s “Award in the Visual Arts” competition? That drew the wrath of Jesse Helms but Serrano was defended on the grounds of artistic freedom and the freedom of speech. The trouble here is that the Spirit of the Enlightenment delights in such things as that, but it frowns on religion—if frown is a strong enough word.

But some things are sacred, others are not. Free speech is fine—if it does not deny the holocaust. And what if Serrano had submerged a Star of David in his spent body fluids? There are limits, folks. We know where the buck stops.

Now from a pre-Enlightenment perspectives, where I am still stuck, all of these expressions of our liberation, freedom, whatever are wrong. Rushdie was sucking up to Western secularism, Serrano’s “art” is beneath contempt, the Danes were both stupid and provocative, forgetting that not all people regard religion as ridiculous, and Terry Jones is simply wandering blindly in the darkness. And I’m also certain that there are no good guys. I’m one of the other kind too. Not here—not among the Muslims, either. The very people who threatened Rushdie with assassination have branches that destroyed the great sixth century Buddhas of Bamiyan with artillery fire in Afghanistan.


  1. They also destroyed the statue of the Mourning Mother of Kaita.

    I think there are 2 photos of it on the web in all. (I just checked and only found one: mine! Google "mother kaita") It was a moving and poignant statue.

  2. You know, I hadn't actually thought about this newest violent erruption in the Middle East in reaction to the burning of the Koran in this way. I guess because I immediately thought that the act of burning the Koran was so nasty and low, needlessly provocative and dangerous. But, your post makes me think more deeply on the matter.

    (Snark warning):
    Isn't it also interesting that we are not hearing all the praise of social networking in this case as we did in both Egypt and Tunnisia recently? Where is the praise of social networking's ability to spread the word, allow people to coordinate their communal impulses and the like? Sigh.

    Montag, thanks for the link to your post with a picture of the Mourning Mother of Kaita statue. I found that very beautiful. I will try and focus on the beauty and the fact that humans can create such lovely things instead of thinking about the fact that we can be so distructive and thoughtless. Cheers.

  3. You're welcome.
    I am very glad that other people become aware of such beauty and its passing.