Tradução de Ronaldo Bassit. Revisão de Matheus Pacini.
Publicado: 29 Novembro 2013.
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Tradução de Ronaldo Bassit. Revisão de Matheus Pacini.
Publicado: 29 Novembro 2013.
My essay on “Why Art became Ugly” has been translated into Portuguese by Ronaldo Bassit and Matheus Pacini.
For Week 11 in my Western Civ course: Romanticism.
Previous files in the series:
2. The Renaissance Context.
3. England to the Glorious Revolution.
4. Justice and Modernizing the Law.
5. From Feudal to Modern Business and Economics.
6. The American Enlightenment.
7. The Battle for Women’s Liberty and Equality.
8. The Enlightenment.
9. The Enlightenment in France.
10. The French Revolution.
I have a co-authored article (in English) forthcoming in a Polish academic journal. My co-author is Przemysław Zientkowski of Nicholas Copernicus University. Dr. Zientkowski has just published a book (in Polish) on the critique of human rights in Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy. So if your Polish is up to speed, check it out.
This post lists 71 interesting facts about Tennessee Williams, in honor of the 71 years of his life.
Item 19 is: “I don’t believe in individual guilt. I don’t think people are responsible for what they do. We are products of circumstances that determine what we do. That’s why I think capital punishment’s an outrage.”
Williams was a playwright and not a logician, but still: If people aren’t responsible for what they do, then that includes those administering capital punishment. So if one is a determinist, then it makes no sense to be outraged by capital punishment. One has to believe that circumstances lead some people to be murderers and rapists and others to be executioners.
Of course one can reply that circumstances have conditioned one to be outraged by the death penalty, but one would also have to grant equal status to those conditioned to be in favor of it.
The general point: Environmental determinism undercuts any value judgments.
Side note: Item 53 says that Anton Chekhov was a major influence on Williams, Chekhov being “a literary sensibility to which I felt a very close affinity.” That makes sense, given that Williams represents a further position on the spectrum of human pessimism and despair. I’m reminded of Professor Nina Baym’s summary of Williams’s work:
“We are less concerned over contemporary criticisms of Williams’s plays for their violence and their obsession with sexuality, which in some of the later work was regarded by some critics as an almost morbid preoccupation with ‘perversion’ — murder, rape, drugs, incest, nymphomania. We now know that the shriller voices making such accusations were attacking Williams for his homosexuality, which, we must remember, could not be publicly spoken of in this country until comparatively recently. These topics, however, also figure as instances of his deeper subject, the themes of desire and loneliness. As he said in an interview, ‘Desire is rooted in a longing for companionship, a release from the loneliness that haunts every individual.’ Loneliness and desire propel his characters into extreme behavior, no doubt, but such behavior literally dramatizes the plight that Williams saw as universal.” (Nina Baym et al. eds., The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 3rd edition, 1989, p. 2148.)
Note the descriptors of Williams’s universe: violence, obsession, morbid, perversion, murder, rape, drugs, incest, nymphomania, loneliness, plight, and so on.
Anton Chekhov is a great writer, in large part because he follows ruthlessly a principle of selectivity named after him: “Chekhov’s gun” is principle of writing that says that every element in a narrative must be essential and irreplaceable, and anything that is neither must be eliminated.
But I don’t like reading Chekhov. I read Three Sisters in a theatre course in college and remember respecting the directness of the writing but not the story. At the time I read a few other short stories and had the same impression. Since then I have never returned to Chekhov for pleasure.
I was reminded why by the composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose describes some of his music as inspired by Chekhovian themes:
“I remember that once I accidentally came across Chekhov’s thoughts on how the Russian man only lives a real life until he’s thirty. We rush when we’re young, we think everything is ahead, we hurry, pouncing on everything. We fill our soul with whatever comes our way. But after thirty our soul is filled with gray rubbish. That’s amazingly true.”
And this: “Chekhov also said that Russia is a land of greedy and lazy people who eat and drink prodigious amounts and like to sleep during the day and snore while they sleep. People marry in Russia to keep order in the house, and take mistresses for social prestige. Russians have the mentality of a dog — when they’re beaten, they whimper softly and hide in the corner, and when they’re scratched behind the ear, they roll over.”
Chekhov may or may not be a good journalist or sociologist of the Russian character. I don’t know. But these are assertions by an artist. And I am sure, as Chekhov was sure, that there are at least some Russians whose lives after thirty are vital and colorful, and that some Russians fight for their principles, eat healthily, and marry for love.
But in his writings Chekhov chooses not to focus on them. Instead, as in Three Sisters, he writes of a spinster who never found love, a cuckold, the bad-tempered woman who cuckolded him, a man with a low-end job and hopeless debts stuck raising a child, and so on.
An artist’s decision consistently to focus on the disappointments, failures, and betrayals in life — when he knows that satisfaction, success, and loyalty are possible — where does that choice come from?
It is a choice: The artist is free to do whatever he wants in his writings. The artist is a god — in his work, an artist decides who lives and who dies, who is successful and who fails, what goals his characters adopt or avoid, and so on. Those choices have to come from the artist’s judgment about what is most importantly true.
As consumers of art, our responses are also about importance. We don’t read 19th-century Russian literature primarily to learn about 19th-century Russia — history books and old newspapers can give us that. Instead, we read literature that uses, say, 19th-century Russia as a vehicle for experiencing important truths about the human condition. If the author’s assessment of the human condition affirms your own, you respond positively to the experience — you feel intellectual and emotional affirmation. If not, you feel alienation; the work may contain elements of interest, but the overall effect will be neutral or negative.
 Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. New York: Harper and Row, 1979, p. 180.
 Ibid., p. 179.
I’m reading Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. A character comments:
“Everyone must have one thing that they can excel at. It’s just a matter of drawing it out, isn’t it? But school doesn’t know how to draw it out. It crushes the gift. It’s no wonder most people never get to be what they want to be. They just get ground down.” (p. 192) Sadly true of many education systems.
Hard-Boiled is a dystopian novel about personal identity and artificial intelligence set in Japan’s near future. Its mystery element makes it an engaging read, though its emotional atmosphere of abstracted impersonality is not to my taste. Murakami’s anonymous lead character explains himself indirectly through his choice of leisure reading material:
“I felt a new sympathy for [Turgenev's] protagonist Rudin. I almost never identify with anybody in Dostoevsky, but the characters in Turgenev’s old-fashioned novels are such victims of circumstance, I jump right in. I have a thing about losers. Flaws in oneself opens you up to others with flaws. Not that Dostoevsky’s characters don’t generate pathos, but they’re flawed in ways that don’t come across as faults. And while I’m on the subject, Tolstoy’s characters’ faults are so epic and out of scale, they’re as static as backdrops.” (p. 163)
The remark about Dostoevsky is very perceptive, as is the paragraph’s general point about aesthetic response as self-affirmation.
[Related: Autonomy as a human need.]
The Spanish translation of my essay is by Walter Jerusalinsky and published online at Idóneos e-magazine.
The essay was first published in English as “What Business Ethics Can Learn from Entrepreneurship” [pdf] in the Journal of Private Enterprise. It’s also available at the Social Science Research Network (where it was for awhile on SSRN’s “Top Ten” list of papers in the Entrepreneurship Research & Policy Network), in an e-book edition at Amazon, and in Serbo-Croatian [pdf] translation.
A PDF of the Spanish translation can also be downloaded here: “Lo que la Ética Empresarial Puede Aprender del Emprendimiento.”
Many thanks to Walter Jerusalinsky for his efforts.