Friday, September 1, 2017

What Is To Be Done?

"Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)" by Jackson Pollock 
Freedom is a great thing and it’s something that most people want (though there are apparently prisoners who exhibit a perverse form of the Stockholm Syndrome in having a negative reaction to liberation). If you have been parented or schooled in an authoritarian way you dream of being freed from restraints and doing what you want to do. But looked at in another light, isn’t this the modern predicament? God is dead and paradise, hell and purgatory are just parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy. There may not be a come and get it day, but there also isn’t a judgment day or day of reckoning. At Rosh Hashanah Jews usher in the New Year and according to liturgy God inscribes you into the Book of Life, The Book of Death or if you are a person who is not particularly good or bad, awaits Yom Kippur to make a decision. Would that the world were so beautifully circumscribed. Many people still regard abstract expressionist paintings with skepticism. You’ve certainly gone to MOMA and overheard the comments about how anyone can do that, but what abstractionism is trying to respond to is the lability of our conceptions of what the world is. Would that there were a great chain of being, a spiritual food chain with God at the top and Beelzebub or the devil on the bottom. How the complexion of existence has been markedly changed by freedom from belief! It’s as if self-reflexive consciousness were having a feast day. When the painter faces his canvas, the challenge is a little like the beginning of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat “The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day”— which may be one of the most profound statements every written about the modern predicament. Lenin famously wrote What Is To Be Done? The subject was politics and revolution, but it could easily have been life itself.

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