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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Kilby, Clyde S.
[Editorial comment: the lost myth],   pp. [unnumbered]-163 PDF (10.1 MB)

Page 157

processes . . man will be remodeling his
own being. . . Events in biological research
are happening so rapidly that we will
soon have to answer a new question. No
longer, What creature is man? but, What
creature should he become?"2
Is ours not indeed a Brave New World?
But then one must ask the additional
question why people are not filled with deep
satisfaction, quiet ecstasy, and great
expectations? Why along with Ortega's
sense of power do we have an almost
overcoming sense of despair? I heard of a
man who went down the street and said
"Good Morning" to another man that he
passed. The second man asked, "In
relation to what?"
You recall Sartre's "No Exit" and a group
of people discovering they have gone to
hell. In the room where they find
themselves, one asks: "But, I say, where are
the instruments of torture? . . . The racks
and red-hot pincers and all the other
paraphernalia?" Later, in a frenzy, he
shouts: "Open the door! Open, blast you! I'll
endure anything, your red-hot tongs
and molten lead, your racks and prongs
and garrotes - all your fiendish gadgets,
everything that burns and flays and
tears - I'll put up with any torture you
impose. Anything, anything would be better
than this agony of mind, this creeping
pain that gnaws and fumbles and caresses
one and never hurts quite enough." He
grabs the doorknob and shouts: "Now
will you open?" whereupon the door flies
open and he is urged to leave, to which he
hesitates and then replies, "I shall not go."
In the end all the group remain, tortured
and in pain greater than fire and
brimstone, because there is nothing
to be free for. You recall a similar
pessimistic evaluation in Camus' The
Stronger, where a man about to shoot
another man whom he actually has nothing
against says, ". . . one might fire, or
not fire - and it would come to the
same thing."
One wonders how to explain the winds of
nihilism, destructionism, fragmentation and
the death-wish which now sweep across
the landscape, a direction perhaps most
clearly manifest in the arts. Lewis Mumford
says, "The death of the human personality
is the message of modern art." Leonard
Baskin declares that in avant-garde
art "it is man that has been excluded . . .
that has been denied. A few weeks ago
I sat at table with a professor of art history
from the Free University of Amsterdam
who, on the basis of his study of modern
art, felt there was little to look forward
to except brutality and the concentration
camp. A good many years ago Mark
Van Doren said, "We are not even
sure what poetry should be about, if it
can be about anything any more."
Time magazine recently said, "Nearly
every important American writer -
Nabokov, Mailer, Barth, Bellow, Malamud,
Donleavy, Roth, Friedman, Burroughs,
Heller, Pynchon, Willingham - works from
an assumption that society is at best
malevolent and stupid, at worst wholly
lunatic. The gods are dead and their
graves untended, (and) morality is a matter
of picking one's way between competing
A long time ago I read a book that still
sticks in my mind. It reported that libraries
double their holdings about once every
sixteen years and pointed out that should,
for instance, Yale library continue to expand
at the same rate for another century
as it has for the past two, it will then have
200 million volumes occupying over 6000
miles of shelves. The card catalogue will
require 8 acres, and 6000 cataloguers will
be needed to handle material coming
in at the rate of 12 million volumes a year.
We seem to be like Faustus or Byron's
Manfred running everywhere and searching
for Something Big but without finding it.
Two hundred years ago Voltaire said,
"The multitude of books is making us
ignorant." How much more ignorant, then,
we must be today. Yet we can add that
quantity is never properly equated
with quality, and a man who sets himself
to the task can read most of the truly
great books of the world.
Nevertheless the mere quantity and
bewildering bulk of things presented to
the attention today is no doubt part of what
Ortega was thinking about when he spoke
of our parallel feeling of power and despair.
But of course the search for certainty
ought never to be a thing to cause despair.
Whether by sharpness of instrument or
depth of perspective, any means of arrival
at what is permanent and true must
always be commendatory. The despair
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