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)
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 absurdities."' 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 157 1 i