Monday, January 23, 2006

Narcotized Stupors

From "The Candy Monkey Raves," by Steve Almond, in the Jan-Feb '06 Utne Magazine:

"But one of the functions of art (yes, even popular art) is to call people out of their narcotized stupors, to raise people's consciousness, to awaken their capacities for compassion. William Faulkner probably put this best in his 1950 Nobel Prize speech: 'The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man; it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.'"

I have been puzzling over this paragraph. I agree heartly with Faulkner, and with Almond's idea that the arts "raise people's consciousness...[and] awaken their capacities for compassion," but I'm uncomfortable with the attitude that the phrase "narcotized stupor" seems to suggest. To some extent, I think it is true -- I think our contemporary society, with its speed and volume, with its lack of time to reflect, its rampant materialism, and its constant pressure to consume leads people to self-medicate in so many ways: alcohol, drugs, television, consumer goods. In that sense, they are living in a stupor, because to live with all senses alive is too painful.

What bothers me is the condemnatory attitude implied by phrases like "narcotized stupor." There is something very judgmental here, like a teetotaler at brewery tour, that does not seem to me to be conducive to profound art, which is based on deep empathy. In fact, such scorn, in many ways, is blaming the victim. People must cope daily with the spiritually deadening effects of American society, and art reminds them of what it is to truly live. If that art wakens the spirit only to condemn it...that seems wrong, somehow.


Devilvet said...

Leave the puppy by the puppy chow and it will eat till it's stomach is distended.

What's wrong with condemnation?

"If that art wakens the spirit only to condemn it...that seems wrong, somehow."

What about If that art condemns the absence or bastardization of the spirit in hopes to awaken.

Also, the idea than profound art is based in empathy is problematic. I'm willing to say that most narrative depends upon the audience empathizing with or against the antagonist, but if your saying that artist and the application of one's art has to be done in an empathic way to it's audience...well that is a choice, but not the only choice.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Scott - I'm not sure that those who are not awake to (say) the suffering of others can really posit themselves as victims.

And some things need to be condemned, because they (by default) condemn others in very real and material ways - think 1930s Germany. It's not the "spirit" that is being condemned, after all, if condemnation is indeed what's going on, but whatever imprisons it.

DL said...

Ah Devilvet, you're coming in late. The whole blogosphere has been arguing with Mr Walters about this... It's true though... it's not the only choice.

Devilvet said...

I can see how taking the attitude that They with a capital T are narcotized could lead to a position of superiority by the artist that if perceived by the audience would distance them significantly.

But is condemnation synonymus with alienation?

Can an artistic endevour compartmentize it's condemnation?

Anonymous said...

There is also, I would suggest, the guilt that the artist him or herself might bear. Is that not worthy of condemnation? We all like to see ourselves as victims, but honestly, we must recognize our capacity to act as victimizers as well.

In which case, we still must answer.

MattJ said...

or at least (and maybe more constructively,) we must question.

Freeman said...

(wipes brow)

As usual, there is no simple answer. It is a pile of goat's intestines for artists to condemn and condescend to "common" people.

It is also bullocks to suggest that we should hold the hands of the audience and treat them as if there is nothing wrong with the world.

As usual, the only guide is one's instincts. It all depends on the script.

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