Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Art And Horror

Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization includes two revealing dialogues between Dominic Flandry and his adversary, Aycharaych of Chereion. In the first, at the Crystal Moon, Aycharaych admires a (to him) black orchid against a quicksilver zero grav globe of water with "'...the universe black and cold beyond both...'" and comments:

"'A beautiful arrangement, and with that touch of horror necessary to the highest art.'"
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 162.

Tragedy is a higher art form than comedy but horror necessary for high art? I disagree, although Aycharaych's association of beauty with horror probably tells us something about his ruthlessness. Later, Flandry speculates that Aycharaych himself is an artist and Chunderban Desai completes the thought:

"'An artist of espionage and sabotage, whose materials are living beings?'" (p. 391)

If Aycharaych's idea of high art incorporating horror includes what he does to living beings, then we must certainly assert that morality overrides art. Desai goes on to make another interesting remark:

"'We have not had the good fortune to be born in an era when our society offers us something transcendental to live and die for.'" (ibid.)

Do we need our society to offer us this? Since the invention and free use of the printing press, we have become the heirs of all the traditions. Meditating in the Quiet Room of a Youth Hostel, I was joined by a Japanese man reading his Bible! Desai, from the planet Ramanujan, says:

"'I hope to do more than read sutras in my retirement...'" (p. 390)

Buddhist and Yoga Sutras point towards practices for the realization of transcendence. It is not necessary to die for them - unless, maybe, a future dictatorship persecutes unorthodox religious practices.

I cannot resist one concluding reference to horror in futuristic sf. In Alan Moore's Halo Jones, horror fiction and philosophy have been synthesized in works with titles like Frankenstein Meets Wittgenstein...

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