Monday 1 September 2008

Art of a Gentle Lover

Could it be that art provokes transformation precisely because it does not demand it?

Reading often makes us change our mind. We thought one thing before reading a newspaper article on the practices of social cohesion among bonobos, now we think something else. We have learned something, perhaps, about that which was wholly unfamiliar, or we have changed our mind. Many of the things we read—newspaper articles, scientific reports, opinion pieces, pamphlets—mean to do precisely that, change our mind. Scientists and journalists, essayists and theoreticians, all are instructed to craft their pieces craftily, to persuade and cajole, lead their readers’ minds down a predictable path with deftness that would have made orators of the ancient world proud. The aspiration, the holy grail of the writer, is that by the time the final period has been reached, the mind of the writer has slipped comfortably, seamlessly, into the mind of the reader, the two becoming one.

It is hard, however, to escape the feeling that this kind of love-making between the writer and the reader has a dark, coercive, underside. One mind is taking hold of another, making it run precisely as it wishes. Yet is this, trying to persuade, not inherent in all writing?

Let us say no. Let us say that art, unlike more persuasive pieces, captures the artist’s exploration of herself, of the world that she inhabits. Let us say that it is witnessing this process that releases the art lover’s own exploration of himself and the world that he inhabits. Let us say that it is free, uncompelled, exploration that transforms those who will not be persuaded, not two becoming one, but each becoming more of their own, grown, fully separate, selves.

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