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Archive for February 7th, 2021

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Is the soul-numbing boredom of Covid isolation turbocharging the rabid and pernicious narratives of hatred, fear, delusional frenzy and the seemingly insatiable appetite for misinformation?

The sensational arouses our strongest feelings. We love the dramatic and surprising turns in a story. It gets the heartbeat up. We breath faster. It distracts from the banal humdrum round of so many same-old-nights following upon same-old- days.

Is that what’s got so many Americans worked up as they crave their prior favorite escapes from the banal and what they recall as “normal”?

While the causes of the descent into inconsolable malaise, disaffection, anger and the irrational shouting of our times are surely multi-factorial, stultifying boredom must surely be principal among them as a compelling irritant.

On day two of the second impeachment trial of the erstwhile President, accompanied by the ongoing drumbeats of mindless tribalism and the continuous talk of Covid variants, I find myself drawn to an iconic painting that feels well-suited to our moment in history: “ The Scream,” by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.

This iconic painting, foreshadowing expressionism, was originally entitled the “ Scream of Nature”. Munch’s own journal reveals its inspiration – ‘a walk at dusk over a bridge when the sky over Oslo turned blood red as he felt a silent agonized shriek in the world mirrored in his soul as horrifying anguish and despair. ‘

Arguably, Munch’s riveting and deeply disturbing painting can be said to be a striking symbolic embodiment of existential torment. After all, his was a tragic life. He lost one sister at age five, when she was just 14, to turburculosis, and another later to mental illness, and he himself experienced a “ nervous breakdown”. This deeply melancholic and sensitive soul wrote:

“ Illness, insanity, and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life.”

Edvard Munch

Under controlled circumstances, we love a good fright. We delight in stories of ghouls, ghosts, night crawlers and monsters. Look at the success of the “ Walking Dead” and “ Jericho” as illustrative. There are seemingly infinite variations on the telling of the tales of “ Dracula”, witches and warlocks, devils and avenging angels.

The suspense and horror genres thrive for good reason. We all embrace the good yarn that gets us riled up. It makes us feel somehow more alive. Paintings of heaven are predominantly ethereal and beautiful, but essentially dull. Compare them with the works of Hieronymous Bosch ( e.g., “ The Garden of Earthly Delights”). Oh my!

Problem is, in these times of pandemic, those already predisposed to the effects of demagoguery ( I.e., the “ low information voters) are especially susceptible to tall dark tales. They struggle to distinguish fact from fiction. They accept the weaver’s tale as nonfiction if he has charisma and repeats it often enough. The story is uncritically absorbed.

Trump manipulated this psychic reality with an incessant propaganda intended to specifically rally the darker passions. It worked beautifully. It got innocent people killed. It was and is his only demonstrable talent. He is perfect in the role of dark prophet and one might even suspect ( though I seriously doubt he read it) that he is a student of the written work of Adolph Hitler (“e.g., “ Mein Kampf”, or “ My Struggle”).

In any event, he embodies much of what Hitler’s manifesto signifies: he is the victim, only he knows the truth to greatness, and only he is able to unleash the real “ patriots” who have too long been silenced. The lesson Hitler teaches is simple: Lie big, lie bold, and stoke the monsters of the Id.

Once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, I suspect much of the acute din of the zombified hoardes will subside, but that won’t come quickly. The condition is chronic and resistant to treatment.

The only true medicine is authentic reflection: catching ourselves in the act of being swept up into the frenzy of finding meaning in combativeness, abuse of one another, demonization and unbridled histrionics.

The dilemma is that this takes self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Many need help getting to square one on both counts. Our bards of the stories of better angels have their work cut out for them. Nonetheless, our Nation and our culture must look to them to lift us out of the muck (especially those stuck solidly in it).

This is the purpose of the Arts: to cause us to see more clearly and elevate our vision. I can think of no more important time to put the Arts at the service of the renewal of civilization, morality, and unity.

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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