CHAPTER XIV

 

THE WRITER’S MISSION AND POLITICS1

 

KAREL VRÁNA

 

 

I learned then sadly to desist: where words default, no things exist.

Stefan George2

 

This chapter deals with the self-evident fact that between the writer and the human community there exists a definite sociologically, psychologically, politically and historico-culturally definable relationship, as well as definite and respectively definable rights and responsibilities. In times like these, when socially engaged art has become almost a virtue and a myth, who would venture to question the writer’s responsibility to society or vice versa? Yet, in the apparent self-evidence and seemingly problem-free nature of the above-mentioned relationships, there lies concealed an explosive difficulty of unsuspected, dramatic tension and with aggressive relevance.

The writer can become a blessing for the human community but also a curse, a salvation but also a disaster. The ancient wisdom corruptio optimi pessima is applicable here above all. The writer possesses a magnificent, immeasurable, powerful charisma, if it may be so described. This charisma of the writer carries with it a tremendous, fateful power capable of bringing both salvation and disaster. The great writers have always been aware of this fact. They often were not only intoxicated by this charismatic power, but also pressured by its burden. The sad and humble Franz Kafka experienced his literary charisma again and again as a kind of religion. For him, writing became a prayer — a desperate, radically uncertain search for salvation. It is certainly no coincidence that the Christian Heitsgeschichte reveals itself and unfolds within the humanly written Word of God.

The "world’s powerful" are also very familiar with the power of the writer’s charisma — they have always known of it, they have always feared it, and they have always attempted, to this day, to utilize its power for their benefit. They have been and still are intelligent enough with their instinct for power to know that they cannot successfully rule the people without the writer, without his writings and his language. Even Stalin knew that his power would not have been total or secure enough if writers, as engineers of the human souls of the new socialist being, had denied him their participation.

 

WHAT EXACTLY IS A WRITER?

 

I shall begin by refraining from giving a specific, so to speak, terminologically exact definition of the writer, even provided such a definition exists. For our purposes, it suffices to describe him very generally, but also very fundamentally, as a "steward of words" (M. Heidegger), a shepherd of the language, as a "leiturgos" of writing — or more concisely, as a sculptor of the written word.

His art of writing is not determined by a special "something". It is not the subject matter, nor the material in itself that shapes the literary work of art, but the "how", that is, the molded, consummated, cultivated form. The writer can — ceteris paribus — choose anything at all to be the subject matter of his art: the whole of nature, the whole of history, heaven and hell, holiness and sin, etc. He makes his choice according to his own personal needs, according to his preferences and leanings. But what ultimately matters in his work is that he write well and consummately, that his writing possess a perfect, artistic form and structure.

One can hardly question these very fundamental sentences, and yet they sound, in the very least, provocative. Therefore, they must be further deepened and expanded. Let us rephrase it in this sharpened manner: "A writer is defined as such if he has internalized this conviction: it matters not what one thinks or writes".3 The sophist Gorgias as well as André Gide would sign their names to this sentence without reservations. After all, even I could sign my name to it, but not "without reservations", not without making another entirely fundamental distinction. The deciding factor is the "how", the being-so of the literary work of art.

We cannot reduce this "how" of writing exclusively to the work’s grammatical structuring, its perfection of style, and its good literary construction. Certainly these factors belong to the art of writing, as well. But the primary duty of the writer lies in this very "how". The art of writing, as such, concerns itself primarily with the beauty of the language, with the aesthetic values of the work, but not with the moral perfection of humankind. This is true, but there is more. The "how" in literary art has yet another, deeper, more radical dimension. I shall refer to it — using the words of J. Maritain (14-15) — as poetic or creative intuition. Both of the following factors together form the charisma of a significant writer: aesthetic ability, or the techné in the Aristotelian and Thomistic sense (recta ratio factibilium), and poetic, creative power, an almost divinatory and prophetic power with which he is able to summon up the deep secret, the ultimate dimension of objects and events in his work. About this second and deeper dimension of the "how" in the literary work of art, J. Maritain says, "Cette divination du spiritual dans le sensible . . . c’est bien ca ce que nous appelons Poésie".4 About the two-dimensional, bilateral structure of this literary-artistic "how", the same philosopher writes:

 

By Art I mean the creative or producing, work-making activity of the human mind. By Poetry I mean, not the particular art which consists in writing verses, but a process both more general and more primary: that intercommunication between the inner being of things and the inner being of the human self which is a kind of divination. . . . Poetry, in this sense, is the secret life of each and all of the arts.5

 

With these considerations, I believe we have deciphered the inner structure of the writer’s charisma. From here, we can explore new questions. Most importantly, we can now assert that the value and significance in a work of literary art is not only dependent upon the perfection and quality of its form, of its aesthetic, "technical" (in the fundamental Greek sense) intuition, but also — and no less — upon the quality, pureness, truthfulness, and existence of its poetic, creative intuition: that is, upon how the writer perceives and experiences his subject matter, in which perspectives and horizons his language lives, and in which source his heart finds its resource. Around this poetic, creative source of the writer — and generally of every artist — heaven and hell, angel and devil, have been wrestling throughout the ages. André Gide wrote a sentence worth considering: "The devil collaborates on every work of art." Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he tries again and again to play along and participate — and, unfortunately, often enough is successful. Incidentally, it is no accident that even such great and significant writers as Dante, Dostoyevsky and Goethe were able artistically to portray the world of sin better, more convincingly, and more intriguingly than the world of grace and holiness. Dante’s Il Paradiso is artistically weaker than his L’Inferno: the evil characters, the demons, in the work of Dostoyevsky are more vivid, realistic and full-blooded than is a character like Alyosha. The artistically most difficult form of literature, which is also the weakest when considered in a historical context, is hagiography.

In a word, the source is the decisive factor. Through it, the writer is already engaged with either the truth or the lie: the source makes him an accomplice, regardless of whether or not he wants to be, whether or not he realizes it; and, within it, are the roots of his responsibility to society, to his fellow human beings. Now, we can also understand why a work "can be perfectly produced", why something can be perfectly said, wisely worded, exceptionally written, portrayed . . . and yet at the same time be considered, as a whole and in light of its significance, to be false, or even bad, inferior, disgraceful and disastrous. Of course, the reverse is also true.

On the basis of this fundamental differentiation between the "techné" and the "poiesis", the artistic skill and the creative, poetic intuition in the writer’s charisma, we can understand two further issues and problems. The poetic source, if strong and deep enough as is the case with the great poets and writers, can never become completely polluted, deteriorated or poisoned. There are blessed moments in their lives when the poetic source unexpectedly produces pure, refreshing waters from its hidden depths. The Italian lyricist Salvatore Quasimodo, for example, wrote poems that have true, deep, religious meaning even though he had deliberately and publicly confessed to atheism. We are able to establish similar truths regarding several Czech Communist writers and poets such as Vaculík Kundera, Klíma, etc. We can even observe their inner poetic transformation as a kind of conversion. A true, deep, significant source can penetrate even a swamp, can flush out the poison. And, most importantly, a true poetic source, cannot be organized.

Let us now consider the second matter: our analysis of the writer’s charisma enables us to call the writer’s temptations by their actual names. A discussion of this follows.

 

THE WRITER’S FIRST TEMPTATION

 

The first temptation in literary art is related to the first dimension of the writer’s charisma, to its specific, aesthetic structures: design, arrangement, style, the internal rhythm, its own characteristic melody, its artistic quality and its persuasive "magical" power to charm the person. This temptation, like every other, can be accepted or rejected, for in its foreground lies a great truth and a great justice. The temptation exists not in that which it affirms, but instead in that which it negates. It affirms the truth and justice of the literary "techné"; it even makes this truth and this justice absolute. But at the same time, in the very same moment, it reasons that the second dimension, the source and its quality, its purity for the writer, are totally meaningless, of no importance or worth. The temptation claims even more emphatically that the concern for the purity of this source, for truth and being, for the horizons and perspectives, for the consequences of the work of art on the fate of humanity — that this concern has a negative effect on the writer, limits and even destroys his freedom and his rights, degrades and smothers his art. "Pour pouvoir penser librement, dit Renan quelque part," writes André Gide, "il faut être sur que (ce que) l’on écrit ne tirera pas á consequence." And elsewhere, the same author says, "C’est après le repas qu’on appelle l’artiste en scéne. Sa fonction n’est pas de nourir, mai de griser" (intoxicate).

We must further investigate the nature of this temptation and focus on its damaging powers. It pollutes the words, the language itself, in a very special, not easily detectable, manner. Where does this temptation occur? We can ascertain the following: when words, language, and writing are raised to an artistically higher level and quality, or in other words when they are actually cultivated, in the same exact moment they become threatened. We stand there as if facing a dialectical shift: the self-glorification, consummation, and self-satisfaction within language — and generally within every form of art — eventually unfold as radical destruction and degradation, as the corruption and death of language itself and, thereby, as the destruction of literary art. But we must look even more closely.

In order to see the truly radical and actual nature of the corruption of language we must understand the essence of language. The writer’s temptation and the resulting endangerment of language impact on more than simply one specialized area of human existence and on more than one sector of human society; they affect the whole of life and being. The existential secret behind language and words is that, within it, the being finds its home. Language depicts the intellectual sphere in which human existence and human fate reveal themselves: through language and in words, the human beings can understand themselves, find their "home", learn to recognize their own identity, experience their truth and overcome their alienation. Therefore, if language is endangered or corrupted; the whole of our existence is affected. This mightiness, dignity and impact of language illustrate to us the extent of the writer’s responsibility.

In this text, we are not investigating the structure of language abstractly, as does metalinguistics, but are instead concerned with its existential meaning and value. In this existential respect, language has a double function:

 

1) Language illuminates the truth of reality; the sense of being enters our neighborhood and we can hear its voice; through language, the objects of our world are revealed, clarified and made accessible to us. Through language, we inhabit the world of people and things. It even shows us the pathway to God; and within language, the interface with reality takes place.

2) When we speak and converse, we give names to objects and facts; this, of course, always happens for someone, for a "you", and in the context of a "we". Human words also have a communicative, dialogical function, a conversational character. Language is an original product of human existence: as we speak, we not only describe something, we not only discuss a fact, we not only utter a reality, but we simultaneously address, converse and encourage.

 

These two functions of language are intimately related: either both are good or both are corrupt. The truthful and revealing character of language emerges in dialogical conversation; and, vice versa, the character of the dialogical conversation in language is rooted in the language’s relevance to reality. Language that is not concerned with the reality of things and is not anchored in being, is empty and therefore able to communicate only this emptiness. Meaningless speech destroys itself; the language of nothing is the nothing of language. This type of speech inevitably becomes a partnerless conversation. With these thoughts, we have inadvertently touched upon the writer’s temptation.

How does it actually occur that the language loses its relationship to reality, thereby bringing about its own corruption? The development of this corruption coincides with — and is identical to — the above mentioned process in that the aesthetic structure is affirmed and glorified while the poetic charisma is negated. It is the same temptation, the same destruction of language and of literary art. If the language closes itself off from within, honoring, worshipping and enjoying itself alone, if it shakes off its structural connection to reality as an intolerable, enslaved burden, if it rejects the fountain and the standard of being and in so doing, regards itself as absolute and holy, it inevitably and simultaneously becomes indifferent towards truth and towards all transcendental and normative values. Literary art has a magnificent, almost magical power. It can intoxicate and seduce the person who possesses it, can pretend to him that it is the foremost, the ideal, and the only absolute. In fact, it convinces one that it is one’s only salvation, one’s entire well-being, and one’s magnificent, divine freedom. If we consider this first temptation of the writer in a theological light, we are able to recognize that it is actually a special manifestation of humankind’s original temptation: eritis sicut dei, that is, the radical rejection of every norm, of every dependency, of every connection to the transcendental in the name of an imaginary, longed for and absolute freedom and power. Here lies the deepest root of the temptation: the original lie, for the human language is not the divine logos.

The emancipation of language and words from the truth and from the standardized order of being began in a historical perspective quite innocently. At first, one wanted to defend the right of language — and generally the right of every art — to its autonomy, to defend this right against all subordination and against every reductive force that separates art from reality. Rousseau and the romanticists probably intended to do just that. One sought legitimate freedom from all moral teachings. Art became aware of its own dignity and power and could no longer tolerate being simply a didactic medium. In order to survive and flourish, it needs its own identity and "purity" (Hans Sedlmayr).

The scholastics say, whoever "nimis probat, nihil probat". Therefore, the boundaries were soon crossed and the famous myth of "l’art pour l’art" evolved. Even this myth demanded that art inhabit its own universe and look down indifferently from its ivory tower upon the other spheres of human existence. But this absolutely pure and self-satisfied literary art (the one and only form of art) had soon grown weary of itself; even it was tempted to want to rule. Thus an epochal paradox occurred: a dialectical transformation in which literary art emerged from its "splendid isolation" in order to rule, and to rule not only in its own aesthetic realm of beauty and in the legitimate areas of its own world, but in the whole of life, for whose well-being it was now responsible. On this theme, R.P. Blackmur once noted that. in the era of Romanticism, Byron, Goethe and Hugo declared themselves heroes who were greater and more powerful "than any of the heros in their works". Arnold believed that poetry would become the world’s salvation because it, alone, in his opinion, would be able to give expression and fulfillment to the entire spiritual life of humankind. Afterwards, came the poéte maudit and the voyant suprerge glorified by Rimbaud. Soon, writers and artists were asked to consciously assume the task of creating and shaping the conscience of a society that had no conscience.6 This was only one step towards the establishment of the writer as priest. Jaques Riviére was right in saying that the literature of the 19th century had become a kind of miracle-seeking magic.7 J. Maritain remarked humorously about this dialectical transformation of art: "The ivory tower is the world’s cathedral, Pythia’s temple, Prometheus’s rock, and the altar of the supreme sacrifice."

At the same time, though, this art of writing, which had been thought of as absolute and divine, destroyed and abolished itself. The time had come for it to learn that it could not single-handedly save humankind and its world. Thus, in order to preserve its sacred mission, it began to look around for other sources, means and especially new allies. It found them before too long and, this time, in the mode of political, secularized and inner-world messianism. These allies gradually developed into new rulers. Not only did they demand from literary art a say in the creation of a new

world and a new humankind, but they made art into their servant and began to dictate how it should think and write. The circle closed, and the disastrous fate of pure, absolute art, of language, that had been emancipated from the truth of existence, was fulfilled. Herewith, we have come to the writer’s second temptation, to his second act of betrayal.

 

THE WRITER’S SECOND TEMPTATION

 

The sophists of every time -- beginning with Gorgias through to the 20th century (A. Gide, etc.) — have proclaimed, asserted, and even emphasized that it does not matter "what" a true writer writes for he is absolutely autonomous. With his freedom, he has no desire, and is unable to subordinate his art to any truth, moral or political movement or ideology. He serves himself alone, his own charisma, and his own literary ego. He concerns himself — so they tell us — only and exclusively with the art of language, with its beauty, with the boldness of imagery and the splendor of style. They say this clearly and openly, and yet we cannot believe them. If we are unwilling to accept that they, in these very sentences, are trying to deceive us, we must at least assume, on the basis of historical experience, that they are deceiving themselves. Incidentally, even Gorgias had to confess to the inquiring Socrates that writing meant to him "something other" than the perfection of discourse. André Gide, in his writing, whose high aesthetic value cannot be denied, was inflamed with a kind of apostolic and missionary zeal to defend and justify his dubious lifestyle to the human community. Literary art, as an art form which has been emancipated from truth and become indifferent to éthos, is evolving inevitably into, and actually always has been, an instrument of power. If words lose their original communicative abilities, they degenerate; they become alienated through a different mission, a mission which does not fall within the sphere of truth and language, but within the realm of power, control and coercion. Now, we must describe this second alienation of language in greater detail.

Language’s communicative and dialogical dimension is based upon and supported by its relationship to reality; the two stand and fall as one. When language that has separated itself from reality no longer communicates — and, in this case, it is incapable of communication — the human relationship between the speaking and listening, writing and reading partners inevitably and fundamentally changes, Therefore, we can quite easily imagine wherein exactly the writer’s responsibility, his blessing or his betrayal of human society, lies. If a writer is fundamentally unconcerned with the truth and therefore uninterested in communicating, but instead concerns himself only with the perfection of his writing, yet nevertheless turns to the listening and reading human community, he no longer regards this audience as a community of people. The reader, for him, is not a partner or a participant; no dialogue takes place, no conversation, no cooperation. Within this degenerated language, no communication results, no communion, no community. What emerges instead?

Plato, the father of European philosophy, spent a lifetime working on this very problem. Wherever individuals no longer communicate in accord with truth, they speak deliberately in accordance with what others want to hear. Plato used the Greek Word "peithó" in this context. It has been usually translated as Schmeichelei or "flattery", but perhaps we could convey the Platonic expression more clearly and strikingly as "language manipulation". The human being who uses this type of speech is reduced to subject matter, to object, material, and device. We do not speak with objects. We handle, shape, or use them as tools to perform a function in order to meet another objective. Thereby, the human being is no longer the aim of speaking and writing. Language that has been stripped of its communicative, personalized-dialogue dimension is alienated; it has been internally disturbed and robbed of its soul. It evolves into a disastrous and sinister device, into a method of wielding power.

Now, we must turn our attention to the modern day manifestation of language corruption and to today’s betrayal of the language, today’s Platonic "flattery (peithó)". The same, so to speak, time-spanning and "eternal" language temptation reveals itself in thousands of historical forms; it constantly disguises and redisguises itself, for its adherence to fashion and to modern form is a part of its agenda. Without a mask, it cannot enter history, and for this reason, it is extremely difficult to expose its structural mendacity. Nearly all areas of our existential sphere are nowadays affected and occupied by the corrupted and corrupting language.

The primary, most conspicuous and familiar manifestation of language manipulation and management — even mutilation — is advertisement. We are living in a society in which everything, or nearly everything, has become, or is threatening to become, a business. The myth of technology exists purely in the conviction that everything can be produced. But that which can be made and manufactured can also be organized, ordered, purchased and sold. The language of adverting is constantly communicating — it speaks to us as well as at us — but its intention is to persuade us, to control our thoughts, desires and needs. It is aimed at something other than truth, the liberating truth. Although we must not play down this form of language corruption, we must also not regard it simply as the only demonizing form. There is as well "saying what people want to hear".

The situation immediately becomes much graver in another sphere which I shall very vaguely refer to as the entertainment industry. Here, the "flattery" itself of linguistic manipulation and the art of persuasion is offered and sold as a piece of merchandise. The entertainment industry appeals to my weak, dark and compulsive side and does so "for good reasons"; it soothes my conscience so that I may better enjoy and digest the offered products. Especially in this respect, today’s consumer is very discriminating: he demands perfect merchandise; in other words, everything I read, hear and purchase must be logical, ethical and acceptable overall. The literary product itself must openly demonstrate its perfection, its essentialness and its earnestness, The writer who wishes to be successful in this demanding entertainment world must have a tremendous knowledge of psychology and sociology. He must know how to identify the appropriate time and atmosphere for selling his literary product. And, above all, he must know how to appeal to the great diversity of human instincts: not only to sensuality, vanity, and curiosity, but also to such deep and dark inclinations as cruelty, vindictiveness, hunger for new ideas, enjoyment of emotional shock, and enthusiasm for the radical as well as the definitive. In this context, we shall consider the word and the language in their broadest, but also most essential, sense as a system of signs and symbols that are capable of communication and able to convey a certain message. Not only speeches and books belong to this system, but also songs, pictures, etc. The larger, more powerful and more perfect these journalistic devices become, the larger, deeper and wider can be their beneficial — or also destructive — effects on the human community, and the greater and more burdening becomes the responsibility of the writer, of the language-using author. There is no one special zone which falls under this influence. Fate, the well-being or devastation of a society, is decided through language and words, through which truth grows, blossoms and bears fruit — or if not truth, then lie.

The risk of language corruption and the ensuing threat to sound human coexistence are not only extensive and quantitative, but also intensive and qualitative. Disguising this risk and threat also belongs to the structure of the entertainment industry and its language system. A complete falsehood is often made to look like truth. Even in the concrete case of a novel, a film, or a philosophical and theological discourse, it is often extremely difficult, if not simply impossible, to differentiate between the true illumination of truth and the deceitful manipulation of language. For this reason, the profession of literary, theater, or film critics is so demanding and critical, as well as so important. Their courageous loyalty to truth and their ability to read and to differentiate the wheat from the weeds becomes a declaration of their love for language and humankind! They are the examiners and, in a certain sense, also the judges of our language world. This world has nearly grown — and is still growing — into a monstrosity and seems like an unfathomable and entangled labyrinth. For our society, skilled and knowledgeable literary critics who courageously uphold the truth are, especially in the present day, companions or, as I almost want to say, our language’s "guardian angel". At the same time, in their courageous guardianship of the language’s purity, they stand for our freedom and our entire authentic human existence. From literary critics as well as all cultural critics, we expect this contribution: to restore a name, their original names, to "things", to the humiliated, polluted, wounded and betrayed things, and clearly to differentiate between true dialogical human communication and pseudo-leadership — the misuse of power, the manipulating and flattering tyranny of the "entertainment industry" — between truth-based dependency (the obedience of and respect for good and, legitimate authority) and "serfdom".

The writer’s temptation to manipulate and corrupt language becomes especially evident in the realm of "political" life. It would be nearly impossible to expect otherwise, simply because both the economic sphere with its advertisement and marketing language and the complex world of the entertainment industry with its often highly cultivated language usage are inseparable from the political reality; they are not distinct, purely autonomous areas, not extraterritorial regions. None of these areas of community life is isolated from the others by sealed, hermetic borders. Rather, they form a linguistically unified world. The philosopher Joseph Pieper, from Münster, noted:

 

Once journalistic language is fundamentally neutralized against the standard of truth, it becomes a specially crafted tool, waiting to be picked up by a ruler and deployed for any power objective whatsoever. But, in addition, it creates by itself and from itself an atmosphere of epidemic disease-readiness and susceptibility to tyranny.

 

Of course, the opposite is also true. Healthy language, anchored in the truth of matters, sets a limit for political power. This language cannot be manipulated and misused for the autocratic aims of the ruling power and therefore forms a healthy sphere of freedom and personal dignity.

Language corruption and the writer’s temptation are manifested in the political arena by ideological propaganda. Even Plato knew that the "peithó" — the flattering art of persuasion — is sibling to the violent tyrannical exercise of power, to the "bia". Coercive, manipulated and manipulating words and a politically governed and controlled language inevitably evolve into an essential element of, or a necessary tool for, totalitarian or totalitarianism-inclined political power. The totalitarian ruler is, by nature, impatient as well as deeply and instinctively insecure and allergic to any power beyond their own reign or control. Above all, such a ruler is very mistrustful of the human beings, for the totalitarian ruler does not believe that they will consent voluntarily and enthusiastically to his or her power schemes. Not believing in the power of truth, such rulers must believe in force and threat, and use them to meet their objectives. Constant political instruction, ideological education and re-education, the management of human bodies and souls, and even the creation of a new type of human beings, all are objectives of totalitarian power. Unfortunately, these matters are not simply abstract scientific hypotheses; they belong to a harsh and tragic experience of our century, our day — and our Europe.

Yet, in order to satisfy the totalitarian dream and madness, to secure and promote their lies, totalitarian rulers and pharaohs also need words and language — or, in more concrete terms, the writer and the art of writing. They expect and demand from the writer a great and significant achievement: to place the realm of words and language at their disposal for political objectives — and, thereby, to help them govern completely and totally the whole of humankind. Because the threats and threatening, the force and coercion, the manipulation and management of humankind must not reveal the ruler’s naked and true selves the writer and literary artist is commissioned by the pharaoh to mask this brutal and violent face of totalitarian power and, at the same time, to convey the seriousness of this threat and force. The pharaoh demands perfect and advanced mastery of literary art: the ability to make coercion seem simple and sweet for the people under its manipulation and threats; it convinces them that at stake are actually their well-being, their true freedom, a historical necessity, the welfare of their children, and the only true future.

But we have yet to complete our definition of the entire disaster for which the enslaved writers — the literary artists who have sold themselves to the pharaoh — is partially responsible. At first, their duty lies in the complete and masterful flattering and masking of reality. Naturally, not a single surface detail shall be missing; in order to appear believable, the whole work must also give its audience the impression of perfect objectivity and the sense of being completely informed. But there is more. The perfectly planned and logically connected linguistic masking of true reality, the cunning, feigned objectivity and artificially-produced sense of being well-informed — which represent the pharaoh’s greatest and ultimate wish as well as the sophistic, sold-out writer’s greatest masterpiece — creates an apparent actuality, a fictitious reality that "seems so remarkably real", as Pieper put it, "that it is nearly impossible to detect how things actually stand."

Finally and worst of all — the end toward which a totally governed and manipulated society is being steered by the rulers and their sophistic language artists — is the Babylonization of human existence and community life. I have therewith voiced the final and key word. Babylon is not only a historical reality and experience; it is also a para-historical temptation and threat. Babylon is the "city of nothing", as Isaiah said, the city of prostitution, the total lie, the total manipulation of the human, of the living and the dead, of the past and the future, of thoughts and emotions. And in the Babylonized society, this is organized in such a perfect or, it is tempting to say, scientifically perfect manner that the lie becomes unfathomable. The real, genuine, undamaged world and existence have fallen so deeply into the forgotten that they are not simply unavailable to the average person, but are — and this is the worst part — nowhere to be found.

How is this Babylonization of the human community possible? The degeneration of political power and its transformation into a totalitarian and totally manipulating force are subterraneously connected and made possible only through the corruption of words, through the ideological misuse of language — or in other words, through the writer’s act of betrayal.

This, we must not forget: the totalitarian Babylonian political power has always used, and still uses, charming promises, economic incentives and threats to compel the writer to corrupt and manipulate language. Babylonian rulers have few problems with so-called language puritans, confessors to the pure and absolute art of writing. In their artistic creed, we find the claim that pure, entire, free and undamaged art must be indifferent to any values that transcend the art itself, indifferent to the truth, to aesthetic standards and to religious perspectives. Alas, a language that is void of truth, or literary art that has lost its connection to transcendental values, is — for totalitarian political power — a ripe and well-formed tool that can be employed with relative ease by the enterprise of Babylon. This fundamental indifference towards truth and the fundamentally neutral stance towards other non-artistic, non-aesthetic values, propagate the values of the political powers and prepare the ground for tyranny.

Totalitarian power faces a much greater challenge with the writers who are not indifferent towards truth, towards their consciences. The creed of these writers claims that there are values and perspectives beyond the purely aesthetic ones which are equally important. The Babylonian power was able, however, to seduce some of these writers with the promise that, in their cooperation, they would find the very element in which they wholeheartedly believed: the realm of truth and freedom. At first, they accepted this promise and participated with great enthusiasm. But even these writers experienced a moment of truth, the moment in which they recognized the great Babylonian lie. Withdrawing from their alliance with the Babylonian power, though, was very difficult The power is always the provider; it reigns over everything in its land and it can destroy a disobedient writer. We do not have to look into the past to find an example of this, nor do we have to leave Europe in order to see a dramatic, unfair and harsh battle over words, language and the writer.

What happens if the writer, in spite of all enticement and threats, says "No" to the virtually all powerful totalitarian ruler -- or if one wants to divorce oneself from the ruler after the turbulent weeks of honeymoon? What can happen if a writer no longer says what his or her provider wants to hear, no longer wants to produce and deliver lies for him? What happens if the writer sees through the total existential lie and apparent reality of the Babylonian power structure and wants to make known this distressing but also liberating experience? And what happens if one foresees a new hope at the horizon of one’s creative intuition and human longing and spells out her great name, Jerusalem, the city of language and truth, of being and freedom?

Then one begins to feel the courage to speak out against the rulers and their manipulative, literature-governing bureaucracy: "In the name of realism, they have prevented us from portraying reality; in the name of youth cults, they have not allowed us to be young, and in the name of socialist joy they have strangled true human happiness from our hearts."8 A complete discussion of this subject would be far beyond the scope of this essay. It is a great, dark and often tragic story, a tale of powerful temptation, of language corruption, of lies, and of the writer’s act of betrayal — but, at the same time and above all, it is a great tale of loyalty to the extent of martyrdom, a tale of the courageous "no" to the Babylonian lie, a "no" in which a strong "yes" lives and breathes, a "Yes" to Jerusalem. Finally, it is a tale of our hope. If a cultural community has writers and artists who profess truth and freedom, it may and should have

hope in spite of its political helplessness.

The realm of freedom for our speech, our writing, our artistic creation, our beliefs and for life in general requires not only a guarantee "from outside", on the part of the democratic self-establishing political order. Instead, the realm of freedom is also formed, as well as defended, "from the inside out." As I have tried to demonstrate, freedom is threatened not only "from the outside", but also "from the inside", by language corruption: by the corrupting of the character of truth and of the dialogical dimension of language. The defenders, the guardians and shepherds of the language are, more than anyone, the writers. They are partially responsible for the well-being of language and therefore for the healthy life of society. Their betrayal of language evolves into the betrayal of freedom and humankind. Writers, in an entirely fundamental and principle sense, have always been — and their charisma has a very special relevance in the present day — authors, "auctors". They did not make gains for Rome; in other words, they were not the commendable ones who won new provinces for the Roman Empire. Instead, they were the ones who nurtured and defended the human language in its entirety and, thereby, made gains for the empire of truth, freedom and being, "augetur" — not only for themselves, but for us all, for the entire human community. Even if writers must reside in Babylon in internal exile, they live through their heart and through their language in Jerusalem, in the city of being.

 

NOTES

 

1. Translation by Christian and Leslie Rook.

2. Stefan George, Poems, trans. Carol North Valhope and Ernsit Nlorwitz (New York: Pantheon Books, 1943), p. 239.

3. J. Pieper, Missbrauch der Sprache — Missbrauch der Macht (Zürich, 1970, p. 18.

4. Frontiere de la poésie (Paris, 1936), p. 22.

5. Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (New York, 1953), p. 3.

6. R.P. Blackmur, "The artist as hero", in: Art New, 1961, September, p. 20.

7. "La crise du concept de literature", in: Nouvelle Revue française, February, 1924.

8. J.P. Sartre, on the literary courage of the Czech author Milan Kundera.