I have long wanted to write about the "Shakespeare mystery" and the spiritual wisdom that pervades each of his plays, hoping to understand the subtle, esoteric impact it conveys. For example, since I directed some time ago a female version of Lear, I keep wondering, inspired by Martin Lings, if the King's death at the end is due to the sudden joy that came over him, believing Cordelia still alive, and thus dying deliriously but peacefully, or Cordelia that he sees, actually is alive, but not with this life here, but with the life beyond, after death.
I didn't even start writing, that breaking news"exploded" my mind - aggressive voices vehemently demanding that the Bard be banned for reasons I refrain from listing here. The news caused laughter at first, like an absurdly stupid joke, but the lack of humor of the aggressors still aroused astonishment and shock. Some suggested I take a stand. Obviously I refused. How embarrassing it would be. The greatest writer who ever lived on our planet needs to be defended today against those who challenge him?! We need to think about how we got here: one interpretation would be: the fear of true value, of words like Genius, Authority (already forbidden by cancel culture) are at the root of this new culture war.
Bernard de Chartres, a medieval humanist and philosopher, head of the famous Chartres School, which sought to reconcile Plato's thinking with that of Aristotle, said in the twelve century in reference to ancient philosophy, art, and literature: "We are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants". A statement that shocks especially today.
In a way, I see why the idea of "great geniuses" now encourages hatred and rejection. It makes them inaccessible, cold, soulless creators turned into intimidating statues, up on the pedestal, with which we ordinary mortals find hard to relate. A more natural attitude towards the history of art and thinking of the past would be not to look at these artists and philosophers as being on a pedestal (where, sadly, we recently had Lenin and Stalin among many others), but simply to look at them in order to recognize their humanity. These were people like us, who used their intelligence, talent and mastery to help us understand the mystery of where we came from and why we are here. Instead of giants, it would be helpful to look at them as generous friends, wiser friends who can be of use to us and thus approach them warmly, without fear, or intimidation. But this does not seem possible in the current context.
Let's imagine Shakespeare; he was not alone - there were other young writers around him, all very talented artists. They were together, inspired and learning from each other, animated by a spirit of healthy competition, and in this atmosphere he was allowed to shine.
It is also good to remember that Shakespeare was threatened with being "cancelled" before, that there were "cancel cultures" as well in older times. For example, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries his plays were at times rarely played being modified, therefore to be accepted. New scenes were added, others taken away, for example Lear's ending became wonderfully optimistic, and cheerful (Cordelia gets married instead of dying, etc...)
But still recently even Aeschylus was banned from a college in England. We wander who else will come next?! Shakespeare, through Prospero, states that through the alchemy of art, lead turns to gold. What the demolition brigades Bolshevik style of today dictate that we no longer need alchemy, nor giants, nor Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Plato or Aristotle. In other words, "if we have Facebook and social networks, why need anything else"!
Although there have been attempts to throw these "giants" in the trash, they were strong and resisted. Such tsunami come and go, it is normal, each epoch is different, these are powerful, stable, may we dare say eternal values and therefore implicitly there is a temptation to destroy them.
We know that the early Christians broke the penis of the gods and the breasts of the goddesses on the great Greek statues we admire today in the museums. But we have evidence that although there have been many such brutal moves in the past, we can be confident that the values will did not vanish in the thin air. It proved true that lead became gold.
St. Augustine prayed, "Help me to know myself and I will know you." Seeking to know oneself requires effort, which by ourselves are not quite capable, so we look for help. St. Augustine asked help from God. But for us who are not saints, one of the sources we can turn to is the treasure of the spiritual wisdom of art and culture offered us. We may look at models, call them or not giants, instead of demolishing and cancelling them for the simple reason that we can't stand anyone to be bigger than us.
We do not know what is happening to us, but this is exactly what is happening...
Yes, especially today, we do not know what is happening to us... despite advanced technology, despite the continuous afront of the media, the information bombardment on our privacy. In this uninterrupted empty noise (we have no other way to express than noise) every time I sit down to write I wonder why add, why contribute to what I myself complained about...this aggression?! When the internet explodes with opinions that anybody, being qualified or not, feels damn free to express, why write? How good it would be just "to be peaceful in one's own room" as Blaise Pascal wisely suggested!
I tell myself things need to be seen from another place, calmly, it's not good to go down and join this battlefield! Why don't I write for myself a journal, an intimate diary, I could record everything I want, without caring about reactions and ask only be published posthumously?! Or maybe it would be better to only write for heavens?!
Well, no! The need to be with others in writing, if I can no longer work in theatre, eager to communicate to anyone interested. But I am too hot. If I could only do it calmly, without agitation...
Looking from a historical perspective, nothing seems new under the sun: other generations, a different setting, we recycle the same experiences over and over again. We tend to believe that it has "never been worse", to find that in fact everything is relative.
When I read, for example, Shalamov's astonishing book about the Kolâma Stories, I am deeply troubled and shaken by the plague called human bestiality, also the power to endure, the limits of suffering; and as I read under shoc I realize what a wonderful chance I have to live now, even in time of pandemic!
Attitudes that denote barbarism are not at all new. Ortega y Gasset wrote that "... a special type of men appeared under fascism who did not want to argue, didn't even care to demonstrate that they are right, but simply and brutally impose their own opinions." It's an accurate description of the present situation in America, in both camps.
With the recent rise of populism and tribalism there, the crowds are becoming increasingly powerful and irrational. Every camp wants a kind of dictatorship of its own ideology, either under a strong leader they like to flatter or under one they can control.
125 years ago, Gustave Le Bon[ii] wrote: "Despite progress, philosophy was unable to give the crowds an ideal in order to charm them, but as the crowds need illusions at all costs, they instinctively return, like insects in search of light, to orators who give them what they want. Not truth, but error has always been the main factor in the evolution of nations.... The future belongs to the social illusion, nestled in piles of ruins of the past. The Crowds have never been thirsty for truth. They turn their backs on evidence, which is not to their liking, and prefer to worship error if error seduces them.
Anyone who can give them illusions easily becomes their leader. Whoever tries to destroy their illusions is always their victim."
The examples are numerous, but for the moment I stop here, wondering: isn't it still better to accept being on shoulders of real giants than dragged in the mud, at the feet of false idols?