From Beyond the Border

Tired of being right all the time, bored of having all his interpretations verified and all his predictions realized, seeking the challenge of subjects in which the answers are not so obvious to one who merely turns off the chatter and listens to his own reason for five minutes, erstwhile political commentator takes a break to look at things that actually matter, and about which understanding is inspiringly difficult, rather than all too easy.

Flesh and bones. — Human flesh comes in many distinct hues, whereas our bones are essentially the same color, or cover the same range of colors. Naturally, then, we superficial modern materialists, always on the lookout for the easiest interpretations (scientific reductionism being a symptom of intellectual laziness), knee-jerkingly categorize people according to the color of their flesh, rather than according to the color of their bones. And this in spite of the further and equally obvious fact that flesh is notoriously transient and ephemeral, quickly devoured by Time — flesh is the mere light snack of Time — while bone is far more durable; potentially, in the right conditions, bone outlasts many generations of evaporating flesh, and would therefore seem to give a far more fundamental representation of the man.

The thought I just expressed comes from the place Milan Kundera called “beyond the border.” To understand what that means, consider this: People who despise leftwing sentimentalism will dislike what I said above, believing it sounds like egalitarian squish. Likewise, leftwing sentimentalists will also dislike it, believing I am denying the premises of their favorite rallying cry, racial injustice. In other words, both tribes of our dominant public discourse will dislike what I have just said, believing it to embody an attitude they hate. Thus, neither side will actually understand what I said, for they are not listening to me, but rather to their own biases, into which they insert my words, undigested, as raw material for their self-justification. 

If they did actually hear what I said, they would have no response at all, because what I said, if absorbed along with its meaning, would sound like a foreign language to them, or like the thing no one can say. It comes from beyond the border.

The abstract modernists demand that we appreciate their art without seeking any meaning beyond the work itself, i.e., beyond the shapes and colors on the canvas. Representation, real-world associations, and the so-called imitation theory of art, they insist, are vulgar and antiquated. Pure art, they believe, is only what you see immediately before you, without relation to anything outside of the work; and the object of aesthetic contemplation is precisely that surface appearance itself, a meditation on line and color as such.

This is like a chef insisting that one admire his cuisine only for its colors and its arrangement on the dinner plate, while regarding any concern for flavor or nutritional value as a “na├»ve and immature view of food.”

If you insist on my admitting only the surface — whether for the sake of anger or of admiration — you will have exposed yourself. I will know you are mortally afraid that there is nothing behind the surface. And what is more, I will strongly suspect that you are right.

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