Good Life

Very interesting story and conversation, Cynthia Ozick on Steven Millhauser’s story, “In the Reign of Harad IV.”  I had not heard of Millhauser before, but I like this Borges-like fairy tale.

The story and the conversation addresses two views of the artist (or, person with a project, like a philosophical project, or the project of constructing a life or constituting a self):

1) The artist has a strong desire to do something. Production is a selfish task, she wants to create because of an inner drive to do so. It is enough for her art to simply exist (or even to exist conceptually, personally, inaccessibly to others).  Finnegan’s Wake, in its inaccessibility, was cited as an example.  Kafka’s entire body of work was cited as a possible example.  The artist is lonely, but fine.  She’s fulfilling her desire.

2) The artist is contributing to the world. Her art is for an audience, it is meant to transform the world, and therefore the people in the world must receive it in some way.  It has a political dimension.  The context in which it comes into existence matters, as it is a response to the “external” world.  Maybe this art can be taught.  It exists in relation to other people, and one way or another, their response is crucial.  The artist wants her art to reproduce, to become caught up in history.  No need for examples here, right?

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