Thursday, 2 June 2016

Salvation through Art

Today we discuss how taking art seriously means we are taking life seriously.
How do we lesser mortals who are no saints find God in a world where traditional Gurus or Sufi Shaykhs are either hard to come across or there is an instinctive distrust in them? How do those who have fought hard to get back their lost religious faith keep living? How do we, regardless of our religious or philosophical positions, find some convergent point to launch our  boat in turbulent waters? God in his infinite graciousness has made ample arrangements of our return to our homeland, Heaven or Himself. One powerful and universally accessible mechanism is art. Today we discuss how taking art seriously means we are taking life seriously and this helps us in reaching our ultimate destination in the embrace of God. 
      Art is a form of faith that is available to even a secular man and it is through art that religious impulse survives in the deserts of modernity. Artists travel to the other/higher world through Imagination and bring us  from those depths and heights something of love and beauty that help to save us from ourselves, from the death that egoic dreams and passions bring. Camus’s view of salvation through art reminds us of Joyce, Proust and Beckett. Nietzsche is the greatest champion of prophetic view of artist and salvific view of art. Beckett’s hero Moran finds peace in “another’s ludicrous distress.” “Far from the world, its clamours, frenzies, bitterness and dingy light” he passes judgments on all those “who need to delivered.” His artistic vacation seems to be fulfilling his dharma; it is a call from the beyond or transcendence as he is harnessed to a task which transcends himself as well as the object of his endeavor.  He is doing what he does for the sake of a cause, which, while having need of us to be accomplished, “is in essence anonymous, and would subsist, haunting the minds of men, when its miserable artisans should be no more.” Thus the world is saved only through art “that pierces the outer turmoil’s veil,” and discerns our quarry and senses “what course to follow.” Art, the Dionysian art in which like Nietzsche Beckett consumes himself, reveals the supraindividual and thus immortal essence of man. Music and not the Apollonian reason expresses this and Beckett’s aesthetics emphasizes this point. Like Proust’s protagonist and approximating in certain sense mystical purgatorial path, Beckett’s hero in his trilogy discovers his essence in the “inaccessible dungeon of our being to which Habit does not possess the key.”
      Camus expressly states that art sustains him and it is faith in art that makes life endurable for him: “What has helped me bear an adverse fate will perhaps help me accept an overly favourable outcome –- and what has most sustained me was the great vision, the very great vision I have of art.”  It is the “very great vision” of art which sustains Camus in the face of misfortune. Here he appropriates something like the religious vision. For Zen religion is akin to art. It is simply changed perception of reality. Mountains are mountains at the end of the mystical path but one no longer is the same subject. One moves with one foot above the ground. Art is a mode of perception that creates an imaginative space beyond the normal one.
      Camus’ defense of artist against those who live in bondage to history and utopia is that he fights for freedom. And he links this with passion for beauty. He rightly says that “Man can’t do without beauty”(MS: 170).
      Camus finds a reason to celebrate even autumn through artistic view of it. “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” “A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” Camus is resolute to keep in tact in himself “a freshness,a cool well - spring of joy, love the day that escapes injustice,and return to combat having won that light” He sought the element of permanence in the sky and that memory and beauty kept him from despairing after his return from Tipasa.Camus remarks that when one has had the good luck to love intensely, life is spent in trying to recapture that ardour and that illumination.
  • “A day comes when thanks to rigidity, nothing shines wonder anymore, everything is known, and life is spent in beginning over again. These are the days of exile, of desiccated life, of dead souls. To come alive again one needs a special grace, self-forgetfulness, or a homeland. Certain mornings,on turning a corner,delightful dew falls on the heart and then evaporates. But its coolness remains and this is what the heart requires always.”
       The world of a saint is not the other world that Camus would reject but this world seen subspecies aeternatatis. Seen by an Aarif, seen within God or the Infinite it is a miracle and it is beautiful beyond all imagination of a person who doesn’t know what it means to see with the eyes of God. As a thing of beauty which is a joy for ever nothing is dense or opaque to a mystic who sees everything by the light of God. Penetrating the veil of phenomena through the cleansed perception he ever sees the freshness, the cool shade, the wonder, the beauty that Camus longs to capture forever. It is love and beauty that save according to Camus and what is God if not the personification of love and beauty.
      Kafka has a great remark to offer  that makes every one of us a believer if belief is understood as gratitude to the Giver of Life. (Interestingly Layla Bakhtiar translates Quranic term kafir as ungrateful instead of disbeliever or infidel).
  • “Should I be grateful or should I curse the fact that despite all misfortune I can still feel love, an unearthly love but still for earthly objects.” 
We all feel powerless against this instinctive love for earthly things. Let us see this love in its true depths as explained by IBn Arabi who said that man really loves inexistent things – God though he thinks he loves this or that thing. (See Chittick’s “Divine Roots of Human Love” for a lucid account.) It is art that helps us to keep loving these earthly objects and transforms them from mere objects to sites of epiphany. Man must surround himself with beauty or he is not a man made in the image of God who loves beauty. We must appreciate those who cultivate this sense of beauty. It is one of the most efficacious means to worship God. Women especially excel in their attention to beauty. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that makes Heaven more easily accessible to them.
      Schuon laments that “all religions Lived in beauty, while they still bloomed freely — /Something they no longer do in this time of sick epigones.” We need to understand why Islamic culture has prized the way of an artist for finding God and that explains why Hafiz has been the “ most widely-copied, widely-circulated, widely-read, widely-memorized, widely-recited, widely-invoked, and widely-proverbialized book of poetry in Islamic history.”  Final word to this “Tongue of the Unseen”:
  • If someone sits with me
    And we talk about the Beloved,
    If I cannot give his heart comfort,
    If I cannot make him feel better
    About himself and this world
    Then, Hafiz,
    Quickly run to the temple and pray-
    For you have just committed

    The only sin I know.

1 comment:

  1. It is sheer sophistry, nothing else. Either your concept of an artist isn't clear or your views about religion. What is the conclusion of this article?