Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Age of Mephistopheles

"The mutilation of the operatic state has been one of the most significant triumphs of the 'culture of repudiation': the culture of Mephistopheles, which finds its meaning in denial. I remain convinced, despite all the alienation, nihilism and existential despair that have come to perch in the rafters, that high culture is a monument to ideals, part of the attempt - always necessary, and never successful - to make us at home in the world and to affirm our moral right to it. Myths, stories, dramas, music, painting - all have lent themselves to the proof that life is worthwhile, that we are something more than animals, and that our suffering is not the meaningless thing that it might sometime seem to be, but one stage on the path to redemption. High culture has in this respect been the handmaiden of religion, and because he saw this and made the insight explicit in his music dramas, Wagner has been the principal target of the vandals. Their philosophy stems from a nihilism born of distrust, from a desire to 'ruin the sacred truths' that ask for their credence. It seems to me that they are in the business of destroying consolation, not because they have anything to put in the place of it, but because the consolations of other people are a reproach to their own moral emptiness." ---Roger Scruton

What is the "age of Mephistopheles"? It is the era of the demon-clown who fiddles while Rome burns, who gleefully contemplates the destruction of the edifice of Western civilization, its aristocratic high culture. Its chief representatives, Sartre and Foucault, were ungrateful but opportunistic beneficiaries of its greatness; that their ideas have achieved not only academic but popular currency is all the more distressing, with Foucault's posthumous 'canonization' (see James Miller's "The Passion of Michel Foucault") serving as a particularly baneful portent of the times. Their work gives impetus and inspiration to the congeries of directors and bien-pensants who rule over the world of art like the senile dictator of a banana republic. Their acolytes in the academy, comfortable in well-endowed chairs of 'philosophy', deconstruct their student's upbringing, seeking to excise whatever providential attachments to morality and religion have lodged themselves in the students' brains. Their anti-culture worships at the altar of the ugly (beauty having long been discredited as kitsch): their goal is a mass proletarization of society, the eradication of the best (the aristoi). The dissolution of all ties, complete liberation from the immemorial mores, particularly those that concern marriage and sex, destruction. Foucault's own predilection for sado-masochism and the unresolved debate about his guilt in the deliberate spreading of AIDS betoken a nihilism sui generis. Is the West so enervated that it cannot mount a defense against such a figure?

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