Monday 25 July 2011

Fromm, Extremism and Spontaneity

With the recent terrible events in Norway, it is difficult for formulate any utterance which goes beyond denunciation of the acts of an individual lunatic. It also may be inappropriate to say that this was more than the act of a lunatic (it could aggrandise his actions). But with the deaths of so many young people, it does seem to be appropriate to reflect.

I was struck by this passage from Erich Fromm's "Fear of Freedom" which summed up my reflections on the situation:

"Looked at superficially, people appear to function well enough in economic and social life; yet it would be dangerous to overlook the deep-seated unhappiness behind that comforting veneer. If life loses its meaning because it is not lived, man becomes desperate. People do not die quietly from physical starvation; they do not die quietly from psychic starvation either. If we look only at the economic needs as far as the 'normal' person is concerned, if we do not see the unconscious suffering of the average automatized person, then we fail to see the danger that threatens our culture from its human basis: the readiness to accept any ideology and any leader, if only he promises excitement and offers a political structure and symbols which allegedly give meaning and order to an individual's life. The despair of the human automaton is fertile soil for the political purposes of Fascism." (1942, p220)
Fromm goes on to emphasise the importance of 'spontaneity' and creativity. I wonder in that context about improvisation. But then there are problems here too: mass murder with an automatic weapon could be viewed as a 'spontaneous' (even creative) act (I think of Damien Hirst's insensitive remark that 911 was a 'work of art'). But if those acts are spontaneous, they are also hideous. Fromm is talking about the spontaneity that lives in beauty. That suggests that Wittgenstein was right when he asserted that fundamentally aesthetics was the same as ethics.

It also means that whatever is spontaneous must also be considered - which seems like a contradiction. But the balance is always there to be negotiated. My own balance is shifting... I bought some manuscript paper at the weekend and have begun composing something....

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