Appearance as Illusion

Over the course of working on a piece about a Swedish film director from the 70’s, I’ve been writing and thinking about the various forms of erotica, as proffered on film in this instance. On the wings of this spilling over into conversations with known associates, a friend passed this on to me. Though it’s talking about art, aren’t we always?

The connection between pornography and prostitution is witnessed by etymology. The effect of pornographic fantasy is to ‘commodify’ the object of desire, and to replace love and its vestigial sacraments with the law of the market. This is the final disenchantment of the human world. When sex becomes a commodity, the most important sanctuary of human ideals becomes a market, and value is reduced to price. That is what has happened in the last few decades, and it is the root fact of post-modern culture.

Sentimentality, like fantasy, is at war with reality. It consumes our finite emotional energies in self-regarding ways and numbs us to the world of other people. It atrophies our sympathies, by guiding them into worn and easy channels, and so destroys not only our ability to feel, but also our ability to bring help where help is needed and to take risks on behalf of higher things. It may seem to project and endorse a vision of those higher things, to take on itself some of the ennobling function which is the imagination’s proper task. But the appearance is an illusion. The object of sentimental emotion is in fact dragged down by the feeling which makes use of it, made grubby and tawdry in the game of emotional exchange. Sentimentality is another form of profanation. While pornography puts our lowest appetites on sale, sentimentality trades in love and virtue. But the effect is the same -to deprive these higher things of all reality, either by cynically denying them, or by making them insubstantial, dream-like, adrift in a never-never land where no human being can dwell. In the great works of imagination, by contrast, we are invited to enter a higher realm, in which real human motives and real human sentiments find their resolution and redemption. This higher realm is not a fantasy-product: it is not the surrogate object of base and existing desires. It is the true object of feelings which it itself engenders, and whereby it cleanses and sanctifies our lives.

It’s not long, so you should read the whole thing. Thanks, ac.