Demons

Some readers might be confused by my references to demons, especially in the context of the quote from Boris Groys in an earlier post, which might leave the impression that they are personal. The demons I’m talking about are social. The demonic in art is well recognized. It means that we sense that the artist has surrendered to a power that flows through their work—that the work does not come out of themselves—and so is closely related to the sublime. But what opened my mind was Angus Fletcher’s very important book Allegory: The Theory of A Symbolic Mode. He suggests that an allegorical figure in a work of literature is possessed by their meaning, which is a kind of demonic force. I find this so funny, and so illuminating—the best combination. A look around brings confirmation. Isn’t religion a demonic force today, and are not very many people “possessed” by it to the extent that it determines their actions up to the most irrational, such as suicide? Isn’t the Republican party totally “possessed” by the idea that cutting taxes will bring economic growth, such that individual members are forced to agree with what they know is false? Demonic possession is related to mass delusion, so it has a political importance. The notion that people accept or reject religious, political or economic beliefs after rational consideration and in conscious pursuit of their own interests is partly true, but it is simpler and more complete to say that all desires that lead to action are forms of possession. A scientist may be possessed by an idea of truth to the degree that he or she fails to recognize the irrational basis of all human activity, including science. This last is not a new idea, but I think it is new to suggest that artists have a special role as technicians of the demonic, as ultra-rationalists in other words. It shouldn’t be. Besides Fletcher, my own sources include the work of Michael Taussig and Jean Rouche’s great film Les Maîtres Fous, which anyone in the art world should know about.

Jean Rouche, Les Maîtres Fous 1955

The problem today is that most of the art profession doesn’t realize its own possession by bureaucracy, which itself is possessed by the demons of accountability and explanation.

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