Saturday, 23 June 2012

Are we Human?

A perennial question, the answer to which seems to be more acutely needed when we’re suffering - or bored, as Arthur Schopenhauer would have said.

On display at a degree show at Camberwell today were some excellent pieces of art in the best sense: works in which one can discern thought, emotion and craft combined in visually exceptional ways. Truly spirit-lifting (and if I might add, a completely different experience to an hour spent at the Saatchi Gallery). One of the exhibits captivated me; it included some photos from Charles Darwin’s experiments in emotion recognition:

This would have intrigued me on any day of the week, but particularly today because last night I watched Ingmar Bergman’s The Sepent’s Egg. This is a film about evil, a subject not acknowledged in polite, 21st century society, given our propensity to explain such things away. The metaphor for evil is a conspiracy of poisoners in the Wiemar Republic performing covert experiments on ordinary people in Berlin, the purpose of which is to discover the level of pain, suffering or horror at which they falter in their will to live or destroy that which they perceive to be as the source of their agony.

It is remarkable the behaviour to which people can resort when they are in pain.  George Orwell was a master of this subject. He lived 5 doors down from where I lived in Hampstead when I first moved to London - unfortunately around 60 years before me. I wish I could have talked to him.

So I wonder about the source of the problem: the sinning tortured soul, the one inflicting the pain, or the one devising the means of devastation?

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