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Deal Hudson: Our Own Rite of Spring

By Deal W. Hudson
5/4/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The construction of these narratives, sweet always to the interests and prejudices of the cultural elite, have gone less and less challenged by anyone in the news reporting profession; it used to be to uncover and expose lies, both big and small.

Real historians and biographers are going to have a field day - some have already started - digging below the layers of fiction about Obama and his presidency that only now are growing old for the mainstream media. Thus far, the 21st century has followed the example of the 20th, as portrayed by Eksteins, to point where some co-writers - also co-dependent?- have become exhausted by the kind of transparent charade demanded by the Obama administration.

In his magnificent narrative of why European nations embraced the prospect of World War I - Rites of Spring: the Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age - the Canadian scholar Modris Eksteins writes about the chief consequence of the breakdown in a shared consensus on morality.

In his magnificent narrative of why European nations embraced the prospect of World War I - Rites of Spring: the Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age - the Canadian scholar Modris Eksteins writes about the chief consequence of the breakdown in a shared consensus on morality.

Highlights

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - In his magnificent narrative of why European nations embraced the prospect of World War I - Rites of Spring: the Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age - the Canadian scholar Modris Eksteins writes about the chief consequence of the breakdown in a shared consensus on morality:

"Our century [the 20th] is one in which life and art have been blended, in which existence has become aestheticized. History as one theme of this study will try to show, has surrendered much of its former authority to fiction."

The pertinence of this remark can hardly be challenged as we watch on a daily basis a White House that continues to construct one fictional narrative after another in order to avoid the facts of Bengazi, Obamacare, and the Russian takeover of the Ukraine. This last fiction must be particularly painful to Eksteins, a Latvian whose family immigrated to Canada after being battered by successive occupations of the Germans and the Russians.

Eksteins employs the controversial Parisian premiere on May 29, 1913 of the ballet, Les Sacre de Printemps (The Rite of Spring), composed by Igor Stravinsky, choreographed and danced by Vaslav Nijinsky, and produced by Sergei Diaghilev, as the "first act" of his dramatic reconstruction of the cultural personae leading to World War I. With its complete rejection of traditional musical and dance forms, The Rite of Spring created a performance-long furor in the audience that started with the first notes from the bassoon of Stravinsky's evocative score. 

As Eksteins notes, this was the first time in the history of art that the reaction of the audience was as much a part of the performance as the performers:

"Art has transcended reason, didacticism, and a moral purpose: art has become provocation and event."

In the resulting mishmash of observer and observed, subject and object, the purpose of art no longer serves to exalt, to illuminate, or to aspire - art becomes the occasion of precipitating a reaction, most visceral, and collapsing the invisible wall between the actors on stage and those in the theater seats. In doing this, the audience on that May night just over 100 years ago was participating precisely in what they saw on stage - a frenzied dance to the death of a maiden chosen to be sacrificed to the coming of spring. Except in this case, most of the audience shouted for the sacrifice of the ballet's composer, Stravinsky, and its lead dancer, Nijinsky.

Whether a pistol shot was actually fired at Stravinsky, as many accounts of that night claim, has never really been confirmed. Thus, part of the aestheticized existence postulated by Eksteins is the preference for uncontrolled passion over any kind of more measured response.

This kind of bacchanalia is easily seen in the recent media reaction to the racist comments of the Los Angeles Lakers' owner and the middle aged curmudgeon in bluejeans and a cowboy hat who wouldn't back down to government intimidation (the comments of the former were clearly racist and those of the latter, more ambiguous).  These two might as well have been put in the hands of the Jacobins and marched immediately to the guillotine.

The construction of these narratives, sweet always to the interests and prejudices of the cultural elite, have gone less and less challenged by anyone in the news reporting profession; it used to be to uncover and expose lies, both big and small.  No doubt in the last 20 years these same reporters, with notable exceptions, have been co-authors of the solipsistic narratives intended to silence any criticism of their enshrined cultural and political leadership.

Real historians and biographers are going to have a field day - some have already started - digging below the layers of fiction about Obama and his presidency that only now are growing old for the mainstream media. Thus far, the 21st century has followed the example of the 20th, as portrayed by Eksteins, to point where some co-writers - also co-dependent?- have become exhausted by the kind of transparent charade demanded by the Obama administration.

I, for one, cannot help but think about the glorification of the 2008 Obama campaign and his subsequent years in the White House when I read Eksteins' mention of the "compromise" between fiction and the fact that it is becoming both possible and necessary.

"In search of this compromise our historical account proceeds in the form of a drama, with acts and scenes, in the full and diverse sense of those words. In the beginning was the event. Only later came consequence."

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

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Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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