Thinking of Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”, Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, or Goethe’s “Faust” I realize that, apart from the irrepressible attraction of evil, they are all linked to the all too familiar theme of the pact between man and devil. The idea of the pact would have remained a phantasmagoria, a hermetic and obscure concept if it had not come so close to the temptation of human nature. In life, nothing comes easily. Successes and failures come in quick succession. Life is running out and we begin to feel that life is running out of patience. Although we know very well that patience is one of the greatest virtues, we still despise it with the greatest intensity. At the end of the day we are reconciled to the thought of effort, but the pull of the Absolute is enormous!
The artist’s temptation
More than anyone else, artists are most tempted to believe that they have succeeded in detaching themselves from the human condition and that, through their art, they have access to a super-reality. The thought that they might be prophets, demigods, or even gods entices them every time they draw an object at two points of flight or when from a deft hatching of charcoal they can turn a circle into a sphere. Anything can happen in the universe of form and colour created on canvas; absolutely anything the creator wants. The same goes for a symphony. The same is true of literature. Anna Karenina is killed by her creator. Madame Bovary too. Like the God of the Old Testament, the creators show no mercy to his creatures and subject them to the fiercest of scourges. From here to absolute identification with divinity is only one step.
Religious vs Agnostic
Genesis tells us that God created man in his own image. Logicists might explain this statement by invoking the principle of transitivity of the members of an identity. In other words, if A=B, then B=A. Many Christians might amend this demonstration on the grounds that this would make God a man in heaven while a man would become a God on earth. To avoid this circularity, theologians will question the meaning of divine creation. The more traditionalists will say that man was created to follow the Decalogue exactly. Others, more liberal, such as Berdiaev, will argue that the meaning of divine creation is “human behaviour par excellence” whose aim is “emancipation from this world” and that this can happen insofar as man is creative, insofar as he manages to win the battle against the inertial weight of the world. Existentialists will counter-argue that God’s work is not perfect as long as it could be corrupted by sin. Theologians will counter by saying that man can be restored through salvation. Some will rise from among the people, who will call themselves prophets, mentors, and leaders and preach about the fulfilled life at work or the peace of mind that material wealth brings. They will light a fire in wax candles and claim that they have beheaded Medusa and are therefore the repositories of ultimate truth. The prophecy of happy, healthy, and “eco” living seems to be one of the major themes of our time.
On the other hand, whether believers or atheists, artists will know that the creative life is the only one that can save them from the tragedy of this world, and self-sacrifice may be the only way to achieve a superpersonal work.