Thursday, September 19, 2019

My Version of Hunger Art

I just heard a report on the radio about Edward Snowden. I don't know enough about the details of his situation to evaluate whether he was wrong or right to leak the information he did, but I do know he thinks he did the right thing. This means, of course, he sacrificed the comforts of his own country to do what he felt he had to.

It makes me feel guilty, a little. 

When I think about America's Founding Fathers and what they sacrificed to establish our country, I am reminded of this quotation from John Adams: 

"I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain."

It sounds so selfless. Adams is enduring the toils of government and politics for our future; so we can chill and create and be cultured; so we can have the "finer things."

It makes me feel guilty, indeed, for having pursued a life of music and literature; for not having become at least a town councilman or a mayor or something...

But, the other day, I was teaching Kafka. We were discussing "A Hunger Artist." If you have never read it, the man makes a living by putting on shows in which he sits in a cage and fasts and the public comes by and they watch him slowly turn into a bag of bones. The story goes through many aspects of his thinking, including his pride in his art and the disappointment he feels when the public stops caring; stop appreciating the purity of his art.

Spoiler alert: In the end, the hunger artist is about to die and he makes a confession: he never found a food he liked, so starving himself is easy. It renders the feat way less impressive, right? Even the hunger artist feels guilty for having fooled people.

So, it got me thinking: You are not going to tell me that, in some way, the people who made these sacrifices for future generations or to expose evil or to free their people didn't do these things partly or mostly because of some characteristic within themselves that made them enjoy or even need to do what they did. 

Someone who leads a country, like Washington, wants to be a leader on some level. He may not actively seek it as a preference, but he does have to thrive on it.  Like, I am not saying Snowden wanted to be a refugee hiding in Russia, but something about him drew him to this kind of dissent...

So, maybe I don't feel so guilty. Because what I guess I am getting at is that there is no true altruism. Right? People are drawn to acts that stem from their inner composition. The hunger artist hated food, so he stopped eating; Adams was a man with a perfect political and legal mind who, given free reign, would not have become a sculptor anyway...

I'm a teacher, right? I teach literature and writing. Am I doing it because I just have a burning desire to improve young minds? Partly. But mostly I do it because I love words. I'm proud of being a teacher but I'm not, however, ready to receive accolades for having picked a low-paying job so that I could help my fellow man.

I feel better now.

No comments:

Post a Comment