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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The privilege of melancholiacs

28 May, 2014 - 17:54

Two events, unconnected to one another but spectacular, occurred later last week. A Ukrainian film, The Tribe, won several prizes at the Cannes Festival, and Kyiv’s Master Class hosted a recital of Viktoria Poliova, one of our best composers.

In general, the recital sounded as an integral musical text of high melancholy, but it was difficult to get rid of an impression that Poliova’s early pieces – such as Pieta (2006, for solo violin and strings, dedicated to Arvo Part), A White Burial (2002, for oboe and strings, dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky), No Man Is an Island (2006, a chamber cantata for voice, piano, and strings, based on a poem by John Donne) – were more in line with the theme of reminiscences and the current situation than the new piece Martyrology for voice and strings, dedicated to the Heavenly Sotnia.

The same impression is about Myroslav Slaboshpytsky’s film and Serhii Zhadan’s old and new poems he recited in early April at Book Arsenal in Kyiv – a complete emotional affinity with what is going on here and now.

And it is not opportunism. The point is not that artists have chased the tragedies of this life but that life has at last caught up with Poliova’s music, Slaboshpytsky’s film, and Zhadan’s poetry.

As the great German culture expert Walter Benjamin once said, prophetic dreams is a privilege of melancholiacs (he also emphasized that melancholy had meant a gift for art in ancient times). This is why the grumblings of a part of the professional community about lack of funding or ruination of the national cinematic, writing, and composing school are no more serious than calls to hear the Donbas. True creators issue, rather than respond to, the challenges of time.

It was noticed long ago that great upheavals – revolutions and wars – echo in art as unheard-of upsurges of productivity: suffice it to recall France and Germany of the 1920s and Ukraine’s “red renaissance” at the same period. Yes, a social explosion can detonate a cultural explosion, but only if there is something or, to be more exact, somebody to explode – for it appears at a closer examination that the abovementioned countries had had quite a large stratum of gifted artists in almost all genres at the turn of the century. The war and revolution only added strength to their voices.

We have both a revolution and a war now. Will our artists manage to make use of this most onerous and, at the same time, most rewarding privilege, which is accessible to them only, and continue to embody their prophetic dreams in more and more perfect artistic forms?

By Dmytro DESIATERYK, The Day