Against Simplification

NEW YORK – It is said that Americans have a genius for simplification. Gradually, however, the quest for it has become a global trend, one that continues to conquer new territories, just as blue jeans once did.

The speed of our daily life is visibly increased – and not for the better – by this unstoppable evolution. The tyranny of pragmatism seems to mark all of the complex dilemmas of our time. Too many valid choices are ignored or skirted through the routine of short-cuts.

Nowhere is this trend more damaging than in today’s mercantile approach to art. Even the much-praised notion of competition seems fake and cynically manipulated by the “corporate” mentality that now pervades the world of culture – by the financial pre-selection that determines what publishers, producers, and other impresarios will support. Just imagine what might have happened with the works of, say, Proust, Kafka, Musil, Faulkner, or Borges had they been subjected to mass-market competition like shoes or cosmetics.

Culture is a necessary pause from the daily rat race, from our chaotic and often vulgar political surroundings, and it is a chance to recover our spiritual energy. Great books, music, and paintings are not only an extraordinary school of beauty, truth, and good, but also a way of discovering our own beauty, truth, and good – the potential for change, of bettering ourselves and even some of our interlocutors.