HomePare de sufrirCapturing the masterpiece

Capturing the masterpiece

Hamlet's sincerity. Prince Hamlet is crazy, but – Polonius points out – there is a method in his madness. His system is sincerity. His atrocious phrases are true, they contravene some social convention, they derail the scheme of appearances. His girlfriend Ofelia is a bundle of lies: “God gives you one face and you make another,” she harshly reproaches him. When looking at a cloud, he first says that it is shaped like a camel, then like a weasel, then finally like a whale, to contemplate how the adulatory Polonius chants each of the contradictory similarities. The prince himself defines himself in the fiercest terms: “I am indifferently honest, but you could accuse me of such things that it would be better if my mother had not given birth to me: I am proud, vengeful, ambitious; with more resentments in my mind than thoughts to house in it, imagination to give them form or time to fulfill them.”

The young prince is inhumanly truthful because he doubts. The ghost of his father appears to him to report that he has been poisoned by his brother to marry the widowed queen. The prince resolves not to take revenge before verifying the accusation, because "the spirit I have seen could be the devil, and the devil has the power to assume a pleasing form." To make sure, he has a play performed showing the murder of a king; The fratricidal uncle's reaction to this fiction seems to prove his guilt. Sent to England, Hamlet opens the diplomatic credentials, and finds a request to execute the bearer. As in mannerism, as in life, the false turns out to be true, the true indistinguishable from the false.

The prince's doubt replicates that of the thinkers of the 16th century: Can we distinguish between what is true and what is uncertain? Is it possible to survive in a world of fictions without pretending? The answers are Bacon's method of experimental verification and the false public conduct that Machiavelli recommends to princes. If we know nothing about the thoughts and intentions of others, we may as well hide our own. What better way to express this perplexity than a piece built on irony and methodical doubt, where you lose your life questioning the fact of being or not being? Since then the sign of this life and the next are nothing more than a mystery.

The wandering of Telemachus. Thus we come to James Joyce and his description of a day in the life of heterogeneous Dubliners in his novel Ulysses (1922). Something serious has happened in this cosmos. They are no longer just a nobleman or a prince who live in a world that is both everyday and fictional. Each citizen faces the most prosaic reality of himself, but at the same time creates an appearance of illusions and hopes to alleviate it. Ludwig Wittgenstein said that the limits of our language are those of our universe. Each character in Ulysses articulates his own speech and in terms of it formulates fears and mirages. But this language is the most spontaneous and least elaborate: that of the internal monologue, that uninterrupted flow of thoughts that our mind weaves in the face of everyday life. Psychoanalysis disavows it, however, as a truthful discourse: the processes of our mind would occur in the subconscious, an unfathomable area hidden from consciousness.

We neither know the world nor do we know ourselves.

Thus, commission agent Leopold Bloom hopes that he will sell many ads and that by dint of meekness he will get his wife Molly to leave her lover Blazes Boyland; the poet Stephen Dedalus, that his verses will express “the uncreated consciousness of his race”; Molly Bloom, that even in her dreams she will be able to say again for the first time: “Yes.” There is no longer a valid or predominant discourse: voices rush like bubbles in the irreversible torrent of time and emptiness. The vastness of life mutually cancels out discourses. For author and reader they all have identical irrelevance.

To what extent does Ulysses express a concern shared in its time, which is still ours? Teenage James Joyce refuses to pray to please his dying mother. “I will not serve what I do not believe in,” the writer puts into the mouth of his character Stephen Dedalus, who lives a similar adventure. This dilemma of a young man is that of an entire era. First positivism and dialectical materialism, then relativism, have demolished all certainty. “If God does not exist, everything is permitted,” Dostoevsky's tormented characters suspect. If there is no ordered cosmos or rational mind, who to serve and how to believe in it?

Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, positivism was abandoned, with its claim that the world could be described in an absolutely precise and objective manner and that all effects could be accurately foreseen based on known causes. The theory of relativity and the uncertainty principle postulate that the perception of the world depends on the viewer. This subjectivism spreads to the rest of the culture. Novels are written narrated from the point of view of the protagonist, who in turn forgets or reinvents the past. It is postulated that a painting does not precisely represent an object, but rather the transitory impression of it reflected by a certain light and a certain time of day. Works are created that do not replicate the real world, or that distort it with absurdity. There is no dominant discourse that absolutely certifies what is real and what is false, neither in the natural nor in the social world.

James Joyce chose and in part invented the subjectivist, impressionistic, imprecise, indeterministic way of literary representing this cosmos where the tumult of particular voices invalidates each other.

Unlike what happens in the sciences, in the arts knowing a procedure does not enable you to replicate it. For genius there is no formula. There will always be a detail missing, an imponderable, a mystery between the understanding and execution of a masterpiece. When such a mystery is technically revealed, the usefulness of our species will have expired.

Leave a response

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here