Common Sense Comes to Town!

Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have. (Descartes)

Art, Artists and Assault

Posted on | April 4, 2011 | No Comments

Today’s polemical debate in Montreal (since the electoral campaign is rather boring) is without a doubt this  scoop in the Devoir: Wajdi Mouawad, author and stage director known chiefly for Incendies but also for his love of Greek tragedy, will present a work by Sophocles casting Bertrand Cantat. The latter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2003 after beating his mistress, French actress Marie Trintignant, to death. Wajdi Mouawad was quickly targeted in the medias, notably by Patrick Lagacé in Cyberpresse.

This polemic reopens the sensitive topic of censorship in the artistic world. What is the exact link between a work and its creator or, in this case, the artisans? Does our understandable disdain for murderer allow us to ban a work of art? And once we open Pandora’s Box, just how far are we willing to go?

For example, Richard Wagner deep anti-Semitism was used by the Nazis, who made the composer into a hero and idolized his operas based on Germanic folklore. Should we ban his music nowadays? The opera Tristan und Isoldefeatures some of the most lyrical moments in the repertoire – should we deprive future generations of it? The same argument could be made for French writer Céline.

Closer to us, should we ban director Roman Polanski, who fled American justice after pleading guilty to sexual assault on an underage girl? Are existing copies of Rosemary’s Baby to be burned as well?

Time can smooth out many things, including the nasty murders committed by composer Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) who not only murdered his wife and her lover, but has probably strangled his own son to death as well.

 Is a work of art free from its creator or is it necessarily chained to him or her? Time and the seriousness of the committed crimes are of course variables differing in each case. We could reproach Wajdi Mouawad for a certain lack of sensitivity, given how recent Cantat’s crime is, an action which our collective consciousness cannot imagine forgiven or atoned for in only eight years. We could also applaud him for his audacity and the stalwart gesture he is making, forcing society to face its own contradictions, especially where morality, justice and aesthetics are concerned. Honestly we could probably hold these two discourse simultaneously.

Unveiling social discomfort can be seen as an important element of artistic creation. Yet we also need to figure out whether this creation was born out of respect, carelessness, or the simple need to provoke and stir up a debate.

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