Thursday, February 21, 2008

Home is where the art is

Saw Persepolis tonight at the Avon on Providence's East Side. What a beautiful movie. I hope to have something more to say about it tomorrow. For now all I can think about is artistic creativity, personal integrity, and the home. (I guess I've got home on the brain as I get my affairs in order here at the Villa Borghese.) Poverty is easy to invoke as an excuse for artistic impotence: how can one write (or paint, or sing), after all, when one has nothing? Osip Mandelstam, quoted by his wife Nadezhda in her memoir, Hope Against Hope, rejects this reasoning: "'Why aren't you writing now?' he asked [fellow author Sergei Borisovich Rudakov]. 'If someone has something to say, he will always say it.'" Indeed, for Mandelstam, the illusions of independence and agency associated with material ownership stifle true freedom of spirit; deracination is a prerequisite for creativity. And creativity, not incidentally, is the real invigorating spirit of resistance--hence the violent oppression of the arts under all totalitarian regimes.

Persepolis is also very much about integrity, which here is not meant as the specific and subjective distinction of right from wrong but rather the broader distinction of choice from compulsion. In an echo of Mandelstam, the heroine's grandmother admonishes her after an indefensible perfidy that one always has a choice. Marjane eventually chooses to leave her husband, and finally to leave Iran for France. This right, this obligation, to choose is an existential imperative; it intimidates us; and so we stay home.

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