Is Doctor Faustus a difficult read?
Very difficult. I like novels which go beyond elegance and culture, which are synthetic, and Doctor Faustus is not a synthetic book. It could be summed up in two, okay, maybe four pages. There are too many words in it. In Mann’s times such writing was understandable and necessary, but today, from my perspective, it is completely outmoded. It is a philosophical book written by a man of culture. At present, writing in such a way makes no sense.
Maybe because we know much more. We have the impression that everything has already been said. Philosophy – even though it applies to other disciplines as well: theatre and the visual arts – is undergoing a crisis, it has lost its orientation, it has moved away from life. Writings which are ingrained in culture as intellectual, self-reflective literature, are today like a resignation, a testimony to inability. Of course, art is always close to philosophy, but they are not tantamount. Philosophy tries to answer the mysteries of the world. It is a discourse. Art is not a discourse, it mixes, confounds, does not produce theories. Mann, on the other hand, utters everything, leaves no empty space, as if he was afraid that he wouldn’t exhaust the subject and say everything he needed to, that he wouldn’t live up to his ambition. It is simply not my type of sensitivity.
Yet still, you decided to prepare an installation for Malta Festival Poznań related to this novel...
Doctor Faustus is important as a metaphor. From this perspective the book is still alive. The Greek term kalokagatia expressed the inseparable connection between the good and the beautiful. Even today beauty is perceived in this way, and, after all, Nazi aesthetics were beautiful too. In Mann’s work, beauty is linked with evil, yet the hero himself is not evil. It’s intriguing. But I myself have to make a synthesis of this subject.
Adrian is not evil, so what is his pact with the devil about? What or who is the devil visiting him to you? What does he represent?
Adrian is deluded by an idea which is diabolic. I don’t know if it is Satanist, but certainly diabolic.
What is the difference?
Diabolic denotes that which separates you from something or someone. The word “Satanist” refers us to the power of evil – Satan represents evil. The devil is, in my opinion, a much more humane, problematic and melancholic figure. He is not related to that which is evil, but to lack and absence. He is not the will of evil. In the Bible, the devil is a creature in-between. Like a monkey is something between an animal and a human being, so the devil exists between the creation and God, it has an image. Satan is an emperor, a serving devil who does not know who he is serving. Ultimately, he might be serving God. That’s my intuition.
In 1993 you directed a show entitled Lucifero. Where in this configuration is the place of Lucifer?
The show Lucifero drew on the story of Lucifer, who was, according to tales, an angel in love with God. When God created man, Lucifer became jealous. He rebelled, because he wanted God for himself, he wanted all of God’s love for himself. He rebelled because of love. In a sense, the experience of art is like the cry of Lucifer, who keeps reliving this love and jealousy of man. Lucifer, Devil and Satan are three different Christian figures. Lucifer is more promethean.
Lucifer returns as an angel of art in the show Genesi: From the Museum of Sleep from 1999. Is he always the figure of an artist?
Lucifer is crying because of the distance which separates him from God, and art is possible only when a distance exists. Besides, God doomed Lucifer to non-being and in order to become a being, Lucifer had to disguise himself as someone else. As tradition has it, he always appears as something or someone. His first disguise was a snake, then a pig, possessed, always in the bodies of someone else. That’s what theatre is about. In theatre, an actor impersonates others, puts on someone else’s skin.
Art as the cry of Lucifer. It is a very interesting thought in the context of Doctor Faustus. After all, the outcome of the pact between the devil and Adrian is the Adrian’s greatest masterpiece, Lamentum Doctoris Fausti, called the hymn to God.
Nostalgia for God, the experience of this separation is present in Adrian’s art. Because, what is art, this most interesting kind? The trace of that which is missing, a hole in representation, and this lack can be called god, like in the case of Hölderlin or a Greek tragedy. After all, tragedy is born when gods depart. Art is always related to this lack or to the fact that it could not exist. Every gesture on stage is marked by those gestures which were never made. Every word – with those words which we never uttered. This is the pure power of an artistic gesture and a kind of curse, a compromise which has something in common with a pact with the devil. In order to express the potential of non-being, something needs to be shown; in order to express the power of non-utterance, something needs to be uttered.
Can we look for an answer to the question of why the devil cares so much for Adrian in the devil’s nostalgia for God? Why is the musician’s work so important to the devil?
This is the most important question. Is it about one more soul in hell? Why didn’t the devil choose a house painter or an engineer? What do you think? Why?
In the context of your words, music lets the devil come into being, resound, be. It is also interesting that Adrian’s work can be read as an offering to God. In the Middle Ages, music was one of the seven liberal arts preparing for theological and philosophical studies, and so bringing you closer to God.
If Doctor Faustus is interesting, it is precisely because it concerns the matter which is crucial for art. It is about the deep nostalgia of the devil who needs art to come back to life. The soul of the composer also makes it possible to win more souls. Music has a larger reach and the devil wants to reach to the whole of humanity.
The devil comes closer to God through art. Or maybe, it works in the opposite direction too? Maybe God needs the devil?
Maybe the devil represents God in Doctor Faustus, is his instrument, like in the story of Job. You worked on the story of Job yourself. In the Bible, God and the devil reach an agreement on the story of one man. It is something to think about in Mann’s context, since Adrian is put to the test, which leads to the creation of a hymn to God.
Many regard the Book of Job as blasphemous precisely because God reveals his cruelty in it. The book suggests that God is the origin of everything, including evil. Otherwise why would he agree to such an arrangement with the devil?
I don’t know if “agree to” is the right word. I would rather say: designed, gave power to Satan, so the man can choose. Satan exists so that man can be free. The Devil, Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub are all God’s instruments. If someone believes in Lucifer, the Devil, Satan, they believe in God. It is the same symbolic system. When you speak about them, you speak about God. I don’t believe in the devil.
You don’t believe in the Christian devil or in the devil as a physical reality? Which devil do you believe in?
I believe that the devil is our human condition, that we are torn, separated from the crux of the matter. So I believe in it, but in a more abstract, theological sense. Not in a person, a being, a power.
Doesn’t this separation turn into strength, into that which urges us to act?
In the biblical and cultural sense the devil is power. It is enough to recall the literary character of Moby Dick. The whale represents Satan there, a dark force, that which is hidden in the shadow. But as Romeo Castellucci, I don’t believe in such an external power. It is hard to be happy on earth. We are always separated from someone, something, from ourselves, and this separation is indeed turned into strength. It makes us act, paint, write music. But this is not the kind of power which knows and wants. It is not a positive strength, it originated from the negative foundation of our existence.
You said that Adrian is persuaded to believe in an idea which is diabolic. Which idea is that?
It concerns the issue that art has nothing to do with good. That’s what Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and even before them, Greek tragedy spoke about. Art does not do good deeds, but it is more like a disease, a virus, which comes to bother, rather than to comfort or confirm, so that we can feel safe. Already in Greek tragedy, the spectators see that a living man turns out to be mortal. Maybe it would be better not to enter the theatre? To escape being torn and fall asleep, as Hamlet suggests? We are back to the issue of to be, or not to be. This conflict lies at the heart of art. If there is no fight between to be and not to be, there is only a decoration, or worse – an illustration. So, I would say that real artists are evil. I cannot express it in any other way. To me the idea of this pact is still justified and current.
Would you agree with Mann that “the artist is the brother of the criminal and the madman”?
Rather the criminal, I am not sure about the madman. I don’t know what kind of a madman Mann means. For example, Shakespeare’s madman is someone who is in a relationship with society, is an outsider. In my view, an artist is more like an invader, your opponent. By the way, the devil is often portrayed in the Bible as an opponent. An opponent cannot be mad. His strategy is very accurate. A madman cannot be guilty, but a criminal can. If, on the other hand, we assume that madness is the reversion of the mind, we get a carnival. And art is not a carnival. Especially that of Adrian which is almost scientific. There is no madness in it. Adrian goes mad, but that is a different story.
The devil says that art should transcend moral and philosophical boundaries. Does it mean that, just like in criminal acts, it can undergo moral evaluation?
Art is to criticize life, not the other way round. That’s right, art is invasive, but cannot be evaluated. It evaluates, and it does so in a brutal way. That’s what art should be like.
But we all evaluate art. You say yourself: I like this, I don’t like that.
Of course. We use aesthetic and ethic criteria, but that doesn’t change anything. Art is indifferent to it. We cannot hurt it, because art does not belong to anyone, it a no-man’s land. However, it itself does judge, revealing the oddness of life and the lack of sense. As if somebody was judging our life from the outside. Art is interesting, because it leads us elsewhere, to a place where you can look at your life from a distance. Art that subjects itself to evaluation is ossified art, because art is in motion by definition, cannot be caught up with. As soon as it becomes closed in some area, it becomes stereotypical and subject to evaluation. Art has to go beyond its own field, using its own tools. A film which is no longer a film is art, a book which is no longer literature, is art, etc. The field of art can be redefined endlessly. It is like water in a river, which keeps changing. You cannot step into the same river twice. Art should not become contradictory, but look for contradictions. It has to transcend itself again and again.
What do you mean by saying: “Art should not become contradictory, but look for contradictions”?
The phrase “to become contradictory” has a pejorative meaning. And the point is precisely in being contradictory, in rejecting the protective shield. An artist who is trying to run from contradiction, is an artist with an established style, who has found a method and feels safe. I also have my own style and this is my problem, my limitation. I am not enough in contradiction with myself. Art is to surprise you – like the voice of the Lord surprised Paul who fell off his horse on his way to Damascus – it is to carry you elsewhere. It needs no coherence. The language of art is located on a line that never ends. It is bound to a kind of messianic waiting. Western art is constantly in motion, because the messiah doesn’t come. It has to keep overthrowing itself, changing the rules, the way of approaching the work of art, it has to keep contradicting itself. All that is problematic, difficult, tearing us apart, located on the verge, is contradictory. Contradiction lies on the path to wisdom, knowledge born out of nothing, like a revelation. Wagner claimed that art can substitute religion.
Adrian refers to religion too. His vision of the return of barbarity is a call for the return of culture to its origins, to religion, understood as the cult of paradox and excess.
This is Wagner. He entered into a pact with the devil.
You also refer to religious tradition in your shows. Do you draw from religion in any other way?
Religion is to me a stream of forms which one reads, deconstructs, which expresses the thought of man. These forms are all we have. Speaking about culture which regains the strength of a cult is not right, because culture cannot be cult. Let’s think about art. Art functions as a breach in culture. It is not a process of culture. It can be studied as culture, as history of art, but art is linked with man, and so it appears before thought. Art can be cult, but culture can’t, because culture cools you down. Art burns you and culture appears after the fire – in the form of objects, thoughts and analyses. The experience of art is fiery. The heat does not result from the here and now, but from what is ahead of us. Art gives the impression that you are experiencing the future, not the present. That’s what I think.
In what sense the future? Fire is more often associated with the experience of the present, of this moment in which an image is revealed.
It is about a meeting or a reflection in a mirror that art gives us access to – this is in the present, but the space where this experience is projected is not in the present. I don’t know how to put in words. It is like a promise.
A promise of what?
Of something that will be, that will come. I don’t know. This is something ahead of us, but not in the future.
It is about the experience of waiting or maybe opening? Or maybe about a motivation to search, think, act or ask for more?
I think it is about opening, a bit like it is understood by Heidegger. Not about a real state, but a condition, listening to being, living in being. Heidegger uses many beautiful metaphors. The experience of art is the experience of opening.
You said that culture cannot be cult. In what sense can art be cult?
Cult is an odd matter. It is about celebrating always the same thing. In fact, I don’t know if it is the right word. Art has always a certain framework, but the point is to stretch it from the inside, like Rublow, Malewicz or Schönberg did. Without limits, art does not exist.
Maybe that is the problem today? Maybe the framework is stretched too much?
It is hard to stretch a framework which has already undergone so many deformations. David Foster Wallace, an American writer who died in 2008, indeed managed to change this perspective. No one else comes to my mind.
Let us return to the issue of moral boundaries which the devil in Doctor Faustus speaks about. Do you think that the word morality fits the realm of art at all?
I don’t know what kind of morality the devil in Doctor Faustus meant. Maybe he spoke about the current morality, the morality of his epoch? I believe that art cannot be cut off from morality. It’s an illusion. A work of art can be considered amoral, but that’s a different problem. If the prefix “a” appears, it means that we are still speaking about morality. The word morality [la morale] refers to the private sphere. Morality does not mean that you are a moralist. It is not about moralism [il moralismo], a disguise which can be thrown away, e.g. don’t go out naked. Morality changes from person to person, something seems good to you, but it doesn’t to someone else. You cannot say that morality is for everyone, because then it would become law. And this is an incorrect use of this word. Morality is closely connected to the word spirituality. For some, it means fundamental mathematics, for others a supermarket or Madonna’s music. In this sense, you cannot escape from morality in art. It is always about the moral strings of existence, because art always speaks about the man, even if he does not appear in it. Malewicz reached the peak of human spirituality. Conceptual art is moral too, as is Protestant art. Where the form is censored, where purism appears, it always has to do with morality. Dodecaphony is the manifestation of a special kind of morality.
In what sense?
It is a form of moving pleasure away. Schönberg introduced unpleasant elements, dissonance, which paradoxically became an aesthetic category, and Schönberg’s music is called beautiful. But I wouldn’t say that it is pleasing, because it isn’t. This is very demanding music. It makes you think. You cannot let yourself get lost in it, flow with it or give in to it. Schönberg is prophetic in it. He heralds the words of Adorno who would say 20 years later that after Auschwitz we cannot write poems. In fact, the whole avant-garde is prophetic. For example, cubism. Picasso also questions the idea of beauty. He paints women he calls the ladies of Avignon, but we don’t associate them with Avignon at all; they are women from Sub-Saharan Africa. Or he multiplies perspectives – he paints an object as if it was being seen by many eyes. Dodecaphony is a kind of music filled with sounds as if it was being heard with many ears. The audience is every time in the foreground because it aims at breaking their perception. The subject is broken into pieces. You can feel the crisis which comes with the experience of the death camps. The avant-garde spread the seeds of cultural revolution, it is prophetic. That is why it is so short, it is like a cry.
For the promise of becoming a music genius, Adrian pays the price of being cut off from life. Not only does he go mad, but before that, he also loses love and his touch with reality. Is he a universal figure of an artist?
The condition of an artist is living with oneself, alone. The creators I am interested in have something in common with this diabolic image, they are cut off from life. That appears from their works, sometimes you can read about it in their biographies. But a devil haunting them changes form. I don’t believe that Mann’s figure of an exceptional artist makes sense today. This a figure linked with the history of the German nation, with Europe of that time, with Nazi aesthetics, with the past. Back then Adrian was an ideal figure, but today we think about an artist in different terms. Today everyone is an artist, everyone goes shopping and waits in a queue in a supermarket. The attitude of a man of letters does exist anymore. An artist sees today all that others see, doesn’t live alone in the mountains like Nietzsche’s artist, who looked down and saw what remained concealed to others. We are dealing with a different type of pact with the devil. We would have to speak about the demon of normality, boredom and omniscient knowledge. Our epoch is characterised by a slow-down, by no means by an acceleration, as many tend to think, but a slow-down that became an aesthetic category in the new cult of individualism and technology. We are dealing with dormant generations and for this reason revolution is impossible today. David Foster Wallace described it. An artist lives with himself, alone, but is not exceptional at all. Art is. What an artist does is demonic. It should be.
11 April 2015