Saturday, March 28, 2009

kitsch

Edward Abbey says, the one thing better than solitude is society. I agree, with a sufficiently expanded definition of society.

Solitude is a source of energy and rejuvenation, and things experienced in solitude are the very essence of joy and fulfillment. Away from the clutter of conversation, expectations, imperfect external displays of internal experience, raw beauty and goodness bubbles plainly to the surface for anyone with an open soul to partake in. Only away from the stifling conventions of society (any society! not even just 'polite' society; for if an encounter between two humans ever occurred without some suppression of their selves, it would be cause for institutionalization) can we be free enough to feel completely alive, and only by feeling alive can we summon the desire to live.

But we are social animals. An immediate consequence of joy is the desire to share that joy. One of the most frustrating feelings of impotence is the inability to communicate (or at least, to know that we have successfully communicated) that experience. Our ability to communicate, even imperfectly, and believe in a commonality of experience makes this isolation bearable, and is in itself a great source of joy. That is society.

Milan Kundera says "Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tears says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch."

Kundera was slightly off target. Kitsch is, rather, the capture and marketing of the second tear, to the exclusion of the first. The silent shared experience is a beautiful bubble floating delicately in the air, and singing plastic reindeer imploring us to come together in song for two weeks a year are pins aimed at bursting that bubble under the belief that the residue we can individually rescue, or be sold, is just as valuable. That is kitsch.