Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Artistic Exiles and Outcasts


Etymology-- Middle English exil, from Old French essil, exil, from Latin exsilium, exilium ‎(“state of exile”), derived from exsul, exul ‎(“exiled person”).

1. The state of being banished from one's home or country. 
2. Someone who is banished from one's home or country.  

The world does not gladly suffer fools, nor does it suffer geniuses.  Many of the greatest minds developed their genius, or creative spirit in isolation or solitude.  In doing so they have created new ideas, new outlooks and theories, and new art that could never have come from anyone else, until that artist or mind created it.   Many times the genius or creative does so not in a great effort to help or save society, nor to become famous or wealthy, but instead, to announce themselves, and to express what they are.

There are artists who are forced to leave their country due to the political backlash against their work.  There are geniuses who leave their country in self exile out of disgust or frustration with the response they've received.  Many are bright or talented beyond measure, but are so different, so iconoclastic that they never can fit in.  Many times the work of a genius mind or creative talent is accepted with joy by the audience.  And the creator of it is horrified by the demands of joining or being forced to be adulated by the herd.  Artists are often hoping for a response, but not looking for stardom.  Many introverts fear that response. 


"In Genesis 16:12 of the Bible, defines figuratively an outcast. "And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.""  Borrowed from Wiki

The life one leads within a community or outside of one is often lived within boundaries of normal.  The artist is at once gifted as a reporter of life, but often forced to live outside of it, either in punishment or as an outcast, one who is looked upon with distrust or worse, disgust and scorn.


Bobby Fischer was America's greatest chess player, the greatest mind about chess for decades.  And when he defeated the Russian champion of it, he was expected to become a multi year winner, and media star.  But not only did Fischer eschew the spotlight, he tried to disappear, and when forced out of hiding made numerous egregious statements, many being anti-Semitic.  He left the US when he was going to be sanctioned for playing chess in a country that was undergoing sanctions.  He never returned, and spat upon the US documents of citizenship, passport, and comments regarding his choices.  He remained a genius, but many saw him as both an outcast, and a self exile.

Ezra Pound was a great poet, but one who did not view the world from the same lens as most anyone else.  He was fixated upon ideals of purity and antiquity, the role of imagism, time juxtaposition, and allegory/metaphor playing deeply in his work.  He chose to leave the US for England, then mainland Europe, where people would have a similar outlook, or at least acceptance of his views.  As he lived, his views took upon a more troubled aspect, that Fascism as demonstrated by the Italian state under Mussolini could offer a firm society where the arts were patroned by the state, and people had lives that were tailored to become apt workers of the state.  And then he made that worse, by adopting the anti-Semitic words of other Fascists, that the reign of Mussolini mostly avoided.  Pound used his fame to help Italian fascists, and was considered by the US to be a traitor.  He is said to have gone insane during the time he was kept in cages waiting for trial.  But insanity is always a means of declaring an artist to be "out of step".  Late in his life Pound deeply regretted his views regarding Jews, but never really disavowed Fascism so clearly.

Ovid was the greatest or one of the greatest poets of Rome.  His work covered areas of legend, myth, and love.  He was greatly talented, far ahead of his time regarding his style, his devotion to craft, and was popular as an artist.  But he did something that the state did not like.  The state being the Emperor Augustus.  No one actually knows in the present what it was that caused this problem.  But it was a problem. In one of the great questions of literary history, he was sent by Emperor Augustus into exile.  And there in a remote province on the Black Sea, he remained until his death.

Ovid was exiled for reasons he and Augustus knew.  Perhaps as Ovid said, the exile was a mistake, and perhaps a poem struck Augustus wrong.  But the result was, a person so greatly devoted to the greatness of Rome, was cast out.

JMW Turner painted an image of Rome following the exile of Ovid, which cleverly shows the setting of the sun, the dying of the bright light, and dulling of the Roman state as a result.

Yukio Mishima was a pen name for a wildly talented writer, Kimitake Hiraoka.  He wrote poetry, essays, fiction, plays and was considered a very fine writer, with a few personal kinks.

He was fascinated and fixated upon the Samurai ideal.  He believed in many political beliefs that were out of step with the post World War 2 rebuilding generation.  While the West helped the Japanese rebuild after war, Mishima chafed at the neutered role of the military, Japan being forbidden from acts of war to the point that their military was called the "Self Defense Force."  He believed that Japan was becoming disconnected from its powerful, unique, and glorious Samurai tradition.

He also created an illusion about himself that he too was a samurai.  He used weightlifting to perfect his body into that of the warrior's perfect image.  He used his body in modeling, and to attract men similar in his outlook, as well as his bisexuality.  He created a small personal army, of sorts, and believed it was groups like his that would remind Japan of its role in the world.  At the same time, he smoked western cigarettes, drank foreign alcohol, wore European tailored suits, and was a world traveler.  He was a special kind of outcast and exile, he created an image and personae of a person who Japan was ready to leave behind.  The world paid well for the ingenuity of Japan, and war cost money, and killed young lives.  Mishima was an anachronism and one that sounded foolish the further Japan grew, and the louder Mishima became.

Upon finishing his final work of his The Sea of Fertility tetralogy, the Decay of the Angel, he sent the manuscript to his editor.  He then prepared for his final act.  He gathered his closest comrades in his secret army, and strode into a colonel's office at a military base.  They kidnapped the officer, barricaded themselves inside, and demanded an audience with men from that unit who were training.  The unit was called out, and for a while Mishima harangued them about Japan, the world, Samurai ideals, and destiny.  In response he was called Baka-yaro which means asshole, or fool.  Mishima realized he was an exile within his own people.  He began his final act, Seppuku.  He took his Katana sword, bent down in the hara kiri fashion, and ripped open his bowels.  His second officer was unable to complete the ritual suicide, as planned, but another did so, and then to Mishima's second who was likely, his lover.  Japanese people were neither horrified, nor confused, but the world couldn't understand at all what was going on.

But the Japanese understood, even if they were not sympatico, what he was saying, they simply didn't wish to return to the past.  He had stated, more than once, "I want to make a poem of my life."  With his last act, he became a legend, rather than a writer.

Josephine Baker was different than others on this list, not for her gender, but for her race.  She was beautiful, talented as a dancer, and had a burning inside to perform, in a certain fashion, but would not be able to do so in her homeland.  She sought that stage, and found it in France.  While there is racism in France, and Europe in general, she was perceived as exotic, rather than simply a negro.  She was given money, and achieved fame, for her talents, rather than be limited by her country's outlook upon race.  It was not unnoticed by American blacks that she was a success.  And few scorned her for her choice.  They all understood the system that kept black Americans from becoming as successful as possible.  And when she finally returned to America, she did so as a star from Europe, than a returning American, coming home.

Many people who venture out to comedy clubs, in America do not realize that the R rated, or even X rated humor they are hearing would have been next to impossible without the struggle of Lenny Bruce.  He made some very clear comments about the world, used humor and black humor especially to punctuate his commentary, and he was crucified by obscenity laws, over aggressive prosecutors, and a society that had a Constitution and Bill of Rights, but apparently Freedom of Speech wasn't really for real.  Lenny Bruce challenged the country by what he said, some loved his work, many never heard his work but hated him with some degree of fire.  He was not a saint.  But he did cause Americans to think about, what does it actually mean to allow free speech.  He was an outcast, he was not beloved until much, much later.  But by challenging the passive, conservative society, he allowed others to speak without fear of arrest, for ideas.

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