Ed Driscoll

'The Passion for Destruction is also a Creative Passion'

In his Thursday Bleat, James Lileks wrote:

Was given a link today about Art, and being interested in Art, I followed. Stopped. When it quoted that tired old lie by Bakunin:

“The passion for destruction is also a creative passion.”

Sure, sure. And the act of defecation is an act of consumption. The quote came up in a manfesto about how certain people of limited skills should pursue the goal of being terrible, something they would probably manage to attain without a manifesto behind it. The very idea of manifestos is quaint, isn’t it? The idea of reading something in a dank candlelit cellar with your comrades hanging on every word, their chests expanding with every declaration of society’s perfidy. Hey, I’m glad Europe isn’t ruled by kings anymore, and happy we could help out wherever possible. But Bakuninism and other forms of anarchy are adolescent fantasies that lead directly to rule by terror; once you unleash the people who’ve been assured that destruction is, in its special way, creative, you’ve armed them with the sort of vapid intellectual justification that elevates the street thug into an Agent of Change, and even better, an artist! Because artists are the soul of any society, you know, the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Society is their canvas; fire is their medium. The people to whom the quote really appeals are the ones who never quite get around to the creating part. Hey, I destroyed something; what else do you want?

Bunk. Plus, he was a Jew-hater. Anyway, the manifesto was written by some people I know, or have met, and I like ‘em, so leave it at that. No, I can’t. So. As supporting evidence for the Bakunin quote, there was the observation that every 20th century art movement has involved destroying the previous standards or prevailing aesthetics, and while that’s true, it’s an example of Bakunin quote, backwards. The creative passion is also a passion for destruction. Which is a totally different thing. Unfortunately, when you destroy the old norms to hasten the arrival of the new, you legitimize the destructive part, and elevate it above the usual growth and evolution that used to guide art. Representationalism is dead! Blocks of color are the only true form! Okay. But you’ll have no argument when someone says Blocks of Color are the dead hand of the past, and monochromatic triangles are the only true expression permitted in these existential times.

Of course, the passion for destruction wasn’t limited to the arts once the 20th century rolled around:

“After the destruction of beautiful Dresden, we almost breathe a sigh of relief. It is over now. In focusing on our struggle and victory we are no longer distracted by concerns for the monuments of German culture. Onward!…Now we march toward the German victory without any superfluous ballast and without the heavy spiritual and material bourgeois baggage.”

— Robert Ley, the head of the Nazis’ Labor Front, as quoted in Frederick Taylor’s Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945.

Yet another example of Starting From Zero.