Sunday, July 12, 2020

Against My Better Judgment Here I Go

Today I find myself looking for distractions from writing this blog post because I don’t feel qualified to write about what I am inevitably going write about, which are certain Big Ideas about beauty and individualism and our humanity that have been sparked by my deep dive into “The Fountainhead.” It’s wrong of me to try. I’m out of practice with this sort of discourse, I’m intellectually lazy, college was light years ago in a galaxy far, far away, and my day-to-day life is consumed by the daunting aspects of holding down an ever-more complex job in the ever-more complex industry of health care in these United States. Between that and keeping up on the farm in Stardew Valley, there is just isn’t a lot of time for pondering upon what the pragmatist in me considers to be ephemera. But something in the book has been haunting me. More than that, it’s actually been gnawing at my soul, and I find myself drifting off in thought when I should be paying attention in my seventh COVID meeting of the day. It’s something that has gotten under my skin so badly that I have to write about it whether I am qualified to or not, whether I do it well or not, or it’s going to consume me. 

Toward the beginning of the “The Fountainhead,” an architect writes a book. It’s a big, sweeping book about the history of architecture and the structure of buildings and how people lived throughout the centuries and how the buildings they dwelled in both supported and formed the development of their civilizations. The book is immediately and explosively popular, as it seeks to “democratize” architecture, demystify it, and bring an understanding of it to the general public. Okay, I was thinking at first. I don’t see anything wrong with this. That’s all good, right? That’s in many ways what we should be doing with poetry; it’s not precious, it shouldn’t be sheltered away in some crystal tower, only to be reckoned with by the highly and specially educated. But. But. Then the most terrible thing happens, the thing that is burning my brain and causing me to wake up at night in a cold sweat. The conclusion the architect makes in his book is that no architect should be standing out from the others as an individual artist or visionary. Rather, they should pool their collective knowledge and agree upon a universal set of design principles that land somewhere in the dull middle. In other words, they should all agree to mediocrity in the service of democratization. That idea both horrified me and made me terribly sad, because at its core it means that there is no value in the concept of individual greatness, nor should there be. This, my friends, is what awakened my soul. Every single fiber of my being rose up in rebellion against this idea. I believe that this idea is not only morally bankrupt, but it is a threat to our humanity.

I am not a religious person per se, but I have always believed that we have souls, that we have divine purpose, and that we were put here on earth to rise to our highest potential. I am a fervent believer in genius. I am fervent believer in each one of us striving for our own greatness, asserting our will to achieve, rising above ourselves, and actualiziong our divine creative expression. This can only be realized through individualism. Forcing everyone to meet in some mediocre middle in the interest of the whole so that everyone is rendered the same is a concept that evokes actual physical revulsion in me. It’s wrong and it’s affront to our inherent holiness as human beings. It makes the world gray and flat. It represses energy that is meant to explode into the world in a burst of transcendent color and sound. It denies us the nourishment of our souls.

Wallace Stevens is one of the best poets who ever lived. He was a genius and was quite possibly an enlightened being. I will never achieve at his level. So do I ask that the Wallace Stevens of the world hold themselves back, dumb themselves down to my level and blunt their genius so that we can all be on the same poetic playing field? Is Howard Roark, a one-of-the-kind brilliant master of design, to forgo his ideas and let his heavenly vision die on the vine so that he can be accepted in the short term, or avoid being censured by some petty bureaucrat for rocking the boat? Are we to dull the gleam of our spiritual and artistic brilliance so that we don’t stand out and thereby risk making others feel “less than”?

We exist beyond political structures and constructs. We exist beyond the strictures of our physical bodies and our inherent biology. We exist beyond the rhetoric of the moment. We are sanctified, holy, exalted beings meant to claim our birthright. We are selling ourselves short if we do anything less. I can’t tell you what your purpose is nor can you tell me mine. But would I never demand that anyone not to meet their divine potential in order that I can feel better about my place in the world and remain complacent.

I’m sure I did this poorly and that there is a lot to critique here, but I have to go get the fish into the oven. I’ll simply conclude by saying that I’ve had a collage in my office for years and years. It’s a depiction of a fountain of light that simply says, “Shine.” It's the first thing a potential volunteer sees when they walk into my office for an interview. I’ve always liked it.

--Kristen McHenry