For a hundred years avant-garde artistes have prided themselves on liberating sexual desire from artificial constraints. The avante-garde antihero is the man who rejects any conventional idea of good that restricts or confines his desire. The very purpose of art is to "epater" the poor pathetic bourgeoisie -- the hobbits of the world -- who are too timid to break through to authentic feeling.
"The Lord of the Rings" is a fairy tale, yes, but written (remember Prof. Turkle?) in the shadow of the Second World War, where the fate of freedom and goodness did indeed hang in the balance. A world where, in fact, all that it would take for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing -- to be obsessed with their own personal desires.
Albee's "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?" represents that terrible fate of a genuine artist of merit trapped in a world where sexual conventions forbid almost nothing. If the artist's job is to break taboo, what can a man of real artistic ambition do but trot out the goat? How else can the artist himself be a hero?
Sad, and sorry, but on its own terms true enough for those who choose to live in that world.
In an interview last June in The American Spectator, George Gilder put the alternatives starkly: "It is really faith that is indispensible to almost all positive human activity. Because you can't know the future, and if you don't have faith, the pursuit of bodily pleasure and preoccupation with obstacles to it become your entire life. And the horizons darken."
Hero or the goat? You all get to decide.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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