[lit-ideas] The Myth of Wu-Tao-tzu

  • From: Torgeir Fjeld <torgeir_fjeld@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "phatic.phaticfiles@xxxxxxxxxxx" <phatic.phaticfiles@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 5 Jan 2014 19:07:10 +0000 (GMT)

Sven "Exterminate All the Brutes" (*) Lindqvist was born in Stockholm in 1932. 
He holds a PhD in History of literature from Stockholm University. This is an 
excerpt from a piece written while a cultural attaché at the Swedish embassy in 
Beijing, China, in 1960-61: 

"One day the Tang-artist Wu Tao-tzu appraised a recently completed mural of 
his. He clapped his hands, the gates of the temple opened, and he entered into 
his work. The gates closed behind him.

We often speak about art appreciation (/einfühlung/), but rarely in a concrete 
manner. Only very young children tend to understand what it entails. One hasn't 
"penetrated" a work of art until one has made the banal mistake of confusing 
fiction with reality. ...

In the mountains to the West of Beijing there's a cavern with a gilded Buddha 
sculpture. According to local myth it's a real human being whose expressive 
face has been overlaid with a thin sheath  of gold. Those who listen can hear 
his heart beating.

The same dream speaks from this legend as from the story of Wu Tao-tsu: To be 
from within that which can only be apprehended from without. Art is merely a 
gilded material brushed onto reality so as to fixate it. Under the surface 
there's a living human being, introvert and maintained by the golden surface.


In prison I asked for permission to paint.

Permission was granted.

I painted a small landscape onto the cell wall.

It encompassed almost everything I had enjoyed in life: Mointains and rivers, 
oceans and clouds, deep forests. A small train ran at the center of the 
painting, driven by a steam locomotive. It approached a tall mountain and the 
locomotive had already entered the tunnel.

But the wardens  wouldn't leave me alone.

Finally I thought it was time to end the misery. If they wouldn't even allow 
such innocent artictic games I would have to make use of the more serious arts 
that I had devoted many years of my life to master.

For a moment I stood up, holding my breath.

Then I politely asked my wardens to wait while I entered into the small train 
in the picture to check on something.

They laughed and let me continue.

Then I made my fire and stepped into my image, entered into the small wagon and 
was driven by the train into the tunnel. The steam from the locomotive flowed 
like a cloud out of the tunnel and hid the picture. When the smoke cleared the 
image was gone.

The wardens were left in a state of great confusion."

Lindqvist, Sven, /The Myth of Wu Tao-tzu/, Stockholm, 1967, pp. 5-8.

(*) A translation of the Swedish /Utrota varenda jävel/, 1996. The following is 
from wikipedia: Lindquist's later works tend to focus on the subjects of 
European imperialism, colonialism, racism, genocide and war, analysing the 
place of these phenomena in Western thought, social history and ideology. These 
topics are not uncontroversial. In 1992, Lindqvist was embroiled in heated 
public debate, when his book /Exterminate all the Brutes/ was attacked for its 
treatment of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Opponents accused 
Lindqvist of reducing the extermination of the Jewish people to a question of 
economical and social forces, thereby disregarding the impact of Nazi ideology 
and anti-Semitism and what they viewed as the unique historical specificity of 
the Holocaust. Some of the harshest attacks were launched by Per Ahlmark, who 
declared Lindqvist to be a "Holocaust revisionist". This prompted a furious 
response by Lindqvist, who considered it a
 defamatory smear -- at no point had he ever called into question the Nazi 
responsibility for, or the number of dead in, the Holocaust. Regarding the 
original dispute, Lindqvist retorted that his main argument was correct: the 
Nazi quest for Lebensraum had at its core been an application of the 
expansionist and racist principles of imperialism and colonialism, but for the 
first time applied against fellow Europeans rather than against the distant and 
dehumanized peoples of the Third World. However, he agreed that the long 
tradition of anti-Semitism in European and Christian thought had given the 
anti-Jewish campaign of the Nazis a further ideological dimension, and amended 
later editions of the book to better reflect this.

Mvh / Yours,

Torgeir Fjeld
Gdansk, Poland

Blogs: http://phatic.blogspot.com // http://norsketegn.blogspot.com
Web: http://independent.academia.edu/TorgeirFjeld

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