Feb 9, 2007

the aesthetic imperative to reproduce

My brother links to this compelling essay by Eric Cohen. Along the way, Cohen writes,
...[T]he very technological civilization that has developed these marvelous new methods of making babies—children for the infertile, children without disorders, children for older women—is also the least interested in procreation, at least by the numbers. Modern, advanced democracies have the lowest birthrates in human history; they are not producing enough children to replace themselves. And it may be that our anti-natalism has much to do with our understanding (or misunderstanding) of our mortal condition. We readily ignore death, making procreation seem less urgent to men and women who think there will always be more time; and we desperately evade death, making procreation seem less important than sustaining the healthy self into the indefinite future. A death-denying civilization is also, it seems, a child-denying civilization.
Hold that in your mind for a moment, as we compare this appreciation of Milan Kundera's literary philosophy by Michael Dirda. Dirda quotes Kundera, who states,
Every novel created with real passion aspires quite naturally to a lasting aesthetic value, meaning to a value capable of surviving its author....

Against our real world, which, by its very nature, is fleeting and worthy of forgetting, works of art stand as a different world, a world that is ideal, solid, where every detail has its importance, its meaning, where everything in it -- every word, every phrase -- deserves to be unforgettable and was conceived to be such.
It is the Children of Men problem aesthetically realized: novelists creating lasting value for a disappearing audience.

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