Art Emerging From Trauma
By Karl Ayling, Jan 20 2018 12:50PM
Whilst thinking about the content for this blog, I have consulted with renowned historian and author, Desmond Fitzpatrick, to help me to make sense of the trauma caused when man goes to war and the resulting creativity that arises amid the emotional processing. Occasionally world-class art emerges, although not always immediately.
Art has occasionally dealt with retreats. Xenophon is remembered largely from his description, in The Anabasis, of his leading the retreat of the defeated Spartan army from Mesopotamia. (I guess that the Spartan commander’s supply lines were overstretched, so far from Lacedemonia)
Another unwise long-distance attack was led by Charles XII of Sweden against Russia in 1700 and after some initial success he was defeated by Peter The Great. Charles was killed in 1718 while examining the fortifications at Frederickshald, Norway, a stray death in a fairly unimportant place. He figures, dramatically, in Samuel Johnson’s On the Vanity of Human Wishes.
The event which originally inspired this blog was another classic disaster, Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia. Starting in June 1812 the invasion was followed by a retreat in the October of that year producing conditions of horrific, unimaginable suffering. This event inspired the 1812 Overture of Tchiakovsky - a passage of music that has not only become a classic but has also inspired the genre of heavy metal music so many people enjoy today. I remember well attending a concert some years ago where the renowned drummer, Cozy Powell played a version of the 1812 Overture whilst drumming wildly, much to the crowds delight at Wembley Arena.
Thus two invasions of Russia have inspired works of art: the third invasion, in 1941, has inspired And Quiet Flows the Don, a work of which the authorship is uncertain, due to the political pressures in Russia but nothing more to note than this.
Art is, using Wordsworth’s famous definition of poetry, emotion recollected in tranquillity. The ‘1812’ is a dramatic rendering, decades afterwards, of an event of appalling suffering. The music can recall, but cannot, of its nature, convey the suffering of those experiencing the event.
Perhaps this tells us that we should beware of too much tranquillity following a trauma lest we end with recollected emotion which does not do justice to the event.
The retreat from Moscow which caused so many deaths of civilian prisoners in addition to those of the withdrawing forces was a true happening and took on another depth of character through being described in history.
At the time it was not yet a legend, that is, something about which things have been written – it was merely a terrible inhuman event not yet given a name.
My book, Massive Power Massive Love is another example of art emerging from trauma, written many years after traumatic events for which, I am grateful for ability of 21st century therapy and a strong faith in helping a robust sanity emerge from PTSD.
Another great blog! Thanks Karl, keep writing!