[VIEWPOINT]A burdensome worldThe topic of our society these days seems to be liberalism versus conservatism and the subsequent controversy over good versus evil. In this dramatist’s view, our society seems to have gone back to a century ago. In art, particularly in drama, the division between liberalism and conservatism ended at the beginning of the 20th century. For the time being, liberalism became conservatism and vice versa, but the dichotomy of liberalism versus conservatism disappeared.
Producer Max Reinhardt, the founder of the Salzburg Festival, in the 1920s merged the classic and the modern and crossed between tradition and experiment. The word “eclectic,” which was used to describe him, now came to apply in common to all the artists of modern times. The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, who became famous in drama for writing “A Doll’s House” in the 1880s and is known as the father of modern drama, started with romanticism and turned to realism, and during his last years indulged in symbolism. In the past, this transformation of a writer would never have been approved.
But after Ibsen, an artist’s crossing the boundary from one “ism” to another has never been called into question. Much later, in 1978, when we first heard about Deng Xiaoping’s saying that “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice,” we made a fuss as if it were the beginning of the world. With this consciousness of the times, evidently, we cannot even grasp the meaning of “modern” when we say we now live in “modern” times. A paradox is produced in which those who refer to the modern times as an age of “pluralism” but whose consciousness is captured in the past age call themselves liberals. The division of liberalism and conservatism is an old-fashioned idea.
In art, the so-called “isms” were accepted as systems of belief or ideology until the age of romanticism in the 19th century. An artist’s deviation from the “ism” of the times directly led to a death sentence for the artist. But as the modern age opened at the end of the 19th century, “isms” began to be understood as styles, and a style was perceived as a means of expression that an artist could choose temporarily and arbitrarily to create a particular work. As a result, an artist’s choice of a certain style in a certain work itself couldn’t be a target of criticism. Whether the style he chose was of any “practical” help to successfully express the intention of the work was the only object of assessment.
In post-modern times we are situated in and talk about the death of authors and semantic decomposition, professing a certain “ism” that itself became awkward and embarrassing.
I cannot but feel aghast at our society, which goes beyond dividing us into liberals and conservatives to the point of raising a moral question that the former is good and the latter evil. This is an age where even melodramas we watch on television every day can appeal to viewers only when there is no clear distinction between good and evil. It is a truly outdated idea to use the yardstick of a simplistic dichotomy called good and evil rather than examining efficiency in governing a country. It is regrettable that we lack flexibility and open-mindedness that can sometimes approach a problem from a liberal perspective and other times from a conservative perspective, depending on the matter.
The “evil” of this age is neither liberalism nor conservatism but the fact that a person who holds a position of influence fails to equip himself with abilities and qualities suitable for the position. Furthermore, if the person falls into a trap of self-righteousness and arrogance, there is a danger of ruining the whole community. This world, where children should worry about their parents rather than vice versa, is burdensome to live in.
* The writer is a producer and professor at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jung Jin-soo