Freud was maybe right (enough) about this: what ails us is an inability to square our lives with our deepest, most fugitive impulses.
We’re drawn to places like this: water flowing, calm, swift, predictable; trees we imagine wild; an outcropping of rock. We’re drawn here if, for no other reason, than the need to identify with something not shamed into being, not associated with the need to express gratitude for a box in a glass and steel cage, a new screen to stare at, the ever-nagging buzz of not-quite-enough.
Humans live lives of compelling fantasies, and our cultures provide the polish on these fantasies. Schools teach new ones every day, with the best of them merely providing more chances to live the most desirable of them out. We plunge into tee-vee and the internet and into our social media feeds for new ones.
I don’t discount the power: art comments constantly on the nature of these fantasies and often finds itself pulled into their service with the jingoistic, the predictable, the sentimental—dutiful soldiers of paint and pen.
We’ve survived in the short term in no small part by their ever-increasing sophistication. Faced with almost certain annihilation, we fail to freak out mainly because we’re too busy tweeting.
But fantasies they remain, and they won’t help us later, when the crops begin to fail.
The need to believe in wild places, and the human capacity to follow the irritations of wild hairs, remind us of the overpowering nature of that which is indifferent to us and our petty concerns.
The angst over what is or is not holy, pure, “politically correct” comes from this need, but it’s already entrapped in its own snare, bound by its own terminology into self-defeating pointlessness. What’s wild about us also isn’t “us”; it’s tapped deep into something we can’t so easily sum up with a few odd phrases.
Art treads here as well, wisely afraid, yet steadily reaching.