Courage

1. Courage must always manifest in the face of violence. In particular, courage is predicated on self-violence, in death (the extreme possibility), in the willing of death. (This is, however, different from suicide, for suicide cannot be a willing.) Courage, real courage, is more common and, thus, more demanding than perhaps we always want to acknowledge. At the risk of falling into the jargon of authenticity, there is courage in every faithful act—in the greeting, in the glance, in the smile, in the departure.

2. In courage the distinction between morality and ethics is blurred: there cannot be a distinction between the care of the self and the recognition of the other, for example (not because these two things are conflated, but because they are presented under two aspects of this phenomenon).

3. Courage is also an artistic virtue (which in some sense is also an intellectual virtue, I suppose). Artistic courage opposes every utterance like “I want to be famous” (which in academia manifests in wanting an “–ian” attached to one’s name), for nothing could be more disastrous for an artist.

At first, this seems like a strange thing to say. What, for example, is more lamentable than the fate of “forgotten” artists (like Thalberg or Méhul) who are being valiantly “recovered”, now that we are getting bored with Liszt and Beethoven? Would not their art have been better served with fame?

Fame, of course, is recognition, and nothing is more ruinous for art than recognition (the shortest path to ideology). What art requires, instead, is repetition. Hence the term “recovery” is not quite right, for there is nothing more asinine than the “rediscovery” of third-rate art simply because it is an alternative to the exhaustion of the classics. (But, of course, a classic that is exhausted is not a classic.)

The real tragedy is for an artist to disappear. But in this case there is a special problem and forms the very limit of art: if an artist disappears, then we (here, now) can never know that he has. (Hence, to eulogize or elegize this artist would require the construction of a fiction.) This possibility of disappearing is, in short, the very definition of artistic courage.

3a. This explains why the artist cannot care for fame. Along the same examples I’ve been using, this is why Alkan more than Liszt is the artist par excellence (and why, among his more limited output, there is more uniform quality in Alkan’s work than in Liszt’s). And yet, what was Alkan’s fate?

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