As is the case with nearly every true work of literary genius, the population of the time – and in particular the citizens of the homeland of the novelist – remain blissfully unaware, or even disdaining of the individual who may have produced one of their nation's greatest cultural masterpieces. This strange paradox generally comes about because the true artist holds up a mirror to not only the beauty and goodness, but also all the ugliness and failings of their native land and the inhabitants therein. Great works of art are morally neutral and neither seek to shock or charm their intended audience. Meaningful art that touches the soul of the viewer, the reader, or the movie watcher is never minimalist, nor designed to incite shock for shock's sake. It does not have to, because it is already meaningful by virtue of the fact that it directly plunges the observer into the denied abyss of their own guilt, shame and failures. Sometimes its effect can literally torment the soul of an entire nation. Not because it feels a duty to do this, but because the expression is a result of repressed darkness and hidden evils of the society. It has to be purged.
As Carl Jung stated: “The Shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the Shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognising the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.”
Staring at one's personal and/or collective Shadow is perhaps one of the most psychologically cleansing undertaking that we can indulge in – both personally and as a society. It is also one of the most difficult tasks for most human beings to even consider doing. We spend our entire lives being lovebombed by advertisers selling us products we don't need, and politicians making us promises they won't deliver. Humans have been conditioned to see themselves as an on-going work-in-progress on the road to their eventual perfection – all we have to do is buy the right stuff and say the right things along the way and we'll get there. Maybe.
Only in the darkness of one's soul, or visceral personal reflection can the flickering light of the unpolluted psyche be unleashed and thus made conscious. Taking this one step further, there is nothing wrong with artistic discourse, mass media and even religion forcing us to stare into the darkness of our own emotional and psychological labyrinth. The problem arises when the journey into the Shadow becomes purposeless and morbid for morbidity's sake. Then, there is no transcendence. There is no redemption. Art should only seek to shock the audience in order to allow the audience to explore and possibly wake up the dormant aspects of the psyche; not to make the artist famous and/or notorious.
A horror movie or novel only has value if it is cleansing the psychology through the unfolding and turbulent resolution of the narrative. Take the movie The Exorcist, for example. This is, at its very core, a touching story of unconditional love for the innocence of a child possessed by a demon – in which complete strangers are willing to die to save this child. On the other hand, movies such as the Saw series unleash nothing. They are shock art – they pose no questions. This is the only kind of negative soul-searching we are allowed. The lords of culture allow us into the nightmare, but they demand a ransom to allow us to wake up again. Movies such as The Exorcist came from a golden age of Hollywood during the 1970's where directors were actually making movies which were of value to the collective human experience. Then ET came along and we were trivialised back into the control system, the fantasy, the off-planet beings who might come back and save us from ourselves one day. Maybe.
Generally, we are conditioned to feel good about ourselves and defend our own culture, social status and ideals – even though none of these are a product of the society itself. These are just logos – symbols of no real moral or spiritual consequence. Just as when one dies for a flag, a piece of cloth, an insignia which only dictates the artificial identity upon the patriot. Does the flag care that you died for it? Does the oil company care that you are lying in a VA hospital with no arms and legs while they put an extra couple of dollars on the price of a barrel of crude? Of course not. It was only the delusion that you were being an 'American Hero' – fed to you by media and cultivated 'killing magic' movies such as Jarhead which deluded you into thinking such. We are conditioned to never be able to handle the truth. When the truth slips out, the messenger is called a traitor, a degenerate and a menace to decent society.
Such is the case with Hubert Selby Jr's remarkable 1964 novel Last Exit to Brooklyn, perhaps the greatest work of fiction by an American author and one of the most spiritually uplifting narratives set in a world saturated with whores, transvestites, bisexuals and a seemingly endless plethora of malcontents and ordinary losers. The story takes place in and around the dysfunctional and often meaningless existences of people under the shadow of the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the early 1950's. The book, upon its initial publication, was originally savaged by critics and moral guardians alike. Billy Graham, the superstar evangelist, literally declared war on the novel and its author. Hiding his true motives behind platitudes of 'indecency' and immorality'. What really terrified the reactionary bible thumping Christian cleric and others like him is that Hubert Selby Jr managed to put more spirituality into the pages of his incredibly dark and disturbing Last Exit to Brooklyn than any evangelical minister could possibly hope to put into a mega church sermon. Why? Because Last Exit to Brooklyn showed the reader that through darkness and misery can be the most meaningful shortcut to the soul.
Last Exit to Brooklyn is a prime example of what the control grid do not want us to think and feel deeply about – that more often than not, the only worthy redemption is in the misery and trauma of human earthly existence and, like it or not, we need to find this salvation by ourselves alone. No pastor can lead you there, and no psychiatrist has a clue where to even point in this direction beyond writing out another prescription. You have no choice but to carry your own cross on the final journey towards your own psyche's resurrection and salvation. Often, it involves great personal suffering; sometimes it can be a seemingly pointless death. But therein lies the ultimate secret that the lords of culture labour day and night to keep us from becoming conscious of: When Life is a Bitch, it is then You Start Living.
However, the lords of culture have always sought to make us believe that suffering and pain are only precursors to therapy and products: from anti-depressants to religion. We are never told that there is a difference between a vision and dream. A vision is reality, a dream is a delusion, and they have all kinds of entertainment dream factories to prevent us from attaining that meaningful vision which might actually wake us up.
Last Exit to Brooklyn also broke convention in much the same manner as James Joyce had previously done earlier in the last century by changing the nature of language, syntax and grammar to literally beat the reader into the lives of the characters. The New York Times trashed this unique approach when the book was first published – although in typical liberal style, they now sing its praises. Mainly because most Americans have not only not read Last Exit to Brooklyn, but many have no idea that it even exists. Ah, the cache of elitism... The other side of the cultural deception. Under no circumstances should you say that the Turner Prize is a joke, lest you betray your ignorant and uncultured self.
If they did read Last Exit to Brooklyn, most Americans – even in the 21st century – would be shocked at the image the book paints of the underbelly of American life which is so far removed from the white picket fences and Norman Rockwell-illustrated covers of the Saturday Evening Post. There is no happy ending to the novel – well, on the surface, that is. No hero gets saved except for one profound moment of some deep spiritual insight when the lying and thieving prostitute TraLaLa, after a night of being subjected to a drunken gang bang by dozens of US service men and various waterfront lowlifes, is saved by the teenage boy to whom she showed encouragement and subtle affection earlier on in the week. Her one act of decency to a teenage boy resulted in a whore being saved from being raped to death by the 'Heroes' in and around the Brooklyn Navy Yard. A Mary Magdalene of the Beat Generation. Except this whore was too realstic to be accepted.
We are constantly being culturally divided. We are told to pick sides and then maintain that self-delusion of being 'cultured', 'moral', 'edgy', 'respectable', 'raunchy' and 'restrained'. In all these cases, the label is a lie. We are all and none of these things in each and every one of us. We are all capable of degeneracy and salvation, and we often move through these states without even knowing it every day of out lives. At the end of the day, we then sit down to watch the 700 Club or the Playboy Channel, convinced that everyone else is either immoral or uptight. We never stop to think why we make these assumptions.
The answer is straight-forward enough: we have been given personal identity products which are as artificial as we are. Screaming 'Hallelujah!' at the TV evangelist, or masturbating to the silicone implants of this month's Playmate. It's all the same thing when the cul-de-sac of one's existence comes terrifyingly into view.
Once you pay the bill at the end of the month and stop thinking for yourself, then the control grid and their lords of culture will provide you with just enough choices to keep you feeling that you have a choice – except for the choice that allows you to actually think for yourself. That's not an option.