Sevilla and a Nobel Betrayed


How more like a clear blue sky emerging from the cracks of dawn the Moorish Alcazar appeared in comparison to the dark night of the cathedral.

The cathedral of Sevilla – you’re often reminded it is one of the biggest in the world – is politics. Faith is enslaved to the earthly ambitions of man. I have little sympathy to the veiling paws of faith, however, it felt almost pitiful to see it relegated to a mere house toy in the terrestrial house of god.

Here is a cathedral meant to impose, to silence, to remind you of the grander of kings and clergy. Art, architecture – faith’s uneasy bedfellows – were also used as mere political pawns.

Not so in the Alcazar, the Alhambra, the Mezquita and I would imagine all the great Moorish temples around the Maghreb. Here, faith, art and architecture are married to the wills of man.

It is an equal marriage. The harmony of man’s desires and his extended phenotypes. Moorish art is minimalistic. It has surprisingly a lot in common with Japanese art. The cherry blossom and the courtyard of lions, the kanji script and the kufic, the faded hues of sunrise – this turned me on far more than the Baroque propaganda of Christian art.

There are equivalent distinctions in literature too. The winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Polish Olga Tokarczuk, is described (in The Guardian) as: “Tokarczuk, an activist, public intellectual, and critic of Poland’s politics…”

As much as I value the esteem and competitive worth of the Prize, I was instantly put-off ever reading Tokarczuk. I’m afraid she would be another Sevilla cathedral. A novelist that enslaves the faith of novel-writing to the wider PVC-wearing mistress that is politics. I don’t want to see novels – children that are the heirs of The Old Man and the Sea, Snow Country, The Great Gatsby and Lolita – hijacked by propagandists and humanitarians.

Propagandists and humanitarians should take up the pulpit of politics or the valuable crusading of journalism. At the very least they might have the guile and talent to marry, just as the Spanish Moors had done, their art to their faith – as Orwell and Kundera had done.

Art is the sphere of humanity. We tear our souls out of our mortal cages and whip them unto our canvases, pages, buildings and instruments. Even a painting depicting a bare landscape speaks to the all-too-human fear of desolation and solitude. Politics, like all other things in art, must take a backseat. It is only worthwhile in what it can reveal about humanity. 1984 is not about Stalinism. It is about the way human beings impose truth on others with inconceivable cruelty. The Quiet American isn’t about American intervention in Vietnam. It is about men committing atrocious acts for what they believe is right. The Unbearable Lightness of Being isn’t about the Velvet Spring and Communism. It is about passion as the only true means of rebellion.

Humanity is timeless. Communism, Fascism, Colonialism, slavery; these are finite horrors all-too-eagerly replaced. Feminism, LGBTQ rights, vegetarianism, eco-advocacy; these are worthwhile and noble, but nonetheless they are fads as mortal as the crusades, the Reformation, dueling, relics and leeching.

I am not naïve. I am not an ostrich (although ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand). I know that even the men that built the Alcazar and its orange blossom courtyards where power-hungry, fundamentalist and victims of their era’s ideologies.

And yet, from all of that, they managed to produce something timeless. Something, that is, immortally human.

Perhaps I’m alone in thinking this way. Perhaps other people are more attuned to the needs of the moment. But there is still only one thing I will ever bring myself to worship and put on a pedestal above all else: art.

And Sevilla is a good place for art.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    More from our man in Malta – Justin Fenech


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