Ancient and medieval writers competed among themselves in writing books and treatises on friendship, affection, love and everything else which brings people together, mutuality and cooperation. On the other hand, we have no matching treatment of hatred, division, and hostility, and if the latter topics are ever discussed, they are in the context of the former, as, following Aristotle and Augustine, darkness is the absence of light and evil is the deprivation of good.
It never occurred to a pre-modern author to focus on reprehensible moral, epistemic or esthetic qualities. There is no book on deceit, on ugliness or evil. The taste or fondness for these topics emerges in the modern period. We prefer Dante’s Inferno to his Paradiso precisely because we are moderns. No medieval commentator of the Commedia would have express his or her sympathy for that part of the Comedy associated with darkness, suffering and punishment. We seem to revel in these ideas, we pay the entrance fee to the museum of torture.
‘You want it darker’, Leonard Cohen warned, ‘but you killed the flame’. With so much darkness around us, I have to wonder why we seek darkness even in art. But I suppose we make the world in our image, and then we kill the flame.
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