A jaw-dropping observation from the French existentialist’s lecture/essay “Create Dangerously: Artist and His Time”, ht JW:
“The loftiest work will always be, as in the Greek Tragedians, Mellville, Tolstoy, the work that maintains an equilibrium between reality and man’s rejection of that reality, each forcing the other upward in a ceaseless overflowing, characteristic of life itself at its most joyous and heart-rending extremes.
Then, every once in a while, a new world appears, different from the everyday world and yet the same, particular but universal, full of innocent insecurity—called forth for a few hours by the power and longing of genius. That’s just it and yet that’s not it; the world is nothing and the world is everything—this is the contradictory and tireless cry of every true artist, the cry that keeps him on his feet with eyes ever open and that, every once in a while, awakens for all in this world asleep the fleeting and insistent image of a reality we recognize without ever having known it….
The aim of art, on the contrary, is not to legislate or to reign supreme, but rather to understand first of all… This is why the artist, at the end of his slow advance, absolves instead of condemning. Instead of being a judge, he is a justifier. He is the perpetual advocate of the living creature, because it is alive. He truly argues for love of one’s neighbor and not for that love of the remote stranger which debases contemporary humanism until it becomes the catechism of the law court. Instead, the great work eventually confounds all judges. With it the artist simultaneously pays homage to the loftiest figure of mankind and bows down before the worst of criminals. “There is not,” Wilde wrote in prison, “a single wretched man in this wretched place along with me who does not stand in symbolic relation to the very secret of life.”