Has our awareness of the privileges we enjoy, what we call Western values, been awakened by the barbarity of the massacres in Paris and Brussels? This is not a political question but a question that should occupy the concerns of Shelley’s unacknowledged legislators. It is a question of freedom, and poets above all others are fixated with the idea of freedom. Paris, for centuries, has been the epicentre of all to which artists aspire, it is there that Western values have been exalted in their purest form, it is there that the right to artistic freedom has been cherished by so many Irish writers, forced to flee vile censorship, until comparatively recently, in the so-called ‘independent Ireland’ whose birth pangs we are expected to celebrate this year. Paris is the Mount Olympus of liberty, and as such was well identified by those to whom freedom in any form is anathema. .
It is not so long since Russian poets were murdered and tortured in the Gulag, since Anna Akhmatova, afraid to write them, for years carried the words of her great poem ‘Requiem’, in her head, or since Pasternak was granted permission to collect his Nobel prize on the condition that he would not return to his beloved Russia. Repressive regimes and medieval ideologies know well the dangers posed to their all-embracing control from the freedom demanded by artists.
Western values are not – like Marx’s master narrative – a blueprint for a perfect society, rather they recognize … Read the rest