Tarkovsky, Andrei: Sculpting in Time

Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair, University of Texas Press, 1987.

tarkovskyToday it seems to me far more important to talk not so much about art in general or the function of cinema in particular, as about life itself; for the artist who is not conscious of its meaning is unlikely to be capable of making any coherent statement in the language of his own art. I have therefore decided to complete this book with some brief reflections on the problems of our time as they confront me now; on those aspects of them that seem to me fundamental, with a bearing beyond the present moment, to the meaning of our existence.

In order to define my own tasks, not only as an artist but, above all, as a person, I found myself having to look at the general state of our civilisation and the personal responsibility of every individual as participant in the historical process.

It seems to me that our age is the final climax of an entire historical cycle, in which supreme power has been wielded by the ‘grand inquisitors’, leaders, ‘outstanding personalities’, who were motivated by the idea of transforming society into a more ‘just’ and rational organisation. They sought to possess the consciousness of the masses, instilling them with new ideological and social ideas, bidding them reform the organisational structure of life for the sake of the happiness of the majority. Dostoievsky had warned people of the ‘grand inquisitors’ who presume to take upon themselves the responsibility for other people’s happiness. We ourselves have seen how the assertion of class or group interests, accompanied by the invocation of the good of humanity and the ‘general welfare’, result in flagrant violations of the rights of the individual, who is fatally estranged from society; and how, on the strength of its ‘objective’, ‘scientific’ basis in ‘historical necessity’ this process comes to be mistaken for the basic, subjective reality of people’s lives.

Throughout the history of civilisation, the historical process has essentially consisted of the ‘right’ way, the ‘correct’ way—a better one every time—conceived in the minds of the ideologues and politicians, being offered to people for the salvation of the world and the improvement of man’s position within it. In order to be part of this process of reorganisation, ‘the few’ had each time to waive their own way of thinking and direct their efforts outside themselves to fit in with the proposed plan of action. Thus involved in dynamic outward activity for the sake of a ‘progress’ that would save the future and mankind, the individual forgot about all that was specifically, personally, and essentially his own; caught up in the general effort he came to underestimate the significance of his own spiritual nature, and the result has been an ever more irreconcilable conflict between the individual and society. Concerned for the interests of the many, nobody thought of his own in the sense preached by Christ: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself That is, love yourself so much that you respect in yourself the supra-personal, divine principle, which forbids you to pursue your acquisitive, selfish interests and tells you to give yourself, without reasoning or talking about it; to love others.

This requires a true sense of your own dignity: an acceptance of the objective value and significance of the ‘I’ at the centre of your life on earth, as it grows in spiritual stature, advancing towards the perfection in which there can be no egocentricity. In the fight for your own soul, fidelity to yourself demands unceasing, singleminded effort. It is so much easier to slip down than it is to rise one iota above your own narrow, opportunist motives. A true spiritual birth is extraordinarily hard to achieve. It is all too easy to fall for the ‘fishers of human souls’; to abandon your unique vocation ostensibly in pursuit of loftier and more general goals, and in doing so to by-pass the fact that you are betraying yourself and the life that was given to you for some purpose.

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