Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What do I mean by character?

For a while now we have had a surfeit of art and a disappearing awareness of humanity. Ozu bucks that trend.

What do I mean by character?  Well, in a word, humanness.  If you don’t convey humanness, your work is worthless.  This is the purpose of all art.  In a film, emotion without humanness is a defect.  A person who is perfect at facial expression is not necessarily able to express humanness.  In fact, the expression of emotion often hinders the expression of humanness.  Knowing how to control emotion and knowing how to express humanness with this control––that is the job of a director. — Yasujiro Ozu, quoted by missingozu

Humanness is uncommon in public life. Our president, Obama, and our governor, Cuomo, lack humanness. Lincoln had an abundance of humanness.

Everything that exists is shaped in a meaningful form which provides acting man with the norm from which to draw the possible and the right. Freedom does not consist in following our personal or political predilections, but in doing what is required by the essence of things....

Let us be explicit. Have we ever stopped to consider exactly what takes place when the average superior assigns a task to a subordinate ... when the average school teacher teaches a class or maintains discipline ... judge decides a case ... priest champions the things of God ... doctor treats a patient ... bureaucrat deals with the public in his office ... industrialist directs his firms ... merchant supplies his customers ... factory-worker tends his machine ... farmer runs his farm? Is it really clear to us in each concrete process what the decisive intention and attitude was, and what its direct and indirect results? Was the truth in each case protected? Its particular validity trusted? Did the person encountered go away feeling that he had been treated with dignity, that he had been received as a person by a person? Did that other appeal to his freedom, all that is vital and creative in him? Together did they reach the heart of the matter, broaching it as it was meant to be broached, essentially?

The objection that these are private matters of no historical importance does not hold. Every historical process, even the most dynamic, is made up of just such situations, and the way they are dealt with is what gives each phase of history its particular mold....

The lack of human warmth and dignity in our contacts with the world is what chills the heart, and what lurks at the bottom of the growing feeling that things are no longer right.

The fact must be recognized and accepted that even the most commonplace social relations are not a matter of private morality, but the life blood of every historical process, and that on them will depend the health or death of our political and cultural existence.

— Romano Guardini, The End of the Modern World [1950], 1998, pp. 210, 212–214.

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