– Autumn/Winter 2000

In Praise of Enchantment

Jamake Highwater

The Clinton era seems like an ideal time to talk about the merits of prevarication and the central importance of non-truth in the lives of creative people. I take this controversial position despite the fact that America is obsessed with its assault on 'lies', and has deemed a liar a person totally lacking integrity. I am writing this essay in hope that something vital about the imagination remains despite America's overwhelming concern with the 'facts' and nothing but the 'facts'. My point is that there are different kinds of lies, and that 'lying' is not necessarily a lie.

Artists are magicians. Filmmaker Gus Van Sant is such a magician. His films, such as Drugstore Cowboy and To Die For, are illuminated by a unique vision of the world - a vision that is not limited by ordinary 'facts'. All of us are born with a bit of the magician in us, but our magic is soon eradicated by the prosaic influences of our narrow world. And once the magic is gone, we find ourselves alienated by the wizardry of the artists of our own culture. When we see a film by van Sant, some of us come away annoyed or bewildered because we are incapable of experiencing the revelation of art. We hold firmly to the reins of the wild horse and refuse to allow it to take us into the darkest part of the forest. The unknown frightens us. We prefer to be safe and comfortable. So, when an entire building falls out of the sky and crashes on a desolate highway in Van Sant's film My Own Private Idaho, many of us

  1. L.L. Whyte, The Next Development in Man, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1948

  2. Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, New York: Knopf, 1957