By Vlad Popescu
Smoke on the water is the image that comes to my mind every time I think of the trip to Krakow (photo) I have had a few years ago. The Main Square’s ground was covered by a thin layer of smoke, and a guitarist was playing Deep Purple’s famous hit. It looked like an invitation to the concert that was to take place the next day.
However, the sight of smoke always brings me back to that same morning when I visited the Jewish Ghetto and Oskar Schindler’s factory. Thinking of the shocking scenes from Spielberg’s movie, I was wondering what could people who were treated this way feel. And then a striking question came: wasn’t their power of survival fed by the idea that they had nothing left to lose?
Pictures of freedom fly through my mind. But they are always accompanied by the cultural uprisings that rose from every battle for freedom. I filter the important events of the world through images, places, words, and sounds. I see freedom of expression when I think of Budapest and the Modigliani & Paul Gauguin art exhibition I have seen there. How did these people think of their own freedom of expression? How did they paint and express their ideas in such a detached manner? I partially found those answers in Somerset Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence”, but their personality can only be fully understood through a thorough look at their work.
Budapest also told me the fascinating story about Gaudiopolis. A self-governed republic of children attempting to create a perfect democracy in the face of a cruel regime is a truly impressive concept. A group of children of different religions came up with their own constitution, held their own elections to choose leaders, and allowed peaceful protest to take place. What is even more spectacular is how they accepted among them a 17-year-old boy who served in the fascist army, army which brought them so much misery. It made me understand that while relying on each other they were free of prejudice and willing to help those in need.
I came to understand the concept of Dystopia when I read “Animal Farm” for the second time. It is funny how I picked it up the first time when I was ten, thinking it was a kids’ book. Just as the concept presented in the book left an illusion over the characters, the book cover left an illusion on me. I saw in the book the exact opposite of what the children who built Gaudiopolis up wanted to create. The thought of being in a general state of freedom is induced in the mind of the animals. This state gradually changes, while they are still led to believe this is what freedom looks like. While watching a Roger Waters concert, my eyes stopped on a quote I read on the screen that I later found out was Goethe’s: “None are so hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe themselves to be free”. The moment it filtered through my mind I understood Dystopia.
There is an existentialist way of saying that free will does not exist due to facticity, the circumstances delimiting choice. However, the sense of choice is something that never fades away. The innate capacity to choose whatever the circumstance is what makes us humans.
I now know that I associate freedom with arts, words and pictures because that’s where freedom is. But is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose? Complete freedom is an unachievable thing from an existentialist point of view. However, every individual needs his or her version of freedom. All we have to do is seek it, find it, and live it.
*The author of this essay is student at Tallulah Falls School, 201 Campus Drive, GA