photo: from the left: Bohuslav Brouk, Toyen, Jaroslav Seifert
The Mácha Cult
by Bohuslav Brouk
Common folk, made abject by an inferiority complex, need idols to worship. In the Middle Ages, these idols were provided by religion. Today they are supplied by history, science, and art. The Christian saints have been supplanted by statesmen, generals, inventors, explorers, scientists, philosophers, poets, painters, sculptors, and composers. In Bohemia, the poet Karel Hynek Mácha has become one such idol, and his work surely offers no reason why he shouldn’t be. On the contrary, Mácha is such a leading light of Czech letters that no manner of homage paid him will ever suffice. We should not forget, however, that not all the homages heaped on the giants of spirit are enviable.
Every person who becomes the object of public adoration must undergo a process of artificial adaptation to this condition. As with saints, a legend must first be created around the deserving individual, and for the most part this acutely contradicts the reality. Every luminary in human history and culture must undergo idealization in such way that those who have set him on a pedestal will not see in his character their own weaknesses, obtuseness, and shallowness. In Western culture, a cult of genius has arisen, a veneration for eminent souls that has made famous philosophers, artists, and others into odd, mysterious creatures in the throes of crazed passions or saint-like zeal. A fruit of the Romantic spirit, the cult of genius has had little traction among us Czechs. We have viewed prominent individuals “realistically” rather than romantically, and they have been idealized as sober-minded, upstanding humans full of patriotic and altruistic sentiments. This is why we Czechs do not consider Mácha a genius who made an important contribution to poetry, but a national poet who made an important contribution to the elevation of the Czech language. Czechs have replaced the Romantic cult of genius with the Enlightenment cult of national revivalists, who are considered the models for the ideal citizen rather than the ideal type of scientist or artist. While elsewhere the cult of genius stirs in people a sense of beauty and profundity, our Revivalist cult imbues national pride and other ethical sentiments in the souls of our citizens.