Originally posted via twitlong, 12 Sept. 2014


My reply to a blog post by Mr. Bob “Moviebob” Chipman ( https://eacaraxe.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/a-reply-to-bob-moviebob-chipman/ ) finished with a statement I’d now like to revisit, for the telling use of a single word:

“Iconoclasm and controversy are good, but not when today’s iconoclasts become tomorrow’s Robespierres.”

That word is, if the title of this post did not make it obvious, is “iconoclast”. The contemporary, common meaning of the word is, according to Merriam-Webster, “a person who criticizes or opposes beliefs and practices that are widely accepted”; someone who challenges the status quo, shakes tentpoles, and leads revolutions. This is the meaning I would assume, for the sake of charity, is intended when it is employed to describe the wealth of cultural critics and bloggers in gaming journalism today.

I humbly submit to you, the word has a much older, more sinister, second meaning. To that I would draw attention to the word’s roots: the Greek “eikon” (likeness, or “icon”) and “klan” (to break, destroy). Together, it means “the destruction of icons” and in its proper historical context means “the destruction of religious iconography” — something that is today universally recognized as art.

To put it simply, an iconoclast is one who destroys art.

The word originated in the 8th Century in the Byzantine Empire, to describe a fundamentalist movement within the Eastern Orthodox church to destroy Christian art, something this movement deemed apostatic and heretical, in the name of religious purity. The definition remained true across numerous religions, sociocultural movements, and political institutions which engaged in iconoclasm for the sake of ideological or religious purity, or to suppress freedom of thought and expression, for the next 1,200 years.

It is a word of empires, of hegemons, of demagogues, and not just authoritarians but totalitarians as well. It is a word of bitter repression, sociocultural assimilation, and persecution. Need I examine deeply iconoclasm by the 20th Century’s great totalitarian powers with the justification of ending “degeneracy” or “the bourgeoisie”, or shall simply the mention suffice? It is a word that is deeply inimical to free thought and artistic expression, and serves as apt reminder authoritarianism and greater is inherently the enemy of art and artistry.

It strikes me as an “outsider” this word should elicit a visceral skepticism and revulsion by the artistic community, for this second meaning and its connotations, and those who engage in its free use without irony and even gleefully be considered inherently suspect in sincerity and motive. As indeed, revolution all too easily mutates into authoritarianism and totalitarianism; today’s revolutionaries (in the modern sense) all too easily become tomorrow’s Robespierres.

Maximilien Robespierre himself, by the by, was an iconoclast in both senses of the word.