The Aeneid by Vergil is not, I feel, this kind of work. Neither is Milton's Paradise Lost. They posit a purpose, a teleological end of existence. In the one case the purpose is God's, in the other, that of an empire which was always its own justification. Dido is sacrificed on the alter of Aeneas's destiny at the behest of Mercury on a mission from Jove, while the inhabitants of that part of Italy which is to become the hub of the future empire have to suffer the invasion of interlopers from Troy, and, of course, eventual colonisation. What Hegel said about Vergil seems about right. "The introduction of the gods is a product of frigid understanding and imitation... The gods are used... as machinery and in a merely superficial way." This is certainly not how they are used in Homer, since there is no justifying anything going on in his work; there is only the horror of senseless military conflict and real live individuals caught up in that conflict. The world Homer depicts was one of tribal loyalties to individual leaders, rather than imperial states; it was therefore much less machinelike than the world Vergil would have been familiar with. I think that it was for this reason that the gods in Homer belong to the individuation processes taking place in the poem, where 'destiny' is individual rather than collective; in The Aeneid it is the other way round. When Aeneas leaves Dido behind, he hardly seems to look back. After all, he has the first bricks of a new imperial civilisation to lay, and that civilisation is the real subject of Vergil's epic, although it is always in the background as Aeneas's 'destiny'. Against this, Dido's suffering and eventual suicide is simply 'collateral damage'. Of course, it is tragic for Dido, but by the time it occurs, Aeneas has turned his back on Carthage in order to fulfil a 'destiny' which the gods have already mapped out for him for the benefit of Rome. If we add to this the fact that, though his arch-enemy, Turnus, would these days be considered the leader of a resistance movement, Aeneas is the hero of this epic, not Turnus. Is that not always the way with imperial civilisations? Don't they all retroactively justify the imperial status-quo by invoking the rather dubious 'destiny' of their pioneering founders in one form or another? The Aeneid is like one of those westerns in which Custer, not Sitting Bull, is the hero.
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against 'destiny' in literature, but I think it should cost something. Oedipus was 'destined' to kill his father and marry his mother, and that is just what he did, while doing his damnedest not to. The supreme irony of Oedipus Rex lies in the fact that, had Oedipus not been so superstitious as to believe the Oracle in the first place, his 'destiny' would have been thwarted. For the Greeks, tragedy was implicit in destiny, while for the Romans 'destiny' was all about building an empire and retroactively justifying it with a work like The Aeneid, which presented no real confrontation with oneself as the outcome, no sense that the hero must pay the ultimate price. Aeneas can go swanning off because the price for his destiny was being forked up by Dido and, later on, the indigenous Italians he would conquer. Something is surely amiss in Vergil's vision here, and what was amiss was that this work, The Aeneid, was not generated from the Negative Energy of dissolution, but some thing more positive - the building of Empire. When the European-Americans conquered 'America' at the expense of the indigenous peoples of 'Turtle Island', it wasn't they who paid the ultimate price, but the people they conquered. However, the fact that this was their 'Manifest Destiny' meant that they could cast a blind eye at the damage and suffering they caused, just as Aeneas had done in the case of Dido and the people he conquered. There is nothing like this in Homer or the great tragedians of Greek drama. In those epics and dramas, there are no excuses to fall back on, no rationalisations which allow us to overlook what it might cost because our 'destiny' is not something which brings us face to face with ourselves. In fact, with the Greeks, the opposite is the case. With them, 'destiny' was something which brought them to the edge of some kind of abyss and often, as in the case of Oedipus, sent them toppling right over.
It seems to me that the really challenging works of art are not those which are born of positive goals, that one of the reasons why Soviet or Nazi work failed was that those works were justifying, in one way or another, "the ways of God to Man" - or the ways of the "Historical Materialism", "the Thousand Year Reich", "the glorious Roman Empire", "Manifest Destiny" and so on and so forth. I wait to see if "the New American Century" will produce great works of art in its name, but I'm not holding my breath. Will it beget its Vergil to provide retroactive justification of its deeds in the name of its 'destiny'. Perhaps, but one thing it won't beget is its Homer, because the Homers of this world are born of the chaos of dissolution, which they can look on with unblinking eyes without providing excuses. In other words, what interested Homer was the immanent hell of war, not the transcendent 'destiny' which became the excuse for that war.
The Second World War did not produce the outstanding crop of war-poets which the First World War had produced because a positive cause justified it. Fighting the Nazis was a clear-cut case of 'good' against 'evil', while the First World War was senseless and stupid, a war in which the world went to hell in a handcart for no good reason at all. It therefore gave rise to a great deal of Negative Energy which these poets were able to draw on. Furthermore, it was a war which embodied the complete dissolution of an old world-order without providing clear-cut alternatives. (The Russian Revolution was a 'revolution' which stopped half-way as soon as Lenin took power and was therefore, to paraphrase Kropotkin on the French Revolution, "doomed to be soon defeated"!) This state of affairs was to show in the crop of artists, musicians, poets and writers who sprang up at the time to re-energise the art and culture of Europe. Picasso, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Chagall, Miró, Rilke, Eliot, Pound, Yeats, Proust, Joyce, Musil... need I go on. Their work, without exception, drew on the Negative Energy of dissolution taking place all around them, something which didn't occur to anywhere near the same extent during the Second World War.
Bakunin said that destruction was an integral part of creation. Creation can only happen in those far from equilibrium states in which, to paraphrase Nietzsche, "chaos gives birth to a dancing star". It is only through such chaos that the negative energy available for the creation of epoch-making works of art can begin to emerge, while an identification with positive causes represents the death-knell of art. In physics, the concept of "Negative Energy" applies to a state from which the positive energy (or mass) needed to build a universe emerges. In other words, in order to make a pile of earth somewhere, you have to dig a hole somewhere else. In the end, the positive and negative energies involved cancel each other out and you end up with zero. The concept here is being used in an entirely neutral way. In our culture, however, "Negative Energy" is not something that receives a good press. One need only look at all the self-help organisations and groups for whom Negative Energy is something to be avoided like the plague. They talk in terms of people needing to have 'positive goals' in life, for having 'positive goals' enables you to harness your 'positive energy'. Of course, they do not question these 'positive' goals, because, if they did, they would have nothing to sell you to enable you to reach them. However, I would hazard a guess that they are, by and large, goals for getting ahead in this society, and where is the creativity in that?
Most people seek the positive rather than the negative in life, because only the positive reassures them. Negative Energy is quite simply not a welcome feature of the landscape of most people's lives, and why should it be? Nevertheless, it is everywhere in the background and, according to Steven Hawking, brought the universe into existence. It also brings works of art into existence through the very process of negation which sets their world at sixes and sevens. Negative Energy offers them nothing to hold on to because they prefer the security of settled beliefs, of either/or positions which make for clear-cut choices between this or that in the world. Most people will continue to choose the positive over the negative, because that's how the world resolves itself in their minds. Artists too - when they are 'off-duty'. But you can't create works of art in this way. Flux, chaos, indeterminacy, despair, the Abyss, etc. is the ground from which creativity arises, all negative things which offer the artist no positive bearings in the world around and within them, still less a bolt-hole in which to retreat from all its potential confusion. If challenging work is to be created in art, it is always against a background of chaos and by courtesy of the Negative Energy which arises out of that chaos.