January 14, 2010

Selected Responses to 'For Art and the World'


There were a number of responses to my text For Art And The World:


I thought I would share just a few of them here.

Liv Sommerfelt wrote:

I will share this. This is a subject thar keeps nagging me. What is the sense in the fact that the time of a norwegian worker is so much more valuable than that of a congolese. First-worlders use this to exploit resources that should be shared. We abuse the globe because we can pay for it.
Yes, this is a subject for art.

Rosemary Heather wrote:

robert kennedy saw 'enjoy poverty' at TIFF and told me: "holy shit!" wish i could see it. maybe it will show up here again. it also reminded me about something elke said when she came back from burkina fasso (which is basically the world's most impoverished country). she thought the NGOs where just there to provide "jobs for Germans."

David Jhave Johnston wrote:

enjoyed yr polemic

resonated of course with "a simple truth:
that the first world achieves its wealth and comfort by ripping it violently off the backs of people in the
third world. And that our compassion for the malnourished in far away lands serves to mask the fact that
we are the ones economically benefi ting from their misery, which is in fact just a disguised form of slavery"

the first half of your statement is a truth i've often pondered
& i think most folks at some time (briefly, fleetingly) recognize it's validity
but it's like staring at the sun
hummans are not physiologically capable of calibrating each mouthful as a morsel of another's pain
(metabolic 'limits of empathy' meets the prevalence of carnivore activists)
while the second half of yr statement is challengable: compassion does not necessarily in and of itself 'mask the fact'
compassion may even occasionally, in rare instances of authentic altruism, be motivated by it

and since polemics are designed to provoke
yr final sentence works well: "Ignoring it should not be an option."
it provoked me to disagree: ignoring it (the complicit misery) is more than an option, it's an inevitable fact,
consciousness is disparate, diffused, multi-faceted, easily distracted and resolutely malleable
i for one find myself thinking about a lot of other stuff
i don't ignore it, i'm just incapable of always thinking about it

and compounding issue
i think distribution of wealth conforms to mathematical models of dynamic systems
it may have less to do with a failure of human empathy and political malevolence
than it is simply a structural feature of this bizarre existential field we inhabit

To which I responded:

Yes, it's true that at times compassion can lead to authentic acts altruism. However, I feel that when I see a photo of starving Africans, the compassion I feel has somehow become unlinked, disengaged, with the concrete reality of the situation. What I feel is: poor Africans, I want to help them. However, a more concrete response would be: capitalism is an untenably savage system, how can we think about starting to change it. This sympathy I feel serves to distract me from my role in the system that creates such injustices. It gives me a sense of emotional altruism which is in fact very much unearned.

However, maybe this way of putting things is overly influenced by the book I just finished reading; Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher. Fisher uses the term Capitalist Realism to refer to the idea that capitalism is the only possible system and that there is no way to change it. When I see images of third world suffering I think capitalism - which I am complicit with on the level of my life and of my desire - must change, but of course have no idea how to open up this possibility even for myself.

Maybe I should have written 'completely ignoring it is not an option.' Of course if I think about these questions all the time I will drive myself insane. But at the same time I feel there must be ways to think about them.

All right, tomorrow I fly to Geneva (damaging the environment in the process, etc.) In one way, I feel all of this is just empty talk. But in this empty talk there is also a sincere desire to re-open questions which, in my daily life, seem far to closed and impermeable.


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