January 17, 2014

If the absurdity within which we currently live results in our full or partial extinction does that make it less or more absurd?


[The following text was translated into French by Christophe Bernard, designed by Åbäke, and then presented in the group exhibition Véritables préludes flasques (pour un chien) 1/4 Bruit Rose curated by Marie Frampier at Maison popular Montreuil in France.]

If the absurdity within which we currently live results in our full or partial extinction does that make it less or more absurd? With what attitude must we view our full or partial, possible or inevitable, immanent or eventual extinction? Or is it perhaps more like: each and every one of us becomes a little bit extinct within ourselves each and every day? Or a little bit more alive? Or a mixture of the two? Around such topics there is much room for laughter of a devastatingly specific strain. There is also agency. Agency, among other things, is believing one’s actions will change things then acting accordingly. It generally works best when many push in the same direction, towards the same goal, effectively, with minimal disagreement, which is absurd and necessary, like walking around a piano fifteen times. Sometimes this pushing genuinely occurs for short bursts during which things do in fact change, move forward, actions are effective, though unfortunately not for good. Nothing good lasts forever, especially not revolutions. As well, a certain functional disagreement is necessary for politics to be politics. Conflict is one of the main ways we learn. It depends on what stage of the fight you find yourself in, how close to the emergency, if we must topple the wall or only debate whether or not the wall must be toppled. How obviously the wall finds itself in our way, since each wall is always also a misunderstanding between and within us. We need an accurate analysis of the situation in order to proceed, but the road towards an accurate analysis leads only to further debate. The current debate on how close we are to the emergency is completely absurd. We would do ourselves no harm by using less oil, less energy, slowing down, living differently. Feeling more satisfied in what we already have and less insatiable hunger for always more. The billionaires who will be forced to have less will not suffer either, but when you are at war you are at war with everyone. Hell is other billionaires. What is the relationship between agency and extinction? If one simply stops worrying about oneself as an individual all of this becomes much easier, but feeling this connection to all other things is the most difficult, most painful, most limitless. I often tell people that if they are looking for evidence that I am a bad person the two most damning examples are 1) I don’t have friends and 2) I don’t particularly enjoy food. But what evidence might there be of my shortcomings within the words of this text? Is it absurd to search for them? I have noticed that, over the years, my writing has become more political while my other works have become less. It increasingly seems absurd to me to present political work to such a small number of people, this number constituting the art audience my works have access to. My texts also reach few people but I dream that they have a slightly greater potential to reach into the future, bear witness to what is happening today, what we are doing to the world, much like I read about massacres from hundreds of years ago and wonder if they would have killed more or less if they’d had access to our current technological prowess. Of course, I know that it is humans that kill humans, plants, animals, lakes, air but often it feels to me that it is machines, since we would have to do it all so much more slowly, more laboriously, if the machines did not exist. How many times does one look at something happening in the world and think: anyone with a heart or a brain knows that this is wrong. This frequent thought cannot be true: since these crimes are committed by individuals and groups in full possession of both hearts and brains. Is the naïve absurd? Is doing something because you feel you have no choice? Are we more haunted by the past or by the future? I write this way, without specific or coherent arguments, because I already know I will not convince you. But neither do I want to convince you that everything is meaningless and/or absurd. In the clean light of the gallery, all walls are grey. Walls are cats. When animals look at us and when machines look at us: to which category do we appear more ridiculous? All of this has something to do with no longer believing in reason, no longer believing in enlightenment values. They have led us astray and we need other values to replace them. But you cannot see where you are going only through the lens of where you have been, or perhaps that is the only way to see it. A debate with myself, this phrase takes us to the heart of the matter. As you are reading this, at any time you can stop, but not if I stop writing first. When Ravel refused the Legion d'honneur, Satie said he did the wrong thing, instead he should have accepted it, worn it as a badge of shame, as evidence that he had done something wrong, that his music wasn’t angry or absurd enough, as each of us must also accept the evidence of what we have done and are doing. But Satie’s eccentricity took place in a less eccentric world, when there were still clear rules to break, when everything was not yet broken, though every age wishes to view itself as unique, even (or especially) in this negative sense. How is the absurdity of our climate violence any different from the absurdity of their religious apocalypse? Does scientific evidence change anything? Participating in madness is always the same: from the bubonic plague to the inquisition to fracking. How would the world be any worse if there were only one billion people in it? Would it be too much to ask to ask the other seven billion to politely step aside? Jonas Salk, Biologist: “If all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.” I would be happy to step aside, but am several billion short. And would I really be happy? Perhaps what I’m writing about here is in fact this happiness. It is absurd to think that the planet is alive and it is also absurd to deny the simple fact that it is. How are words that appear on walls different from words that appear in books? How are walls different from books? How are they more or less naïve? How are books different from insects? If you ask me to write about hope I will, do so with a vengeance, and you will also read it with a vengeance, and in one hundred years we will both be dead. (While in one thousand years is there some sense in which we will both still, or once again, be alive?) Walking into a gallery means something. Already there is some modicum of trust, music in the walls, images that have been left behind. Against this position one might say: I have made a coherent argument, each sentence follows naturally from the sentence before with the goal of convincing you. Walking into a gallery means something, changes something, I believe the relevant historical parallel would be World War One. People felt one way before entering and another way when it was done. And on the topic of war, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I am writing this text in English while you are reading it in French. Walking into a gallery means something because it must. As you enter you escape one kind of violence while possibly encountering another. Does the absurdity within which we currently live reveal to us the possibility of our extinction and if it fails to do so does that make it less or more absurd? Does walking into a gallery? Does failure or awareness of failure? I am trying to say something about what words and images can and cannot do since I believe they do both too much and not enough. We need to work towards a completely different understanding of time. Our extinction can only occur in the future: this is the best argument for removing the future from our current conception of time. I am writing this on a computer, in Canada, in English, and you are reading it on a wall, in France, in a language achieved only through the magic of translation. My arguments are fierce. Languages also can become extinct. Here we return to agency. We must focus on the things that are killing us, band together to reduce this killing. My fear is that this simple, reasonable course of action is completely absurd. Fear is human and my fear is accurate. We return to agency. Only within a different sense of time will such agency be possible. Walking around a piano fifteen times. We return.


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