Brutality, Solidarity, Art

“We’re always both: the state and the terrorist.” – Gerhard Richter

My friend Sheryl would say that nothing makes me happier than a good book about trauma or depression.  Today I’m sitting and reading from an assortment of such good books: Alex Danchev’s On Art and War and Terror; Stephen K. Levine’s Trauma, Tragedy, Therapy: the Arts and Human Suffering; Paul Williams, Memorial Museums: The Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities.  There is a purpose to this; I’m preparing two upper-level classes, one on Art and Trauma, the other on Museums and Collecting.  The former class demands an ethics regarding (and a sensitivity to) the suffering of others.  And it must point to a way to continue living even if the events endured are incomprehensible or unspeakable.

To return to the everyday, there is a lot of media coverage of bullying.  There is an attempt to clearly delineate the victims and the perpetrators.  Yet, what is absent in this discussion is the fact that there is a spectrum of bullying and we’re all on it somewhere.  It’s not so straightforward that there are bullies and there are the bullied.  People both bully and are bullied, in varying degrees at various moments in their lives.

Now extrapolate to the bigger picture and the “banality of evil,” or “the psychopathology of everday life” or whatever you choose to call it.  There are spectrums of oppression, intolerance, coercion, and state authority.  How else does one explain proliferating atrocity?  There just aren’t that many 100% evil people in the world and that is a fact difficult to swallow.  We like to demonize; we like our monsters.  Yet people reject the complexities required to understand the spectrum because ultimately this is more disturbing, this is where things get extraordinarily uncomfortable.  However, our own actions will haunt us (as will our inactions).  It’s the problem of history – the problem of the perpetrator and the problem of the victim.

Yes, it’s easy for me to sit in the safety of my own home pondering these things.  Trauma, though, spares no one.  We all have proximity to the sinkhole that is the world we’ve engendered.  We are all complicit in the creation of our reality no matter how good, how sensitive, how brave, or how innocent we are.  And we all have to climb out of this sinkhole in solidarity or not at all.

Where is the hope?  According to Gerhard Richter: “I perceive our only hope – or our one great hope – as residing in art.”  Art, that activity as ancient as we are, that persists in the face of intense censorship, and that is currently suffering the abuses of funding cut-backs.  Art has never been elevated to the status it should have in critiquing, unsettling, or disturbing humanity, in its radical questioning of the status quo and its demolition of established belief systems, in its exposure of horror, in its call for morality, justice, and equality.  Could that be the link to solidarity and action, could art be what helps us live with, albeit never fully comprehend, trauma and atrocity?  Well, imagine a world without art.  You can’t, can you?  Because a world without art is incomprehensible.  So why don’t we pay more attention to this unsung facilitator of our own redemption?


Music Recommendations

If you’re like me and appreciate singer-songwriters and folk-influenced music (and don’t mind a whine or two or when things get dirgey), I have some recommendations:

Shovels & Rope – O’ Be Joyful

Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

The Be Good Tanyas – A Collection (2000-2012)

Feed the Birds – Catcher

Madison Violet – The Good in Goodbye

Minnie Driver (yes, that Minnie Driver) – Seastories

Amy Seeley – Plum Coulee

Hannah Georgas – This is Good

Lynn Miles – Fall for Beauty

Amelia Curran – Hunter, Hunter

Ingrid Michaelson – Human Again

Laura Gibson – La Grande

Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest

Eliza Gilkyson – any and all of her albums!

Emily Barker – Despite the Snow

Rose Cousins – We Have Made a Spark

Martha Tilston – Of Milkmaids & Architects

Rae Spoon – Superior You Are Inferior

Stacey Earle – anything by Steve Earle’s sister!

Emmylou Harris – Red Dirt Girl or Wrecking Ball, or Stumble into Grace (incomparable!)

Balancing Act

There is balance, and then there is BALANCE.  There is a stunning act by Lara Jacobs (a Cirque du Soleil performer).  She has a rapport with palm fronds of all lengths.  Alexander Calder probably never imagined his invention of the mobile would lead to this kind of kinetic feat!

You may need to type in this address yourself, as I’m having trouble creating a live link.  Just type in lara jacobs rigolo.