It's been a long rainy week, my Puddlers, but we've made it to Friday. The summer is looming in the distance, so lets try to enjoy these small windows to huddle up in our apartments and watch mist descend over the city, while we slowly drink beer and feel some sort of impalpable sadness. All of that will pass soon and it will be hot in the morning and hot in the day. We will drink hot coffee in the morning and cold beer by dusk. And things will be impossible and great as always.
I'm writing this intro after just rereading Mark Jack's post from today. I think it fits the mood of this week, this spring and everything going forward. Read and enjoy.
Oh, and RIP Macho Man Randy Savage. A truly formative influence on my life.
Now, here is Mark Jack.
The Arab Spring in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Sometimes I find myself grinding my teeth down and shrinking my hands into little diamond fists from anger. I do not know why.
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has contending groups of black clad security forces arresting, then releasing, then arresting again scores of protestors and innocent—meaning indirectly involved—Syrians. The numbers of detained and possibly tortured are a matter of guesswork. Soccer stadiums are being filled. Soon, perhaps, these confused men in black will skip a step and make it easier on everyone by declaring whole towns prisons. The absurdity of it all in no way detracts from the seriousness. Just as Quadaffi, as silly as he is, as megalomaniacal as he has been in his revolutionary stance, has still been solely responsible for great suffering. As an American, the immediate response to the conflicts in the Middle East is to ask how we should involve ourselves. Do we impose embargos? Do we intervene monetarily or militarily? Do we bring criminal charges and freeze the bank accounts of these dictators? Do we finally, after so much time ignoring it all, enforce the rule of law? As we ponder our options, we congratulate ourselves and our facebook groups, and we get it, and we see the youth, and we dream of beautiful reforms, which are just a siphoning off of potentialities.
And yet, what am I upset about? Am I upset? No. Not really. Just a little sad maybe. I’m not sure what understanding we may be generating and disseminating with the modern tools so often praised. Self-immolation doesn’t photograph as well after Thich Quang Duc, perhaps, but it’s still a powerful, almost primal protest. Guernica is maybe the type of understanding we need to focus on. We need to search for artistic understanding. Even if I am overwhelmingly informed of the atrocities in Libya or Syria or anywhere I do not feel that I am even close to understanding them, which too often means “mastery.” Perhaps it is better to not attempt realisms here; perhaps we are given too quickly to anonymous protestors and overcome by their adrenaline but not their confusion. We must seek to stare up at the twisted feet of the stumbling lady in Picasso’s painting and not understand, and not know, but at least to feel. I’m not sure how this can be politically implemented, but it’s a better start than the punditry we espouse and regurgitate now.
I can’t help but think that art is the only response to atrocity, to tragedy. Artistic response is the only response that, at least if done well, does not in some way diminish by encapsulation, the tragic event, as in explanatory news stories and the like. While I do truly believe this, I can’t help but think that Picasso’s painting did nothing to stop the Spanish Civil War and has never acted as deterrent, unless you consider its covering during Powell’s speech to the UN urging war with Iraq. Even then, Bush still bombed.
So I’m going on walks these days, angry, or at least a little on edge, and when I get home the news has some new terrible event that isn’t, maybe, new, but at least I could avoid it before and now I just feel so impotent.
Much of the readings of these revolts and protests center on a notion of revolution called the J-curve. Basically, if a closed, undemocratic society stays that way it will remain stable. However, as outside factors intrude, the country becomes open to raised expectations—economic growth, or access to the lifestyles of a more open society (through the internet, say). These expectations then run into the closed authoritarian political space. The dictator has two options, according to this theory: beat down the revolting populace and lower expectations, in a manner of speaking, or grant concessions that will bring about an at least temporary or convincing but illusory openness to society.
All of these things are so tired, and don’t really mean anything, and don’t lead to any understanding. Every field has some tired-ass J looking graph that illustrates only lack of insight. And just because I find it offensive that bourgeois expectations of material well-being would be understanding enough for revolt against violent and absurdist dictatorships doesn’t mean Egyptians don’t, in some even quite large way, just want new shoes.
So, look, I’m still just looking around at New York, peacefully existing, being beautiful and absurd, and the gap between what I experience and what I’m told other’s experience is so very frustrating, but I’m not sure we can really close it.
I believe we should all seek this.