Dissipation

Here’s a photo of the picture essay in The Sunday Times that I mentioned in the last post. It’s not online, that I know, but a number of blogs have commented on it, so it must

news

have been striking to a few people. I recently came across an interesting quote from Proust. He says that while reading “…we receive the communication of another thought, but while we remain all alone, while continuing to enjoy the intellectual power we have in solitude, which conversation dissipates immediately.” Oh for the days of conversation. Today one’s intellectual power is dissipated as soon one opens the newspaper or turns on the TV news. The word “dissipation” has connotations of drinking and sexing around. Today we are all lost in an orgy of information, which means that our attention is constantly scattered among millions of inconsequential facts. They may in fact be important facts or events, to many people, but excess makes them all equally unimportant to most of us most of the time, even as we are swept away by waves of emotion and concern. The news makes every real crisis trivial, even as trivialities take up too much space in our attention. Perspective is annihilated. That’s a pretty banal observation by now, but no less true, and no less a problem for the individual, one which can only be solved by and for the individual. This is why artists like Morandi and Mohamedi, who condense and focus attention, are such a welcome presence for many. Looking at that kind of art might be an experience similar to reading for Proust. This is also why it’s hard to sustain the value of abstract art in today’s culture, because “discursive,” or politically engaged art has simply joined the flow. This is another way to say that the now ubiquitous discursive mode is uncritical. One can’t call any political position “critical;” the only possible critique is to reject the image world. Moments of experience valuable to the individual are threatened, even in art galleries and museums, yet how can any artist deny the narrative and dramatic power of photojournalism like this? To transform destruction into art is a coping mechanism. The remnants of the avant-garde claim to negate art as a way to  recapture the real as collective experience, as politics in other words, but the effort is doomed and even suicidal. Even as I write this I feel myself being swept into the vortex, spinning through theoretical positions that can never be theoretically reconciled. But life must still be lived, and art is still possible. Does the photojournalist snatch a formed moment from the chaos? Maybe so. Is that a crime? The paradox is that as long as the politically engaged artist gives the priority to art they have political integrity. But there’s still a lot of confusion as to what political change – the presumed goal – really is.

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