Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Artist and Terror


Due Preparations for the Plague is filled with intertextual elements that play diverse roles in the text. Epigraphs are used to bring other voices to bare on the text. The structure used can be and has been compared to that of Dante's famed Inferno. But I want to think through how these other texts and artists - those both outside, inside, and situated in some liminal relationship to the text - add questions and engage terrorism.
"We ignore, therefore, at our peril the artist's insight. It is the artist-it is Homer-who observes and names Achilles' heel" (230).
"Do you think it was the plague-the plague itself-the Boccaccio, Defoe, and Camus all sought, with such frantic scribbling, to keep at bay? ... No. I can attest to this: no" (270).
Janette Turner Hospital posits a few ideas on the topic. From these quotes, we see that art works in different ways. But in the contemporary world, is art able to add critical insight into terrorism? What does art keep at bay in the face of terror?

16 comments:

MacCollum said...

I think that art and literature represent the best weapon we have against Terror.

Terrorists use fear. Fear initially reduces us to animals. We experience the "fight or flight" response. This is always dangerous when we are talking about societies and governments. To blindly fight is just as potentially catastrophic as to blindly fly. All of an institution's movements should be carefully deliberated. As a society and a nation, our best reaction to terrorism is not to give in to terror, to abstain from action during the initial aftermath of the event, and then to act with certainty after gathering all relevant information.

Literature and art represent our best possible response because they force us to detach ourselves, to take a step back, and to play a game of "musical perspectives" around the event. They are what separate us from animals: the capacity to appreciate the complexity of a situation and to think all the way through our response, and avoiding an emotional but irrational knee-jerk against whatever we initally perceive to be responsible for our suffering.

MacCollum said...

...and THEN I read the entry before this one.
That's it. Ethical discourse. It's what keeps at bay the emotional (fear and anger and revenge) response that degrades the whole society and detracts from the potential for a measured, appropriate and ethically sound response, military or otherwise.

op.3no.2 said...

Is art a state of exception? It's a semblance of reality, yet outside of reality. If art is a state of exception, what insight does this give to other states of exception? Well, art/imagination can be used to bear hard times. It follows that states of exception can be used to bear hard times. So why are places like Guantanamo Bay in existence? To be used to bear hard times. Without hard times, there would be no Guantanamo Bay. Without hard times, there would be no states of exception. Without hard times, there would be no art, for what would people communicate about? How happy they are, when that is the norm? Good cannot exist without bad. How does art relate to terror? They are balancing forces.

John Collins said...

Like the other posters I think that literature is able to add a critical insight into terrorism. Prior to the attacks on 9/11 I would have never imagined that anyone would hijack a plane and fly it into a building. Similarly I wouldn't believe 10 hostages being put in a bunker filled with mustard gas. However, literature stimulates our imaginations and opens our minds to the possibilities that such things could actually happen.

In the quote about Achilles' heel above I think that Hospital is comparing herself and other writers of the same genre, to Homer. Similar to how Homer reveals Achilles' weaknesses, Hospital reveals the United States weaknesses and fundamental problems in some of it's policies. By stating that "we ignore, at our own peril, the artists insights" I think that she is trying to say that literature does provide critical insight into terrorism but it is not taken seriously.

Jiggloz said...

I like John's comment on how literature brings insight to terrorism.

Literature provides meaning and structure at a 350 degree angle. In the real world, many people see things black and white. A face to which there can only be two sides. One right or wrong. Contrastingly, Homer and Hospital posits art and meaning into their writing, we have the oppurtunity to see things on many point of views. Like Homer, we distance ourselves as a narrator, observing truths (weaknesses).

However controversial, 9/11 provides a good example of how we see things on a black and white plain. Have we been given the oppurtunity to see both sides equally? and I think that art and insight in literature helps us understand this bias.

jtjohnson2009 said...

I don't think we can see both sides equally because it is hard to put yourself in someone elses shoes especially when they are of another culture. However, as far as us seeing things on a black and white plain, is terrorism in that gray area? Or is it merely good vs. evil depending on the eye of the beholder?

lilyofthefield09 said...

I think that terrorism could be considered "artistic", in the context of art being a visual representation of a person's or group's feelings. Wasn't 9/11 a visual representation of the hatred the terrorist cells in the Middle East feel toward the United States? It made the people of our country feel hatred and fear the same way a painting can be used to generate fear or hatred. I agree with all of the comments made about how art and terrorism - as two seperate entities - relate to each other. But is it outside the scope to think that maybe terrorism could be art in its most basic form?

yanks4life10 said...

I think that when an artist creates his work, he does so in hoping that someone will look at it and the work itself would create emotions and feelings in the person observing it that they would not normally have. Similarly, I think that a terrorist tries to have the same effect on the people baring witness to his "work". I think they are trying to make us, as the public, realize what their perspective is. They want us to feel the same passion that they do. granted, its through negative reinforcement, terrorism is an art that grabs the attention of the intended target.

I do agree with jtjohnson though when he says its in the eye of the beholder. If it wasnt then there would be no terrorism.

KLamm said...

I'm glad the idea of perspective was mentioned. I think the ability of art to help teach us about terrorism depends on how you look at it, and the lesson I get could be entirely different from the lesson my neighbor gets. First of all, what really defines "art"? What makes some paint on a canvas a masterpeice or some words on a paper a piece of literature? As the saying goes, "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

We talked on the very first day of class about the definition of "terrorism". We don't really have a set definition.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that yes, art and literature are capable of teaching us to analyze terrorism and learn about the world we live in. But it is important to realize that we do not all learn the same things- we all have a different perspective.

In answer to the question, "What does art keep at bay in the face of terror," maybe it keeps mankind from becoming complacent with our ideas and challenges us to step outside our comfort zones to look at ideas from all sides.

John Collins said...

I'm not entirely convinced that what musicians and artists did in response to September 11th compares to what the musicians and the singer did in the bunker at the end of the book. I just felt that the hostages were just performing what they loved one last time, rather than sending a message to their captors or addressing terrorism in general. Following the attacks I think the music (like that Toby Keith song) almost served as a rallying cry against terrorism and and helped to create a patriotic surge that carried us into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think what makes the bunker scene so powerful is that there was no political message or anger (other than the college student) attatched to what they were saying or doing. They really exemplified the quote at the beginning of the book that in times of pestilence there is more to admire than despise in people.

KLamm said...

I agree with John. The country music songs that came out after 9/11, although not all angry, definitely served to increase everyone's patriotism. I don't think they were at all like the music talked about and heard in the bunker.

Inside the bunker, it was the people that had an appreciation for art that were the most calm and accepting of their fate. They had a passion, and they were able to leave their legacy behind. The college student, on the other hand, didn't really have experiences with art. Some could say his chemistry was an art, but I'm a chemistry major and I would definitely argue with that. :) He was the only one to appear frantic and angry.

I think that a person doesn't necessarily have to have art in his life to be prepared for tragedy. If a person has a passion for anything, whether it is art, family, or work, it will be easier to face the end of life with a sense of satisfaction. The hostages that were at peace had a passion for art- music, acting, etc. But I think any passion can be an art, and it shouldn't be just limited to art in the terms we normally think of it.

CAH said...

Recluctant Fundamentalist--Imagery of Erica is blue in more than one place indicating that she is will die.(The color of death progressivly is white, blue, purple, black(gone)
Imagery of seafood, fish, the ocean p.69 Erica visits a rock pool
p. 70 Changez is depicted as a shark p. 83 murky water of her mind p. 84 shrimp and tomato sauce etc. Where is this taking us?
From Norton Anthology Eng. Lit bottom P. 483 writers & printers censored 16th Century England-I think we should protect and promote Democracy. We can't condone oppression of the people-we've got some major issues right now in areas other than Democracy

op.3no.2 said...

Rather than what art keeps at bay in the face of terror, I think it's more of what art gives back that terror takes away. Terror REDUCES people/animals/living things to something very base-level: fight or flight, no other thought in mind. A person in terror covers her face with her hands; she covers her identity. Terror takes away from us what makes us human, takes away our identity. No matter how terrified you are, however, if you are able to respond, to react back with art, it instantly gives you a back a face. Art is the physical manifestation of a person's personality, her thoughts, her character, her identity. No other practice reveals an identity like art. Juxtapose science/math. Everybody can perform the same functions and arrive at the same answer. The answer is cold, reflects nothing of the thinker's character. Anything with art, though, will give a face to the person, and that is why art is the natural equal and opposite reaction to terror.

JE said...

I was watching the news the other day, and the message was bout using art to remove yourself from the worries of your life. there was a woman who was a survival of a natural disaster and she moves her pain and clears her mind through art. clearly art has a way of expressing itself. people are blessed to have this gift in live because art does allow you to do anything and be anything. art adds on to your life. there is nothing that it takes away. that is way it is so helpful to remove the reactions of terrorism. people can use this gift to show others that we can stand strong, fight, and believe in a change. art opens up doors and avenues to sanity, that would have never been if one had never expressed himself. we all need art in some form, music, drawing, dancing, words, etc.

overboard said...

I think that art and literature keeps at bay the political aspect -- in a direct way. There's no avoiding the politics of any terrorist event or situation. However, I think that what art and literature do is give us the point of view of the people...putting us 'in the trenches,' so to speak. Much like how literature after World War I depicted the nightmares of trench warfare and the recovery process afterwards, and again after World War II and the escalated horrors of THAT war...

Post-9/11 literature and terrorism depict the chaos and 'gray area' that asymmetrical warfare covers. Because we haven't set a definition for terrorism -- and I think we've all agreed that there really can't be a set definition -- that gray area is a result, and the black and white of old wars are gone. Literature allows us to explore that gray area and come up with our own conclusions.

Vijay said...

I agree with overboard. Literature allows us to break apart the black and white spectrum because it takes large issues like this and put them on a more personal level. You begin to understand the motives people have and how each individual is affected by it.

We lose a lot of this gray area when we try to view terrorism as a political issue. We tend to take a bias that is set down by the news and we end up making a conclusion as a result of a post-emotional response. Literature allows us to analyze both sides of the issue and from that we can make a more unique and personal answer.