On wonders and horrors
A major struggle I have with Impact (and this blog) is that it’s so much easier to talk and write about funny or uplifting moments than about the more painful or difficult aspects of the project. Just like it’s easier to fall on a warm sunny day, or in under a bright blue sky, or in crisp autumn leaves than it is on an overcast, cold, wet or rainy day. Moments of humor, or connection, the warmth of the of the sun, the exquisite blue of the sky, the crunch of the leaves all have such a soothing and seductive quality, and surely are to be embraced. At times, though, I feel guilty for engaging them. This, I find is a central contradiction in life (one that Impact keeps bringing me back to): How can I/we engage with equal integrity and openness life’s wonders and horrors?
Last weekend I went with friends to see Blasted by the late Sarah Kane. It was a jarring, moving and entirely engrossing experience. In a way, it’s strange how disturbing it is to see such a dramatic portrayal of violence in our era of both real and media hyper-violence. This, I think was the play’s brilliance–it portrayed violence as disturbing, not as what British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer called “death pornography”. Drawing a parallel between the near disappearance of public mourning rituals (as evidenced through the proliferation of violent horror movies, comics and magazines) Gorer argued that the west’s “disavowal of mourning” has resulted in “maladaptive and neurotic behavior” ranging from a trivial “preoccupation with busy-ness” and the “mummification of mourning” to a kind of social callousness and numbing to the real effects of violence.
I’m not suggesting that Blasted if for everyone. In fact, I’m glad I read a little about the play and the program notes before seeing it, as it kind of prepared me. What has most haunted me since seeing the play is Sarah Kane’s story. After writing five plays Kane killed herself at the age of 28. I’m struck both by Kane’s commitment to turning towards the suffering of the world, in particular, her commitment to challenging what she saw at “the desensitization and apathy” of western culture. In a way, I feel that people like Kane are like canaries in the mine(field) of our collective social conscience. That they take on (disproportionally) the burden of engaging the suffering of the world. Seeing Blasted and reading about Kane has left me with two seemingly disparate challenges: First, to spend more time “turning towards” the people Impact is purported to be about–the Afghan dead whose deaths go largely unmourned (Malalai Joya‘s and RAWA‘s websites offer a feminist perspective of the war in Afghanistan) by those of us in countries, like Canada, whose military forces are part of the violence, and, second, to continue to appreciate, as fully as possible, the simple pleasures of sun, sky, autumn leaves, humor, connection. . . .