Thursday, July 16, 2009

Agus Suwage is Still Crazy After All These Years

Agus Suwage has his retrospective solo exhibition 'Still Crazy After All These Years' in Jogja National Museum. In October a selection of this exhibition will be shown at Selasar Sunaryo Art Space in Bandung. Read here and here for reviews. And here my favorite Agus Suwage painting.

The title - 'Still Crazy After All These Years' - is rather odd though. As long as you can claim to be crazy, then you are actually not crazy. When you are in fact crazy - or: lost your mind - you have no longer the judgment to make that call, then you simply lack the ability to see the difference between sane and insane.


Perhaps a platitude, but life is complex. Conducting research on complexity is thus no sinecure. The danger is then that complexity is reasoned away. Nietzsche supposes that “everything is becoming, then knowledge is possible only on the basis of the belief in being [Friedrich Nietzsche, Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), section 518, 281].” Being is then merely a short-cut for referring at a certain point of time to what is becoming. And Lefebvre ads: “Reduction is a scientific procedure designed to deal with complexity and chaos of brute observations. This kind of simplification is necessary at first, but it must be quickly followed by the gradual restoration of what has thus been temporarily set aside for the sake of analysis. Otherwise a methodological necessity may become a servitude, and the legitimate operation of reduction may be transformed into the abuse of reductionism [Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, ?), 105-6].” Wittgenstein proposes a contextual form of research. Wittgenstein goes against the common academic practice of reflection with infinite regress. He does not believe in treating research objects as atoms that can be isolated from a context. They can only function – and thus analyzed and understood – relationally and contextually. Science, Wittgenstein claims, is not about “facts; but […] turns of speech [Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1968), section 295, 101].” These are valid concerns for researchers. However, it is important not to forget the actor’s perspective. Are fear, anxiety and (communal) violence caused by the inability to cope with complexity? And if so, can violence be avoided if we know that complexity is basically a fact of life? However, we have to deal with contingency, disagreement, indeterminacy, inconsistency, incoherence, incongruity, ambivalence, heterogeneity, opacity, paradoxy, risk and uncertainty. Nietzsche claims that “[n]ot doubt, certainty is what drives one insane [Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, How one Becomes What one is, trans. and ed. by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1969), “Why I am so clever,” section 4, 246].” And Albert Camus claims in The Myth of Sisyphus that anxiety can lead to either suicide or to freedom, but usually we try to hide in the illusion of ongoing normality. We are afraid of absurdity; absurd means contradictory [Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. Justin O’Brien (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980), 19, 33].”

Pity is a sin

“Our personal and profoundest suffering is incomprehensible and inaccessible to almost everyone; […] whenever people notice that we suffer, they interpret our suffering superficially. It is the very essence of the emotion of pity that it strips away from the suffering of whatever is distinctively personal. […] When people try to benefit someone in distress, the intellectual frivolity with which those moved by pity assume the role of fate is for the most part outrageous; one simply knows nothing of the whole inner sequence and intricacies that are distress for me or for you. […T]hey wish to help and have no thought of the personal necessity of distress […]. It never occurs to them that, to put it mystically, the path to one’s own heaven always leads through the voluptuousness of one’s own hell. […I]f you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that besides your religion of pity you also harbor another religion in your heart that is perhaps the mother of the religion of pity: the religion of comfortableness. How little you know of human happiness, […] for happiness and unhappiness are sisters and even twins that either grow up together or, as in your case, remain small together [Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), book 4, section 338, 269-70].” Pity is a form of appropriation. It is a lack of self-sufficiency to need the suffering of others. ‘I become what I am’ – the subtitle of Ecce Homo – not only because of the good things I did, but also because of my mistakes, failures and pains. Tragedy shows the world as it is and not how it should be, the illusionary ideal is confused with the worldly reality; we should, according to Nietzsche, devote ourselves to tragedy, because it teaches us the art of living through affirming all aspects of life, also our suffering. If one wants to escape nihilism one has to face the tragic and absurd beyond fear and revenge (however, to live beyond revenge might be considered with an ironic twist of fate the ultimate form of revenge). Amor fati, fatum brutum means for Nietzsche to accept reality so that freedom and necessity are reconciled. We should not shy away from our tragic fate, but embrace it. Pain is an inevitable part of life, which does not mean that pain has value as such, therefore, there is no need to celebrate it, as some romantics do. We cannot only choose those bits and pieces of ourselves we like, we also have to embrace those parts of our life we did not – could not – choose. Nietzsche rejects the claim of the fatalist that everything is fated. If fate rules everything then it is still fated if we resist fate. Nietzsche also rejects the claim of the fatalist that there exists a separation between fate and ourselves. Nietzsche is then not saying that we can change whatever we want, but that we also do not have to accept life passively. Extreme fatalism is a form of laziness, Nietzsche urges to be this-worldly perfectionists.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

false pretense

I do not envy other authors for their writings – even if some of it is magnificent, I do not find their style agreeable. Style as a voice of a particular life. That is why most scholarly writing is utterly boring. Under the pretense of neutrality, of objectivity, for the sake of the greater good the TRUTH the author must be silenced and the reader sedated. Style is not a necessary evil as Plato wanted us to believe. Style is not a surface behind which the real meaning looms.

Happiness is highly overrated…

Self-help books on display – shelf after shelf, shop after shop… The self-professed gurus claim to be able to teach us how to be happy. Lets assume that these writers indeed know what happiness means and how to attain it, why should we care? Apparently many do. These books are purchased by many in the vain hope they contain the Holy Grail. We should not ponder, though, on the question of happiness. On the other hand, we should care about this-worldly life, how to create. To create a life is the life. “Pleasure and displeasure are mere consequences [… Friedrich Nietzsche, Will to Power, section 702]. Whether it be hedonism or pessimism or utilitarianism or eudaemonism: all these modes of thought which assess the value of things according to pleasure and pain […] are foreground modes of thought and naiveties which anyone conscious of creative powers and an artist’s conscience will look down on with derision, though not without pity. […] In man, creature and creator are united […Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, section 225].” (Nietzsche as educator.)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The War Photographer

The first clip is from the documentary The War Photographer on James Nachtwey. And the second clip discusses whether Susan Sontag is right that photographers like Nachtwey are exploitative, one-sided and rob us from our free will.