How would Bauman direct?

“The Human Condition” by Rene Magritte,
the favorite painter of Zygmunt Bauman,
whose latest (in Polish) is “Life in contexts.”
(Interviews by Roman Kubicki and Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska)

Reading this book is like taking part in a complex, profound and fast paced conversation of quick minds. Therefore my reaction is most likely full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings. Yet I see this "book meeting” as an important “directing lesson.” Here’s why:

Bauman considers mystery the most important in art. He says that a great painting has to have a mystery that has “a life-sentencing quality” because (as I understand it) the mystery is unescapable and ever present. To the Professor, art should “show unusual in what we consider usual.”

Visual arts play a strong role in the craft of this visionary thinker (and a recognized photographer, although he downplays this part). In his texts there are references to painters, performers, motion picture directors. For example: to Bauman some Bergman films are more telling than many sociological treatises. Discussing his own biography Bauman admits to the big role of a blind chance in his life and brings up Kieslowski’s “Blind chance” as an illustration of such mechanism.

“Life in contexts” shows a search for the proper visual metaphor for our confused and confusing times. As if the golden solution to our sociological and philosophical ignorance lies in assigning the proper image to our chaotic world. Once we get this image-reality connection right we will understand who we are and what’s going on. It would be a mighty elevation of a role of the visual. And a painful downplaying of the might of the abstract.

As if the abstract strives to embrace the visual or emerge from the visual. Is there an assumption that “down deep” in a pre-linguistic order of things the essence of what both the abstract thinking (sociology, philosophy) and the visual doing (paintings, films) try to articulate is one?

Recent sociology has worked with various metaphors to describe its field. Bauman brings up additional images. Desert and liquid. The last term he used several times in the titles of his books (“Liquid Life”, “Liquid Love”, “Liquid fear”.) However his metaphors are not only static. When discussing a model for morality he talks about “caressing” as a model of ethical behavior toward the other. To caress is not to conquer the other but to validate her (the professor clearly means a human interaction beyond gender, an interaction in social and ethical terms. It is my linguistic clumsiness that makes it gender specific here). So, to caress a being is to “document’ her own independence and the importance of the caressed to the caresser. Bauman writes that caressing best represents the intentions of Emanuel Levinas, whose work is devoted to praising “the other.” With all wonderfulness of this metaphor, we also have to be careful, warns the professor. Too much or misguided “caress” can degenerate and bring out a “mamma boy” in us.

To Bauman there are not simple solutions to anything, no ready recipes, no “auto pilot” mode. Freedom in life constantly requires from us the nerves of steel, reasoning and self-reflection. So what consequences could all that have to the craft of the narrative visual storytelling? Well, for example:

No banality in showing the visible.

Reverence to what’s “out there”.

No close-ended thesis (no truth as oppression.)

Less ontological vulgarity (as in “that’s how it is!)

No superficial rendering of events and characters.

Attention (to details.)

Respect (to mystery.)

Empathy (to us all.)

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