Reading Bauman

In the November blog post on zygmuntbauman.pl (only in Polish) the author of the “Modernity and the Holocaust” writes about one of his favorite authors, Albert Camus.  The phrases jump out:  

“absurdities of our lives which we continue to make daily consciously or not”, “impenetrable mystery of human nature”, “ambiguity and ambivalence (...) perhaps defining attributes of a (truthful) portrayal of human plight (...) should not be sacrificed for the sake of logic and clarity."

I get it all and see how it could be applied to a film structure, or to the development of a screen character. But that's just the beginning. Then comes a paragraph that opens the flood of challenging questions:  

“Several years ago I was asked by an interviewer ‘to summarize my concerns in a paragraph. I could not find a better shorthand description of the purpose of a sociologist's effort to explore and record the convoluted paths of human experience, than a sentence borrowed from Camus: “There is beauty and there are the humiliated. Whatever difficulties the enterprise may present, I should like never to be unfaithful either to the second or the first”.

This sentence is breath taking for its audacity, strength and the enormous mind fire it evokes. “Beauty” comprises narrative craft, aesthetic choices, storytelling values. “Humiliated” are the weaker ones, those who, by being minorities, oppressed or otherwise not fitting the mold, should not be subjected to the tyranny of the majority. Another words: a healthy democracy. If we serve our communities as politicians or storytellers we should be sensitive to both “beauty” and “the humiliated”. That's however is not sufficient. Bauman rises the bar higher: 

“Camus has shown (...) that ‘taking sides and sacrificing one of those two tasks for (apparently) the sake of better fulfilling the other would inevitably end in casting both tasks beyond reach. Camus placed himself, in his own words, “half way between misery and the sun” 

Does it mean that for a politician being aware of the aesthetic is not enough? That an entertainer cannot forget the ethical in his craft? It seems to say even more: Our duty is to be equally attuned to the ethical as to the aesthetic. One cannot be realized without the other.
This would indeed be a wonderful world: no vulgarity in politics, no carelessness toward the other in entertainment. Further the note enters complex territories of acceptance, rebellion, resignation and revolt. The entry, titled: “Albert Camus Or: I rebel, therefore we exist,” ends with the admonition against tyranny always ready to rise from behind good intentions of “admirable pursuits”.

This chilling reminder of the dangers of “solutions” blends in my mind with the earlier urging for the merger of the ethical with the aesthetic. I remain puzzled as the questions twirl around: Is it practically doable? Are we ready for such a high level of self awareness? Doesn't this part of our entertainment which is sick, violent and immoral diffuse the dark forces so that they don't enter the social sphere? Or does it simply add fuel to the fire?  

How in practice shall we navigate between “the beauty" and "the humiliated”? Perhaps the real “Bauman’s challenge” is more complex than I would initially want it to be.

1 comment:

  1. Art is the sacred product of human beings manifesting the creative force of God. Perhaps "God is love" or "God is truth", but neither one by itself is God. (Besides, I really don't think either one can be itself without the other.)

    By the way, I believe we met back when I was publishing Street Light, a monthly tabloid on poverty issues. I burned out on that because I'd gotten so very sick of the ugliness--not ugliness of poor people, but ugliness of rich property owners who would run all over a room to avoid looking at a newspaper I was trying to give them! The Mayor had an aide assigned to read this paper; he came around to our point of view, and was then assigned to other issues.

    Terry Messman in Oakland has been doing Street Spirit, a similar newspaper, for decades--doing excellent journalism on behalf of the poor & 'humiliated'--and when I read the same kind of stories in it that he was writing at the beginning, I find it depressing. "New Age, same shit happening." So here I am, finding a chance to resume publishing 'Street Light' in San Diego--and I'm anxious for a way to tell the truth without demoralizing people.

    I was reading Dmitri Orlov the other day, & there's a lot to be said for his way of doing it: "[Some people] couldn't help but see that an American collapse was coming and were quite worried by this prospect. I was able to ease their minds, from several directions. Based on my first-hand observations of the Soviet collapse, I was able to add a lot of mundane detail, which is helpful in developing a realistic picture of the future and forming reasonable expectations. But perhaps more importantly, I was able to do so with a sense of humor. I find that a sense of humor is absolutely indispensable for preserving one's sanity. Furthermore, I feel that people who lack a sense of humor tend to be dreary, awful company, risky to have around, and a potential mental health hazard. (By the way, according to such people, that's not funny.)"

    But that won't always do it; we can't laugh at everything that deserves weeping. That beauty part. Not beauty of young happy snobs dressed up like hookers (though that deserves appreciation too!) but the beauty of poor people who've been nothing but pushed around, yet still take care of each other, even sometimes stand up for each other.