[-empyre-] of interest below

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Sat Oct 27 11:17:51 EST 2012

I'm not quite sure i can say this correctly, but seeing we seem to have shifted a bit from the role of pain in virtual life, or 'the virtual' (if you like suspended nouns), to pain in art, let me try -  and please forgive me for failing or being trite.

Firstly, given the shift, is pain, misery, and abjection the issue?

For me, the intial issue was that when living a life through mediated means, online, via mobiles, via games, via theatre, via alchemy whatever (and these may well be different experiences, that is not the point), people (not perhaps people here) generally seem to want to pretend that pain and misery are absent, that the 'virtual life' is not real in some kind of way.  That it is both missing something and that it *should be* absolutely free. That they can watch executions for fun.  

My point was that pain and misery is present, that words do things, that images do things, that the structures of communication do things, and people get hurt, suffer and die - although i never presented the stuff on death and people's reactions to it. Hence there is a 'problem of pain'.

Hence, communication of misery and pain seems to be a subset of the general problem of 'how do we communicate anything'? 

Is communication about replication of internal states in another? I'm not sure, possibly sometimes, most often not. If this space of communication is the virtual, then there is also a problem of joy, It is not just pain.

This is why i wanted to argue that art is not about authenticity, or roughness, or other conventions of genuninness, but that art is fictional and involves pretense. But referencing artaud again (i think) good art is a realer fiction, a 'great' fiction.

Indeed, if we thought conveying pain was what art was about then perhaps trolls and torturers are the true artists? 
In that mode of thinking, is it the case that people who get others to find them offensive are the real artists, and those who are not found offensive, by anyone who matters, are not?

If we think that people are not artists just because they cause pain, then perhaps we have to think about art and morals, however difficult?


Doing what could be refused, and making a gesture towards myself. I have lived with chronic pain for a large portion of my life, and have recently held my mother while she struggled in apparent 'animal' agony towards or away from a death that came longer than i would like, and less tranquilised by morphine than i would like....

So what would i like? Not that other people suffer pain as well. But, that to the extent they could, they experience empathy, and realised that much of what they said about my pain (it was not real, i exagerated it, i really could walk and type without problems, or that walking a couple o hundred metres was no big deal) missed the point, say and was hurtful or whatever. Perhaps they need to have suffered to do that, (but we all suffer enough), perhaps they needed to be able to 'sit with' pain and suffering, perhaps they needed not to find blame or reason. i don't know. But listening would have been good.

With my mother i would have liked to have a cultural experience that prepared me for the process of normal slow painful dying, rather than one which prepared me for quick violent death, absent death, or a death in which everyone can talk and the person dying drifts off gently.  I cannot experience her pain, even though my body convulsed as well.

That is a matter for art perhaps? or perhaps even the sociology of dying? (which would be better? what would be the difference?)

But if we want others to experience the pain of those suffering then, it would seem to me, that more might turn away in fear, more might be prepared to turn from death.  

Anyway, these issues/problems again, strike me as moral questions. That might mean the questions are inherently unresolvable, but that is no reason for not pursuing them - if art deals with the unresolvable in some sense, then it perhaps *should* engage with them?

For me, empathy is the basis of morals, art and communication and hence the point of raising the questions Alan has been raising.


With respect to the song Alan instances, and this is obvious, it often seems to be the case that the main aim of any warlike, defensive, attacking State is to boost empathy for its own (pure race) and engage in an anti-empathy project towards those it defines as others (the impure, the beasts), so the 'victims' can appear the 'persecutors' without much trouble.

Consequently the more the State is engaged in persecution and war, the less it can afford its people to suffer empathy with the others. The whole propaganda machine, becomes directed against this fundamental fact of 'morality', and becomes towards identification with one's own only. So that group borders are tightened, and accidental empathy is less easily experienced. And yes, this can happen even in States and other organisations founded to combat or confound persuecution. 

(Culturally we might notice that the US tries to make its wars virtual, with no one appearing to really get hurt -hence the crisis of abu graib etc)

This happens everywhere, and if art is moral, or against power, then perhaps art should focus on overcoming this barrier to empathy? this aim might have nothing to do with the location of pain, or replicating pain. I cannot know the pain of Palestinian or Israeli or anyone else, but i can empathise and imagine, i can resonate with great fiction, I can think that maybe israeli and palestinian are like me and people i know, and think about what to do to lessen the empathy barriers. then art becomes politics......


(i know there is a social component here, that most of us on this list probably live in societies which generally takes pain and misery as real and important - hence tragedy and thrillers etc seem more highly thought of than comedy, which tends to be seen as trite and trivial. Hence someone engaging in self mutilation seems more artistically important than someone engaging in self pleasure - certainly it seems more common. But custom is no explaination.)

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