[-empyre-] of interest below

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sat Oct 27 15:29:07 EST 2012

Hi Jon, let me answer you in pieces here -

On Sat, 27 Oct 2012, Jonathan Marshall wrote:

> 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.
I wouldn't say pain in art, but issues of representation of pain in 
relation to omeone undergoing the same, perhaps.

> Firstly, given the shift, is pain, misery, and abjection the issue?
These aren't issues, they're states; the issue is how are these 
represented, what can and what can't be represented, how can 
representation potentially lead to (hopefully positive) action.

> 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.
Here I agree.

> 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'?

No, because as Scarry herself pointed out, pain is different, and I'd say 
as well, death and slaughter are different. I can't communicate to you I'm 
dead. I can communicate to you other things, but pain is incredibly 
difficult to communicate, which is why there are measured tests, 
gradations. These suppose however that 1. someone is able to take these 
tests etc. by being in the right place at the right time to take them, and 
2. that someone is in pain that is not completely debilitating, i.e. that 
prohibits one from taking them. My mother for example, a highly articulate 
woman, could not saying anything coherent towards the end; pain devouted 
> 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.
Joy and pain are very different, paralleling perhaps the difference 
between masochism and sadism. Pain is private in a different way; it can 
be unspeakable, unutterable. They're not two poles along a continuum - 
unutterable pain may tend towards cessation, towards death.

> 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.

No one ever said art is about authenticity, and I think that myth has been 
thrown out long ago. There's no "art is about" - it's contested and 
changes along the lines of a Wittgensteinian game. It may or may not 
involve pretence. It may or may not involve fiction.

There are no realer fictions, great or non-great fictions, D/G write about 
minor literature (Kafka) in this regard. And I'm not sure I'd buy into 
even the notion of "good art" - the nearest I can get to it is along the 
lines of Bourdieu's Distinction - what is the cultural economy of the art 
and its audience being considered? Can these things even be defined?

These questions come up constantly and usually end up in discussions about 
taste or connoisseurship.
> 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?

But this is your own line of reasoning - no one has said that "conveying 
pain was what art was about" - art can be about anything or nothing, again 
a regime of contestations. I don't honestly know what mode of thinking 
you're referencing here.

> 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?

But this doesn't follow either, no one has said that X or Y are not 
artists because they case pain.

> 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.

There are times, at least from my experience of my own depressions, when 
no one wants to hear, and for me that's understandable; when I'm depressed 
I become a poor thing. On the other hand, at least the US culture tends to 
put sickness and depression and pain and even death completely out of mind 
- which is terrifying. It makes Americans irresponsible; Romney can 
declare in debate that the US has the best health system in the world for 
example - and everyone applauds, because the poor are _out of the 
picture,_ the dead, those in pain, are out of the picture. He can lie 
because we live within the "clean and proper body" (which I referenced 
before) that Kristeva speaks about, that relates to fascism, and control.
> 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.

I found nothing could prepare me for my mother, can one ever be prepared 
for this? All those religious unctions, etc. - do they actually function 
that way?
> That is a matter for art perhaps? or perhaps even the sociology of 
> dying? (which would be better? what would be the difference?)

This sounds awful but my first response was that I might learn something 
from the sociology of dying. But art can function, as Ana and Monika among 
others have shown us, as Solzhenitsyn has shown us, as a form of 
witnessing and communicating what has been witnessed, in other words a 
conveyans, a transitive, in ways that perhaps nothing else can touch. In 
the US I can point for example to the photographs of Eugene Richards, who 
has been one of my heros for years - his photographs creates both a sense 
of crisis and pain, and wonder, draws one in.
> 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.

Of course this depends on the technics; some work would have that effrect

> 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.

Agree here as well.

> 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)

absolutely -

> 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......

As a friend of mine said, who deals politically and actively with these 
issues, both Israelis and Palestinians have so often almost come to peace, 
but there are ideologists and hard-liners who benefit from having 
everything constantly collapse.

> jon
> (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.)
Well I don't agree here, I don't think that "someone engaginge..." "seems 
more artistically important" etc. - again there may be some who feel that 
way, who feel that G.G. Allin was the greatest performance artist who ever 
lived, and others who were nauseated by him. There's no one art, no way of 
ranking, and once you're away from the blue-chip artist system (which 
definitely doesn't encourage self-mutilation), you find all sorts of 
tastes and interests and directions, etc. - which is one thing that does 
keep me interested in art, that there are no verification procedures, no 
aesthetic rankings (on the basis of money, of course, but that's not very 
interesting), and the field is wide open; the whole alternative gallery 
system, like alternative rock by the way, testifies to that.

Thank you for an important and interesting dicussion!

- Alan

More information about the empyre mailing list