Art and tragic events

imagesThe Economist gave the United States a whole weekend to mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre before telling the entire nation to suck it up. “Those of us who view the events remotely … unless we start to evince a newfound appetite for gun-control measures to prevent future mass slayings, are doing little more than displaying and enjoying our own exalted strickenness,” writes one M.S. “This is an activity at which we, as a culture, excel.”

Why, thanks, anonymous writer, for telling an entire nation its feelings are unproductive. I am reminded of Eddie Izzard’s bit about St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians—and the Corinthians’ response: “Dear Paul, fuck off. Who are you? Why do you keep sending us letters? You arrogant bastard, writing a letter to an entire city! What do you want us to do, put this on a board or something? Just fuck off!… Love and kisses, The Corinthians.”

On the other end of the spectrum, there was the Washington Post‘s Style section, which, earlier this week, asked its arts critics to “meditate on the role of the arts in coping with grief” and “share works that have resonated with them in such times.” Theodor Adorno once said that poetry after Auschwitz was barbaric. The Post appears to be asking its critics to hand out artworks as antidepressants.

Peter Marks suggests Shakespeare get us through these tough times; Ron Charles, Whitman. Ann Hornaday, meanwhile, offers Finding Nemo.

But Post critic Phil Kennicott—in a message perhaps addressed to his editor as much as his readers—slaps down the whole idea. “I think seeking consolation during a tragedy that hasn’t directly affected you is histrionic, and a bad form of sentimentality, and it distracts from urgent and obvious feelings of anger and political determination. Rather than seek solace, we should work to change the society in ways that will help prevent this kind of mayhem,” Kennicott writes. But he eventually gives in to the task, suggesting anyone yearning for “some form of distraction” look to Bach’s Mass in B Minor.

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