Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#41 / Losing The "Common World"

Every week I get an email edition of Amor Mundi a newsletter, published by The Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. Shortly after penning my most recent denunciation of infectious individualism (which appeared in this Two Worlds blog yesterday), I found the latest edition of Amor Mundi in my email inbox.

The picture above, from that edition of Amor Mundi, appeared under the headline, "What Do We Hold In Common?" 

The comments in Amor Mundi referred to other comments made by Michael W. Clune, who wrote a kind of review of Looking Away in an essay published in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Looking Away is a 2009 book by Rei Terada, a professor of comparative literature at UC Irvine.

I am not going to try to synopsize Looking Away right here. Actually, I should probably read the book before trying to do that. I will, however, quote the Amor Mundi newsletter, which I think is also talking about infectious individualism:

The common world, that world of appearance we share amidst our meaningful differences, is ever more fragile. In her book The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt worries that we lose faith in anything true or great that could unite plural individuals in a common world. She sees that the loss of a concern with immortality and with acts, deeds, and works that deserve to be remembered would deprive us of a shared world. All politics, Arendt writes, demands transcendence in the sense that we step beyond our solipsistic experiences and enter a world we share with others. Pursuing this Arendtian theme, Michael W. Clune in the LA Review of Books explores the effort of some contemporary art to cultivate the experience of "mere appearance," appearances so fleeting that they resist any shared commonality. Such art celebrates the radically individual transcendental experience against the transcendence of a common world: "Here is the fact: Something is wrong with the world. There is a fundamental flaw in society. Relations between people seem to have something wrong with them. Something ... off. Sometimes, when I want to share something with you, I realize that my experience has an unsharable dimension. I realize that we encounter each other only by peering across the thick boundary of our social personas. I don't know how to fix this problem, but I don't like it. I can only meet other people on the terrain of a common world that seems too heavy, too alien, too uncomfortable, too cold. Sometimes I protest by looking away, by watching the part of my experience that none of you can touch." For Clune, the effort of contemporary artists to dwell in mere appearance is, but is not only, a "turn away from the world."

If even art is turning away from the world we hold in common - and that is what I hear being discussed - we may be losing one of the antidotes to the infectious individualism that is convincing us, increasingly, that everything is to be referred to our individual experience, and that there is not, in fact, any truly "common world."

To the degree we believe that, and consider division rather than unity to be the prevailing reality of our existence, the Devil has insinuated his lies inside the truth of who and where we really are.

We are alive, and together in this. We are together in the World of Nature, into which we were born, and we are together in the human world that we create, conjointly with all others.

Let's not forget it!

Let's not be deceived!

Image Credit:

1 comment:

  1. I don't see the Clune essay as saying that art is turning away from the common, any more than art has always, in some aspects, turned away from the common. There's nothing new happening now.

    I don't think of myself as an artist, but I do know that when I create something satisfying, an essay, a book, a photograph, it comes from inside me, from that part of me that is unique and different from the common. When I put it out in the world, readers and viewers compare my creation with their life and their experience. They either find something in common or they don't. They find something they react to, positively or negatively. Or they don't.

    This is how art becomes "classic," the art that contains that vital something that finds a point of commonality in a society or culture. Those that don't, disappear into obscurity. Those that do, persist through time because of their universal appeal. Over time, there are always new discoverers of the art that respond to its common appeal.

    Creativity is that characteristic that dips beneath "mere appearance" and finds that appeal to the common. In this way, "classic" art is a revealing record of the commons among us.


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