Research Area F
Ethics and aesthetics are one, – said Wittgenstein (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/324147-ethics-and-aesthetics-are-one)
An aesthetic praxis is also an ethical praxis. In what I write, and in the way I write I expose not only my preferences when it comes to artistic expression, but also my world-view.
Intrinsically that offers a potential tension between my ethics and my aesthetics. Will they match? Or will my aesthetics take me to a place where I depart from my world view, or my ethical base? In other words, a tension can emerge both inside me and between me and the text.
The act of writing is a constant ongoing negotiation between the two. When I write, I feed off the personal, but at the same time, my writing immediately enters into a dialogue with what goes on around me. It is after all a performative text I am writing. Meant to be performed and interpreted. It is meant for, and written for an interchange with an audience in a public sphere. So we are not talking about an end-game here, or producing a the text for the sake of the text. This text is not meant for the page or just one reader, but for a body, a voice, a space or all the above mentioned.
Again there is potential for tension.
Between my private needs and desires, and their place in the public. Between the text and the «world».
I write this as a part of my PhD in playwriting. What I have to ask myself is – if my research question is: How can I write texts that exposes the tensions and ties between the individual and the society? Does this put a bond on my aesthetics? After all, tension must be present in the text for them to mirror and produce the ethical "aura" this project needs.
The question of moral also comes up. Just writing the word makes me shrug.
I dislike the word and I dislike what it represent. Maybe due to it’s inbuilt imperatives, and its judgemental potential. Even thinking about it complicates things, since my moral might be different form the moral of another person. My grandmother for instance, she belonged to a culture with totally different standards than the one I grew up in. She lived her life with a religious protestant fervor that dominated almost everything she did. She based her moral judgments on that, and it was morally important for her to force that moral judgement upon others. For her that was doing "good". For me that is both ethically and morally wrong, but at the same time, she did it to be "good". And I do not think that our ethics are that different. She wanted to make the right choices. It was just that these choices stemmed from other cultural and social sources than mine. Moral belongs to society and is shaped by context.
It is all deeply connected.
For me these questions are not abstract or theoretical.
The ethical tension I felt when I started my research was very real. Even physically present. It was in me. Brought about by everyday events. It was there – in minutest things: Buying a cheese and a jumper on the same day, realizing that the price of the cheese and the price of the jumper was the same, and no longer get filled by the joy of getting my hands on such a cheap peace of garment. Rather feeling something close to shame wearing the jumper, eating the cheese – because I am not ignorant. I know that the production system behind the cheese and the production system behind the making of the jumper is totally different. And I know that I, in some way are caught in that system. And that I, as a consumer, no longer can claim innocence. I am in on it. It benefits me, and I am trapped by it. It is ON me. IN me. And what that is not just an idea, not just something from a documentary or a headline. It is a reality experienced by multitudes. And at the same time still go on repeating this pattern of buying, wearing, enjoying the garment, the coffee – and hating the confusion, the shame, the feeling of helplessness it produced in me.
I know that what I am wearing and what I am eating is the result of how the world works. Of the trade agreements, systems of exploitation, small and large ecological disasters, and then on the other hand: Our own lush landscapes, the ability to protect the small farmer – even that is now under siege. I know that I’m trapped in an economical system called capitalism. In other words – I can choose not to get involved in politics. To stay away from it as much as I like – and it would still be there. I eat it, I shit it, I carry it with me. I can choose not to write about it – but whether I like it or not – I’m entangled in it, and I can feel the tension. The tension between what I am as an artist and what I live as a consumer. I can feel it as something physical.
So, tension seem to be the word to return too.
The solution then, must be not to resolve this tension, but to be in it. It has to be exposed, not camouflaged. The tension between the he public, the private, the political and the existential. I need the texts so to say to be this tension. I have for now to endure it as a structuring element in the aesthetics of my work. The ethical question then to ask is: how can I make that happen?
For the first ten months of my research this lead me in a certain direction. For instance I produced texts like this:
I am at this couples dinner, and I have gotten up of my chair. I am at this stag night, at this coffee bar, and I am screaming. Screaming into their happy, self-assured faces:
– No. No I do not feel free!
– No! I am not depressed. You are not listening. That was not what I was saying! That was not what I meant! I do not want to go home! I am not drunk! I feel fine! Don’t touch me!
(see the whole monologue from State and Ecstacy here).
And texts like this in DIY manuals for a potential future:
There is a will to change, to work for this change, to want to change the world for the better, but when I think about it, it is more like a blind spot, or as if something is obliterated. A zone of nothing. No dreams, no visions, no future.
All there is, is this wage anxiety. It is as if I am already uprooted by an unavoidable crises. As if I stand midstream, with both of my feet in an ongoing stream of perpetual end-games: afraid of the global powers of the multinational corporations, afraid to act, afraid not to act. Surrounded by nature, I am afraid of it disappearing. Inside the democracy, I feel outside it. And I turn on the lights, and I turn on my coffee-maker, and I enter the subway that take me to work – and the machines take me there and it is as if it is happening by chance. As if neither I or they are really there.
It as if I live my life with my back to the world.
(See the whole text here)
I wrote about the current refugee situation in Where the Children Sleep and Sweatshop – Aleppo, and in Darkness the Enemy Inside and its twin the Island, the communal endeavor of the writing team started to spin around these dilemmas (For more see the articles and deliberations: Exercises and Adresses and Darkness the Enemy Inside – a Collective Endeavor).
If aesthetics and ethics are one, in this case none of them can win. A good choice lies in the balance between the two. Or in the tension. The one feeding into the other.
I have this dream: I am at the bottom of a sweatshop hell.
Buried deep in a cotton dust-trap, some place where my civil rights cannot save me.
In my dream, I have become the other. Not Norwegian anymore. I am away from home. Stateless, or born in a country with so few regulations that its citizens and its economy are totally exposed.
Here, the marked can at any time toss me aside, eat me whole, let go of me.
Here I live totally exposed.
I am free falling. My hands, my body, my future – everything I am has become a commodity.
I am in a place that offers no protection.
Then comes the sleeplessness, the discomfort, and I start avoiding people.
It is as if I’ve eaten something that have turned bad. It’s stuck there at the back of my throat. It’s a swelling. And I go away for a while. I stand there by the window in a hotel room, in a strange town. The traffic machine, the sky-scrapers, the flashy neon commercials – and the city is a big, breathing, hunting animal underneath me, and everybody has gone home and the cafes and the kiosks has closed hours ago – and I stand there. Imagining how it all continues. How it grows - the city, the nausea, the dark, the neon. How it all expands until it covers everything. Until everything is covered and everything is the same - and then, when all is over:
A nest. A branch. An otter-trail.
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