Monday, September 7, 2009

Romantic is a concept coined from a prosaic mindset

(Walton, New York, 2006)

I was glued to Tom Vanderbilt’s review in the Times yesterday of Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. The book takes a look at how unexpected chaos – earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks - gives rise to exceptional acts of kindness, cooperation, and improvised collaborative effort aiming to restore order and help those who need it. While these brief intervals are just that – brief - they put us in touch with not only the apocalypse, but also with utopia.

I think of the 2006 flood here in Walton – it is still referred to in daily conversation as “the flood” – when an unknown neighbor, who had just lost his home, decided to come up the road to help Marc build a makeshift damn to protect ours.

The author argues that the idea of widespread looting, rioting, mass panic and general mayhem are mostly myths, ones perhaps generated by those in positions of power concerned about challenges to their legitimacy.

I could not help but think that this is precisely what art aims to do – or at least it is what I have in the back of my mind as one of art’s possibilities. It can offer a version of better, even if it is through strife and horror. Sometimes it is only perceived by the artist, who through the process of making, emerges from mud to reach a clearing; sometimes it is perceived only by a single viewer, who in looking at a representation of hell, has a visceral understanding of either what is or what could be.

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