As it often happens, I sometimes wonder around a theme for months, failing to understand what really interests me in that discussion. As I’ve also learned, the day always comes when the question presents itself to me in a clearer way. The question here is the word “discourse”.
This world is a violent place, no doubt about that, but I don’t think it is “getting worst” by the day, as the media try to convince us, in order to keep the fear alive. We now have cctv cameras, mobile phones that replace our sight, augmented reality, “free journalism”, social media, and that changes our perception of things, dramatically. But is the human being more violent today than 2500 years ago? I don’t think so. We’re just as barbaric, though we think and talk about it differently and we no longer call ourselves barbaric.
July has been a difficult month, both in my personal life as throughout the world. Trump is alive and kicking and that is reason enough to cry. Michael Moore thinks he’s going to win the elections and that Americans should get used to the sound of “President Trump”.
Today is the 25th of July. Three days ago an 18-year-old kid went on a gun spread in a shopping mall in Munich, killing nine people. Though the tendency, now, everywhere in the western world, is to use nationalities as they once used race (German-Born Gunman; Attentat de Nice: un Français d’origine tunisienne; 27-Year-Old Syrian Suicide Bomber; etc, etc), what matters here is that Islamophobia Kills, as Juan Cole writes. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, prejudices in general kill. That’s the problem. But is it worst nowadays? Have we lost touch with our human condition? Has society itself became a sociopath entity?
On the 14th of July, France’s Bastille day, we “witnessed” the death of more than 80 people in Nice at the hands of a psychopath who ran them over with a truck. Apparently, the psychopath was also french. Apparently, he was of Tunisian descent. The media told the world the truck was filled with arms and explosives (as if one should be comforted by the fact that millions weren’t blown up in the air), but as we now know “its cargo hold contained a bicycle and eight empty pallets, or stacking platforms“.
Some days ago, on the 10th, Portugal’s football theme won the European championship with one of the most multicultural group ever seen in sports. That fact alone generated an healthy discussion about the idea one promotes about one’s notion of individual and collective identity.
All these events, despite their differences, have huge symbolic meanings and the way they are treated in the mainstream media promote one very dangerous discourse: a discourse about national culture, national identity, honor and pride. They confirm, legitimate and inscribe a sort of discourse that has nothing to do with an essentialist or naturalist discussion, but that expands the degrees of separation from one to the other. It’s the discourse that gets inscribed, not the actual hate towards the other. Is that so very different? Maybe not.
Living in the city, our survival mode tends to depend more on our mental capacities than our emotional ones. The way we get by and deal with the stimuli forces us to have a certain degree of disconnection with our senses, especially sight and sound. We lower the volume of the airplanes that overflow us; we erase the millions of photographs that offer us discounts on products and journeys to happy places. On the countryside, we’re forced to be more dependent on our emotional skills and it sharpens our intuition. So here (in the country) the importance of intellect and discourses also lose some of its value. If I’m being honest, it’s not so much a question of value, but more of being exposed. When confronted with our needs and passions, discourse seems pointless and often absurd. It’s not like words lose their purpose, it’s the political language that gets denounced in its hypocritical structure and, with that, the discourse about world violence also seems ridicule.
It’s as if we’ve forgotten where we came from, how this world came to be as “civilized” as it is now. We have never overcame barbarism or slavery. We have never ceased to disregard the other. We have never ceased to hate ourselves. Instead of a discourse based around fear, we should maybe empower the discourse of love. See how politicians and professional tv commentators and news critics would manage that.
The problem with the “discourse” ascribed to arts is equality problematic. Just recently in the University where I’m doing my PhD, a new course opened under the name “Discourses about Contemporary Photography”. Can’t help but being bored by such an idea, meaning: the idea that in order to potentiate your knowledge and creativity, in an academic context, one always has to be inspired by the discourse of the medium, knowing that the discourse is formed out of institutionalized approaches. Shouldn’t educators promote the sort of originality that is rewarded in the high arts? Is it really possible to potentiate your inner voice with the recipe that to now thyself you have to learn the language of your fellow colleague?
The other day I had a good chat about boredom and tedium. I’m not one to suffer from tedious thoughts but I do feel often bored, disgusted by the overall bleakness of the conceptual approach to photography. In the end, most of the times, what gives “value” to the works is its discourse, its external “properties”, the way it is printed and mounted, who did the installation, where is it shows… but the internal qualities of the work, the author’s voice, is often so inscribed in the discourse that it feels plagiarized.