UNCIVILISATION: The Dark Mountain Network

A space for conversations in a time of global disruption

Derrick Jensen on "Unforgivable Art"

In the latest edition of Orion, Derrick Jensen writes:

I think often of a line by the psychiatrist R. D. Laing, “Few books today are forgivable.” He wrote this, I believe, because we have become so very alienated from our own experience, from who we are, and this alienation is so destructive to others and to ourselves that if a book does not take this alienation as its starting point and work toward rectifying it, we’d all be better off looking at blank pieces of paper. Or better, actually experiencing something (or someone). Or even better, entering, as Martin Buber might have written, into a relationship with something or someone.

I agree with Laing that few books today are forgivable (and the same is true for films, paintings, songs, relationships, lives, and so on), and I agree for the reasons I believe he was giving. But there’s another reason I think few books (films, paintings, songs, relationships, lives, and so on) are forgivable. There’s that little nagging fact that this culture is murdering the planet. Any book (film, painting, song, relationship, life, and so on) that doesn’t begin with this basic understanding— that the culture is murdering the planet (in part because of this alienation; and of course this murder then in turn fuels further alienation)— and doesn’t work toward rectifying it is not forgivable, for an infinitude of reasons, one of which is that without a living planet there can be no books. There can be no paintings, songs, relationships, lives, and so on. There can be nothing.

Cartoonist Stephanie McMillan, in an editorial called "Artists, Raise Your Weapons", adds:

In times like these, for an artist not to devote her/his talents and energies to creating cultural weapons of resistance is a betrayal of the worst magnitude, a gesture of contempt against life itself. It is
unforgivable... Let us not be the system’s tools or fools. Artists are not cowards and
weaklings -- we’re tough. We take sides. We fight back...

It is our duty and responsibility to create a fierce, unyielding, aggressive
of resistance. We must create art that exposes and denounces evil, that
strengthens activists and revolutionaries, celebrates and contributes to
the coming liberation of this planet from corporate industrial military
omnicidal madness.

Pick up your weapon, artist.

I feel these days, when I walk into a bookstore, or a theatre, or talk to people or listen to people talking about what is important to them, in the moment, that I'm inhabiting some kind of parallel universe to these writers and artists and people. How can they be preoccupied by, and care about, things that are so inane when our entire civilization is careening out of control into a wall? How am I supposed to relate to other people when the world they perceive and live in is so unrecognizably different from mine?

Can we hope to communicate with the rest of the world in any meaningful way when most people are speaking and hearing only a language of ignorance and denial, while we speak what Jensen calls "a language older than words", a language they never learned? Or is whether our message is understood by the rest of the world not our business?

Views: 185

Comment by Dougie Strang on July 7, 2010 at 16:29
Thanks Dave,

For the excerpts from Jensen and McMillan, and your own thoughts. All very powerfully put and an excellent kick in the bollocks (if you'll excuse the phrase) to all those self-aggrandising egoists whom our culture seems to accept as artists.

You're really not alone; and there are lots of people doing good work, mostly without recognition.

cheers, Douglas
Comment by Lucas Hüsgen on July 29, 2010 at 19:53
Though I completely agree, that the arts should deal with the deeply disturbing situation the Planet is in, I'm generally not convinced that Derrick Jensen's unrelenting use of language is of any use. Now once again, I'm not sure, where it would stop, if we were to follow his call in calling works of art 'unforgivable', especially so if put on a par with lives that apparently can be called unforgivable.
Now, what does that word mean practically? What should be the consequences in real life? How is being unforgivable expressed politically? Might it not come dangerously close to a legitimization of assassination?

And what does it mean, if an artist like McMillan has to resort to the metaphor of 'Pick up your weapon'?
Is it just a coincidence, that both artists are Americans? Representatives of a nation, which seems to believe in the utility of weaponry as a problem solver and a saviour's utensils, just like we are seeing today with Mr. Obama's sabre rattling around the Korean peninsula, not just incidentally heightening tension with China?

Isn't it about time, that we should rid ourselves of this American mindset? Isn't the American mindset an essential part of the problem?
Comment by L. S. Heatherly on February 12, 2011 at 21:50

Ah, it is of the finest gratifications to find one's self in the company of exceptional people

holding a long-held position as one's self-- in the company of Derrick Jensen,

R.D. Lang, Stephanie McMillan and Dave Pollard. For this crucially needed re-evaluation

of art, Yours Truly will invite into this gathering the following comments from others:


"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."  -- Pablo Picasso


"All art is a revolt against man's fate[within civilization]."   -- Andre Malraux


"Pioneers did not produce original works of art, because they were creating

original human environments; they did not imagine utopias because they

were shaping them."  -- George Woodcock


"Art has no other object than to set aside the symbols of practical utility,

the generalities that are conventionally and socially accepted, everything

in fact which masks reality from us, in order to set us face to face with

reality itself."   -- Henri Bergson


"With the the pride of the artist, you must blow against the walls of every

power that exists, the small trumpet of your defiance." -- Norman Mailer


"In any evolutionary process, even in the arts, the search for

novelty becomes corrupting." --  Kenneth Boulding


"Art is called art, ultimately, because it has not been a part of

Earth-life's ecologically, evolved human nature, being and culture.

The  artist's ecological task, art's mission, is to reunite art with Earth's Life

and Earth's Humanity, with natural, ecological, human sustainables-- to

recapture and restore bits of our  evoloved, human birthrights, our

Earth-human naturalities. This is the most genuine Environmental

Movement--cleansing and restoring human nature, consciousness,

culture--our natural species-humanity-- back into Ear

Comment by L. S. Heatherly on February 12, 2011 at 21:56

....back into Earth's play Life." -- L. S. Heatherly (Yours Truly)


(this ending somehow got cut off from the rest.)

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