sympathy and suffering
February 1, 2009 § 1 Comment
“So far as we feel sympathy,” Sontag writes, “we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering. Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence. To that extent, it can be (for all our good intentions) an impertinent–if not an inappropriate–response. To set aside the sympathy we extend to others beset by war and murderous politics for a consideration of how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering, and may – in ways that we prefer not to imagine–be linked to their suffering, as the wealth of some may imply the destitution of others, is a task for which the painful, stirring images supply only the initial spark.”
2. for the past week i have been trying to get my head together. in this new country. trying to find my place inside this crazy adrenaline-filled city named cairo. i have a whole new dialect of arabic to learn. and there are some significant differences between palestinian arabic and egyptian. enough differences that it is intimidating and my ear is just beginning to turn toward the language rather than away from it. arabic is a funny language…there are so many colloquial dialects between countries and within countries. and then there is modern standard arabic which is a very different form of arabic that is used among academics, journalists, and in writing…speaking my lil palestinian arabic makes me feel like a country bumpkin in comparison to all these big city cairene speakers…eh da?
3. i have been re-reading ted kooser’s the poetry home repair manual and in it he quotes sven birkerts who says:
reading…is not simply an inscribing of the author’s personal subjectivity upon a reader’ receptivity. rather, it is the collaborative bringing forth of an entire world, a world complete with a meaning structure. for hearing completes itself in listening, and listening happens only where there is some subjective basis for recognition. the work is not merely the bridge between author and reader; it is an enabling entity. the text is a pretext…the writer needs the idea of audition–of readers–in order to begin the creative process that gets him beyond the immediate, daily perception of things. in this one sense, the writer does not bring forth the work so much as the work, the idea of it, brings the writer to imaginative readiness.
4. a couple of days ago a man on the street cheered and named aza: obama. how cute. turns out that being black and a us national is cool again…this is awesome…i was afraid that condi rice had ruined it for us black girls internationally. two most famous black women in the world? condi and oprah…michelle o is a good addition…stylish and political without the war-mongering apologist evil aura hanging over her or the superficial spiritual guru-dom…just a chick from the southside who knows how to handle herself….
5. so what is the effect i hope to have on my readers and viewers? on my audience? susan sontag is accurate…i am definitely not attempting to elicit sympathy. i eschew the sentimental. i want them to see the cause and effect. how the ‘innocent’ actions and non-actions that they do (or dont do) have huge and unintended effects. and that the lack of evil intentions, their proclamations of innocence are a farce. it is not just ‘sad’ what happens in palestine…it is us. it is not just ‘sad’ what happened to sean bell…it is us. and yes, at moments that may mean that you have to deal with feelings of guilt…but even more so that means that you have to make wrong right.
alot of folks would like me at this point to give them a list of things to do to make wrong right. 10 acts to save the world or save their soul. but asking for a series of practical actions is a cop-out. we are creative creatures who must challenge ourselves and our imagination in every moment to figure this out. and for every practical suggestion i could give, there would be a 1000 circumstances in which that suggestion would do more harm than good. there is no checklist for moral or just living. we must act in the context and situation in which we are in the present moment. and accept that we will get it wrong, do harm, be critqued for the harm that we are doing. learn from the past, live in the present, so that there will be a future.
6. if you havent seen this lil video from cbs 60 minutes on the west bank…you probably should…i cant believe that a majoy us television source actually got it right for once…