Disrupting the dance of ideology

Mira SchorIn order for art to get beyond or behind [repressive] conventions of representation, in order to expose the ideology these conceptions serve, artworks should employ ‘dis-identificatory practices’ that disrupt ‘the dance of ideology,’ and ‘distanciation’ that would ‘liberate the viewer from the state of being captured by illusions of art which encourage passive identification with fictional worlds’.

Mira Schor, ‘Medusa Redux’, quoting Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference

Anger points to life

Fire is often used to portray anger. Anger burns and blazes. It inflames the human heart. But it can also be a subtle presence. It can turn totally inward and become depression. It can also hide under several guises. However, unlike resent­ment, which points to death, anger points to life. For oppressed people, or for oppressed dimensions within the individual life, the awakening and release of anger can be powerfully liberating. Anger is powerful because it has an immediacy, innocence and action in it. The reason that so much evil and corruption are allowed to destroy so many lives is that people’s anger is cleverly managed and quelled into indifference and powerlessness. One of the first targets of prophecy is to locate and kindle this forgotten and neglected anger. Part of the wisdom of living a creative and healing life is to learn the art of using this inner fire well.

John O’Donohue, ‘Fire: At Home at the Hearth of Spirit’, in: The Four Elements: Reflections on Nature

Tsimtsum and the coming into being of the other

Scan0001Henri Nouwen, in The Wounder Healer, quotes James Hillman, who talks about the Jewish mystical doctrine of Tsimtsum, noting that

God as omnipresent and omnipotent was everywhere. He filled the universe with his Being. How then could the creation come about? … God had to create by withdrawal; He created the not-Him, the other, by self-concentration … On the human level, withdrawal of myself aids the other to come into being.

Nouwen elaborates:

when we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song and speak their own language without fear. Then our presence is no longer threatening and demanding but inviting and liberating.

The liberation of saying ‘No’

It may be that vice, depravity, and crime are nearly always, or perhaps even always, in their essence, attempts to eat beauty, to eat what we should only look at.

Thus Simone Weil in Waiting for God. Quoting Weil in an interview with The Other Journal, Barbara Brown Taylor comments:

To learn to look at things instead of devouring them is to discover how quickly the feeling of deprivation can turn to liberation instead. Every time I say no – to more stuff, more speed, more activity, more food – this great big space opens up in my life. … If the church is meant to embody an alternative way of life, then what better witness could there be than a community that decided to live on less in order to live more richly? That sounds like the kind of truth that could make people free.

Perfect rest is an art

Some quotes from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s wonderful and inspiring book The Sabbath, first published in 1951:

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.

Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness, they are a threat to our very lives.

Commenting on the sanctification of time, Heschel notes:

Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.

Six days a week we wrestle with the world, … on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.

… perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind and imagination.

… the Sabbath is not dedicated exclusively to spiritual goals. It is a day of the soul as well as the body; comfort and pleasure are an integral part of the Sabbath observance.

The seventh day is the armistice of man’s cruel struggle for existence, a truce in all conflicts, personal and social, peace between man and man, man and nature, peace within man …. The seventh day is the exodus from tension, the liberation of man from his own muddiness, the installation of man as a sovereign in the world of time.

I found the following thought particularly remarkable:

One must abstain from toil and strain on the seventh day, even from strain in the service of God.

The Sabbath … is a profound conscious harmony of man and the world, a sympathy for all things and a participation in the spirit that unites what is below and what is above. All that is divine in the world is brought into union with God.

Heschel’s life- and creation-affirming theology is on display in these words as well:

Rabbi Shimeon’s doctrine was: There is only heaven and nothing else; but heaven contradicted him and said: There is heaven and everything else.

One must live and act as if the fate of all of time would depend on a single moment.

One good hour may be worth a lifetime; an instant of returning to God may restore what has been lost in years of escaping from him.

A double bind

Following up a friend’s recommendation, I am currently reading Barbara Glasson’s A Spirituality of Survival: Enabling a Response to Trauma and Abuse, a book that I am finding increasingly insightful, the more I am getting into it. Taking Miroslav Volf’s definition of exclusion from Exclusion and Embrace as her point of departure, Glasson rephrases this from the perspective of the victim, suggesting that:

… exclusion is being made invisible by someone who assumes superior power over us. We are rendered irrelevant and of no consequence. We are therefore pushed to the edges of … relationship to a place of silence, worthlessness and loneliness. … it can mean being owned or manipulated by someone who assumes power over us to such an extent that we lose any sense of autonomy.

Glasson describes this as ‘a double bind of silencing and isolation’, noting that victims are ‘simultaneously completely related to “the other” but also rendered totally irrelevant by “the other”.

Regardless of the motives of the abuser, a victim experiences this double bind of exclusion; this is why it renders them feeling unable to make easy changes. Whatever choice they make, they will be compounded in one cycle or another, of isolation or of ridicule, rendering them simultaneously more dependent and more isolated.

She adds:

In order to not be a victim of either oppression or invisibility … the structures of power [need to be reversed] in such a way that boundaries become liberating rather than controlling.

And she suggests:

The abused person is unable to unbind herself from the knot of victimization without the solidarity of others. These “others in solidarity” need to be prepared to enter into the bind and release it on behalf of the victim. Victims rarely move out of the cycles of abuse on their own but rather need the support, insight and understanding of those who “stand in solidarity”.

We liberate a man

I have found Walter Wink’s brief little book on non-violence a thought-provoking read. He makes it quite clear that non-violence does not imply passive acceptance of an inhumane situation. Here’s an example of what non-violence does not mean:

How many a battered wife has been counseled, on the strength of a legalistic reading of [Matthew 5:38-41], to ‘turn the other cheek,’ when what she needs, according to the spirit of Jesus’ words, is to find a way to restore her own dignity and end the vicious circle of humiliation, guilt, and bruising. She needs to assert some sort of control in the situation and force her husband to regard her as an equal, or get out of the relationship altogether. The victim needs to recover her self-worth and seize the initiative from her oppressor. And he needs to be helped to overcome his violence.

(From Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way)

The last point ties in with Margaret Mead’s comment that ‘every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man’ (quoted in Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach [eds], Fifty Shades of Feminism). How true!