On Art and War and Terror

On Art and War and Terror

On Art and War and Terror

On Art and War and Terror

Synopsis

A collection of Alex Danchev's essays on the theme of art, war, and terror, this book offers a sustained demonstration of the way in which works of art can help us explore the most difficult ethical and political issues of our time: war, terror, extermination, torture, and abuse. The volume takes seriously the idea of the artist as moral witness to this realm, considering war photography, for example, as a form of humanitarian intervention. Contributors also consider war poetry, war films, and war diaries in a broad view of art and war. Kafka is drawn upon to address torture and abuse in the war on terror; Homer is utilized to critique current talk of "barbarisatio;." the paintings of Gerhard Richter are used to investigate the terrorists of the Baader-Meinhof group; and the photographs of Don McCullin and the writings of Vassily Grossman and Primo Levi allow one writer to propose an ethics of small acts of altruism. The collection examines the nature of conflict over the last century, from the Great War to the current "Global War on Terror," investigating what it means to be human in war, the nature of the costs exacted, and ways of coping. Several of these essays therefore have a biographical focus.

Excerpt

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

Seamus Heaney

‘The imaginative transformation of human life is the means by which we can most truly grasp and comprehend it.’ That will do, I think, as credo and manifesto for this book. The words are Seamus Heaney’s. ‘Whatever is given,’ he writes in his own idiom, ‘can always be reimagined, however four-square, / Plank-thick, hull-stupid and out of its time / It happens to be.’ The words come from ruminations on what he calls the redress of poetry: the notion that poetry – art – can function as a kind of moral spirit level, an agent of equilibration, ‘an upright, resistant, and self-bracing entity within the general flux and flex’.

That is an inspiring notion. Walt Whitman proclaimed something similar:

Of these States the poet is the equable man,
Not in him but off from him things are grotesque, eccentric, fail
of their full returns,

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