After a talk on the collapse of complex societies, Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges answers an audience question: “Will it take [literature, music and art] to waken us to the empathy of other suffering or hardship?”
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Peter Z. Scheer: You spoke a lot during your speech about literature and someone asked is it literature, art, music; will it take those things to waken us to the empathy of other suffering or hardship? Are those, what’s the role of literature, art and music?
Chris Hedges: Well, the role of art is transcendence. It’s about dealing with what we call the nonrational forces in human life, those forces that are absolutely essential to being whole as a human being but are not quantifiable. Not empirically measureable. Grief, beauty, the struggle with our own mortality, the search for meaning, love—Freud said he could write about sex, he could never write about love—and that’s only going to come through art. I mean, I don’t think it’s accidental that the origins of all religions are always fused with art, with poetry, with music. Because you’re dealing with a transcendence or a reality that is beyond articulation. And for those of us who seek to rise up against this monstrous evil, culture is going to be as important as the more prosaic elements of resistance such as a food tent, or a medical tent or a communications tent.
I saw that in revolutionary movements I covered in Latin America. And that has just been true throughout history. African-Americans endured the nightmare of slavery through music. And because it’s a kind of, it’s a paradox when you sink to that level of powerlessness where it is you go to find power.
And the great religious writers, the great philosophers, the great artists, the great novelists, the great musicians, dancers, that’s what they struggle to honor and to sustain. And we, who are in essence when we really talk about it, engaged in a spiritual battle against forces of death, corporate forces are forces of death. We are fighting for life and we are going to need those transcendent disciplines that remind us of who we are, why we’re struggling, and what life finally is about.