. . . tonight the moon is so round!
Don't go past me, my friend— shout! and I'll come around!
I was just admiring, up there, your eyes' blue sheen,
when it clouded over, and up in that machine
the bombs are aching to dive. Despite them, I am alive
My definition of the "documentary arts" is broadly inclusive, as evidenced in the mission state on this page; it's meant to embrace all art that bears witness to the struggle, striving, and triumph of the human spirit. Bearing witness in this sense is no passive, legalistic stance. It demands an active engagement with the world and, perhaps more deeply, a committed relationship to soul. As Forché writes in the introduction to her book, witnessing art "will have to be judged . . . by its consequences." Among the consequences must include art's ability to advocate for life, to stand on the side of compassion, generosity, care; in short, to love. As a position, this is not at all simple or easy. The instinct of a great many artists who fall loosely under the heading "documentary" is, I observe, not toward love as much as justice. I once asked the poet Hayden Carruth which of those two imperatives was "more important"; he declared in favor of justice, since justice implied love. I'm not entirely sure I agree with his choice, but the logical equation is not at all straight-forward: all love may encompass justice, but too few things that pose as "justice" can be said to espouse love. Indeed, the concept of justice is commonly defined according to the duality of good and evil, a useful dichotomy if one is in need of enemies or dominion, but not one that accommodates grace. Grace, simply put, is treating others not necessarily as they "deserve," but as love requires — as fellow travelers on a divine journey. This is a radical notion, one that runs counter to logic and experience, yet it seems to me just where we can situate Radnóti, and where the artists I most admire reside. This does not mean I take no interest in art that seeks to expose injustice or address suffering. Far from it. That is also an act of witness. Yet I have long believed, and maintain more strongly now than ever, that art's greatest power is not as a mirror, but as a torch, beacon, guide, path — whatever metaphor works for you — to higher consciousness. Art elevates humanity not so much via the enlightenment of argument and evidence as through the illumination of the soul's mysteries and wisdoms.
|The audience during the Q&A|
Poetry excerpts from "Forced March" and "Letter to My Wife," translated by Emery George, from Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forché.