Left vs Right Pt CCLXI

by Kieran Healy on September 28, 2005

Via “Volokh”:http://www.volokh.com/posts/1127939808.shtml we come across the latest in a “long”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000426.html “line”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000404.html#000404 of nonsense about whether the left or the right has a monopoly on virtue _x_ or vice _y_. (Surely that should be vice _x_. Never mind.) This time it’s “Ann Althouse”:http://althouse.blogspot.com/2005/09/so-what-exactly-did-scorsese-do.html#112792822975605103 chancing her arm:

bq. To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.

To which one can only say, piffle. In point of fact, _exactly the opposite_ is the case. It’s obvious that to be a great artist is inherently _left_ wing. And why? Because although a great artist like Mozart or Pollock may have some superficial right-wing things to say about their purely individual genius and how they want to forge in the smithy of their soul the uncreated conscience of their race, underneath, where it counts, there is a goddamn parasite constantly sponging off of friends with real jobs and looking for handouts from the Emperor Joseph II, Peggy Guggenheim, the local Arts Council or what have you. QED.

No Compassion

by Henry Farrell on September 28, 2005

My friend, Jim Johnson, who teaches political theory at Rochester, has just started a fascinating new blog. “Politics, Theory and Photography”:http://politicstheoryphotography.blogspot.com/ aims, as its title suggests, to explore the intersection between political theory and photography. Jim has a particular take on this, which springs from a vigorous disagreement with Susan Sontag and others who write about photography as a means towards creating compassion between the subject of the photograph and the person looking at it. He thinks compassion is a bad idea.

bq. compassion, as Hannah Arendt rightly notes, is de-politicizing and I think it is a major mistake to identify the aim of documentary photography as eliciting compassion in viewers. How is compassion de-politicizing? Two ways. First, insofar as it demands that we identify with the suffering of some other, compassion collapses the space for argument which is a basic medium of politics. Second, compassion focuses resolutely on individual suffering and so cannot generalize to the large numbers of people who are subject to war, famine, dislocation and so forth. What photographs might more properly aim for is establishing solidarity. But that would require rethinking many of the conventions of documentary practice.

Jim has written a “long paper”:http://www.henryfarrell.net/jim/compassion2.pdf on this topic, but he’s using the blog to do things that would be difficult or impossible to do in a conventional academic article. The blog mixes together photographs and commentary so that his claims and arguments don’t just emerge abstractly from argument with other writers, but concretely, in dialogue with the work of real photographers. It’s a really nice example of the new uses to which blogging can be put.