Living on Bridges: Dialoguing on Peace, Cultural Violence, Education, Art
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 19 Aug 2019
“Life can certainly throw us some hardballs, that’s for sure! But that is the thing about life—unfathomable, mysterious, beautiful and ugly all on one plate, one sitting, one incarnation.”
— Antonio C. S. Rosa
“Nous somme comme des nains juche sur des epaules de geants [les Anciens]”.
— Bernard de Chartres
“If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
GC (Gary Corseri) to PV (Pilar Viviente): Beginning an email exchange…. About her photo of a tower, seagulls and sunrise: Beautiful picture, Pilar! Thanks for sending…. We build our soaring monuments that rise from the shadows, above the reflective sea, reaching towards an unknown Heaven…while the spirits of those who inspire us soar through the azure sky.
PV: Ay! Cuídate del polvo del pasado que arrastran las transiciones, ese polvo tóxico para los humanos llamado deshumanización, con graves repercusiones sociales y políticas.
GC: I agree: let us beware “of the dust of the past…that toxic dust” of prejudices, false idols, misinformation—which can “dehumanize” and blind us to the promises and challenges of the future. Let us also look to the best from the past, learn how challenges were wisely met—so that we may gain wisdom and courage to meet the many challenges that face us in this new millennium. As Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
PV: “Look to the best from the past…and learn”—yes! I always tell my students: Read the Classics. And, I teach them this quote from Bernard de Chartres of the XII Century: “Los modernos son enanos encaramados en las espaldas de gigantes.”
GC: Thanks! One good thing about our times, thanks to Google I can get a quick translation! (I’ll quote that in the original French, too….) Newton said something similar: “If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
PV: It’s all poetry! Poetry nourishes the Arts, and the Arts can nourish life! Culture means cultivating; cultivating in peace and harmony, improving our capabilities and bringing out the best in us. Humans are not barbarians, even though sometimes it seems so….
GC: Agree: “Humans are not barbarians…though sometimes it seems so.” All babies are born innocent, and we must wonder what forces in their families, communities or nations shape them? Hitler, Stalin, Charles Manson were all babies once, and we wonder: what shaped them into monsters? … Great artists and great minds have probed such questions for millennia: Euripides, Voltaire, Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Miller, Gandhi, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, et al. I write this as another “mass shooting”–in El Paso, Texas–unfolds before the television cameras…. We live in a world of general neurosis and specific psychoses. We must sound the alarms…and work for resolutions that can heal….
PV: Another mass shooting?! Haven’t watched the news yet. So sad. 😢…. I totally agree: “We live in a world of general neurosis and specific psychoses.” I have sounded the alarm from a long time ago….
Working for “resolutions that can heal” is to institutionalize policies of respect in schools, from kindergarten to university. Unfortunately, teachers themselves often contribute to the problem to the extent that they are also victims of the diseased system. Violence is first psychological and only then becomes physical. The lack of dialogue that confronts our problems (from an historical and psychological perspective), rather than escaping our problems—by assuming as normal what is aberrant, discriminatory and unjust–is already indirect violence, cultural violence.
What is institutionalized by the force of custom is no guarantor that it is the right thing to do. Nor is democratic voting useful in these circumstances.
GC: I take your point: “The lack of dialogue that confronts our problems (from an historical and psychological perspective), rather than escaping our problems—by assuming as normal what is aberrant, discriminatory and unjust, is already indirect violence.”
That’s my approach, too. My appreciation of drama goes back to Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides (and Aristotle as a commentator of such), Shakespeare…. Our contemporary cultures often lack real depth. Contemporary media and academic institutions lack objectivity. Discourse and dialogue are not favored, but asserting “favored” positions is. Most people don’t read and honor the classics any more. And thus we repeat old mistakes again and again.
I have often wondered: How can we have “democracy” where the people are so poorly informed? George Orwell said, “Whoever controls the information controls the imagination.” Our educational system, our mass-and-social media, control our information and imagination….
PV: If you want to change things, Ethics have to become a matter of compulsory education for the whole population. It should be legislated that those who act unethically—just thinking about their own benefits without worrying about the bad examples they set for students—should be penalized…. To say it in your words (according to your comment at the InSEA site): “Let’s not impose our own biases on the younger generation. Help them to develop their own logical faculties. The best leaders teach us how to lead ourselves!”
GC: Thanks for your insights…. I would add this now: “The best leaders teach us how to lead ourselves…with wisdom and courage.” I agree with you: “If you want to change things, Ethics has to become a matter of compulsory education….” A major problem in our modern world is the decline or absence of teaching ethics/moral values within the family or the religious community. When I was a child, I watched the disintegration of the extended family—as people moved away, or just gave up on traditional values, meeting for holidays or special occasions. More and more, TV seemed to fill in too many gaps—TV and cinema illusions filled in for the absence of flesh-and-blood relatives, teachers, pastors, rabbis, et.al. As I grew older, I watched the disintegration of the nuclear family—as “divorce” (almost a verboten word in my childhood) became more and more common—not just in Hollywood, but everywhere.
“Mass education” has taken over our educational institutions—from first grade thru university, and it’s pretty much a question of “technical” education—how best to “fit into” the corporate-state structure. “Mass media” has usurped much of the value systems that used to be propagated by schools and communities; and, I fear, “social media” will prove to be an even greater threat to human equilibrium, sensibility and peace.
PV: Right about “mass education” and “mass media” usurping our value systems. About “social media,” I would say: Nothing (or should I say, “too late”?) to “fear.” It’s a fact. “Social media” has already proved to be “an even greater threat to human equilibrium, sensibility and peace.” The effect is dehumanization.
The mass media contribute to our “rootlessness.” That is why I quote 12th Century Neo-Platonist philosopher, Bernard de Chartres to all my classes at the university—first with the short quote you have at the beginning here; and then the rest of his statement:
“We [Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients], and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter. And this is not at all because of the acuteness of our sight or the stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of the giants.”
GC: We’re in murky and dangerous waters…. I agree: we must know the root-causes of our problems, and try to understand the “wisdom of the ages.” We get lost in the passing parade and the momentary excitement, noise and the cascade of images. Wise words, such as Bernard’s can call us back, remind us: health in our roots nourishes health in our limbs and blossoms. One of my favorite definitions of poetry is from Robert Frost, who called it, “a momentary stay against confusion.” The best of the Arts returns us to our senses.
PV: I remember now that this is about where we were when you began the interview at my studio in Spain: How social media is framing the world for the younger generations…. Feel free to add any comments here from that Interview notes… 📝👍😘
GC: Good! Then, this “dialogue” becomes a kind of pastiche, knitting new internet technology with the older tech of a tape recorder! I like that better. There can be more dynamism in a good dialogue. What do you think? I can start working on the above and send it to you, and you can feel free to add anything you want from your “peace” publications at Socialist Factor, etc. (BTW, I’d like to incorporate the picture of the shadowy tower, the sea, and the contrails of the jet. We should credit the photographer. Is that your picture?) 🙏🍒
PV: Yes, it’s my picture. Include it, if you like. I just added the photo credits…. I took it at 5:23 A.M., from my cute, little humble studio in Venice where I stayed for a few days during an exhibition of my “Rodetes” paintings in Italy. Every day there, I took pictures from sunrise to dawn. The seagulls over the Adriatic would wake me up! There’s no better watch than the natural!
GC: Thanks! Glad to know it’s your picture (you’re a fine photographer, too!). Glad, too, to know that a dialogue format will work for you…. Can you send me whatever additional material you wish via e-mail? (I feel more certain about “privacy” exchanges via e-mail.) Feeling very good about this now. Natural, evolving development….
OK, I’m back. I just spent about 2.5 hours listening to the interview tape. First time I tried listening, soon after my return, it was hard. I was tired, and you talk and think so fast! (You’re a wonder!). This time, I slowed the tape considerably–missed your usual, normal voice–but was able to transcribe much of what we were saying…. To continue then; a few weeks ago, during the interview, I asked you:
“Right now, the world seems much divided, especially in the USA…. We have all these arguments about Trump-this and Trump-that—how terrible he is…. A year ago, there was the threat of war with North Korea; that has faded somewhat, and we hear talk of war with Iran. I wonder: What is the role of the artist in such a quickly changing world? How can the artist preserve, honor and promote eternal values?”
PV: I think there are more artists working for peace now than ever before. Modern technology makes it easier for the peace-makers to unite, to work together.
GC: You talk about the advantages of modern technology; you write about such in magazines like Socialist Factor and at the InSEA website. Yes, the world is shrinking, we can build more bridges…but many people see dangers in modern tech because of the pace—the rapidity of thinking, of change. Do you see dangers in modern technology in terms of dividing people? In terms of confusion?
PV: That’s the right question! It’s a painful situation. That’s the cause of our lack of peace—basically, because misunderstandings have been created and propagated. Without misunderstanding, we would not have a lack of peace. Because, naturally, human beings, as animals, seek peace—to be comfortable…. Politicians and economists talk about the good things about technology in communications and telecommunications—so good, so efficient, so practical…for “building bridges” and making things cheaper!
But, there’s another side…in terms of the Humanities, our humanity, our social sensibility. So, tech grows very fast, but human understanding and assimilation grows too slowly. Collapse comes when the assimilation is not conforming to the way the global economy [i.e., “globalization,” “global markets”] is running. Tech grows faster than human consciousness. We are already living on bridges…and the great challenge of the 21st Century is to be conscious of these bridges, to contribute to these bridges, to amplify the human areas of the bridges…. Because, economically, we are going very fast with the global market…and multinationals [i.e., multinational corporations] are running the whole world.
Societies change more quickly now because the educational systems are not adapted to the realities of these times. Educational systems are slower, ritualized. And the market place adapts faster…. Policy changes in education have to go through committees, various organizations—even the Courts or Congress! So, what happens? The market place adapts faster to changes in society—even manipulates and controls such changes—while education…which is the only way to best prepare society for the future and develop human values…education lags behind technological and economic changes…until such time as Art and cultural projects supply the underpinnings to help us break through, to help us break out, and be free.
GC: Wow! You talk and you think fast and deep! I like your phrase, “Living on Bridges.” Since childhood, I’ve heard the phrase, “building bridges.” You suggest that we’ve built a lot of bridges—our technology has helped us to build more and more—but we really haven’t learned how to live upon those bridges. And that’s a great challenge for our modern Artists. And what you say about Art and cultural projects supplying the “underpinnings”—traditions, background, inspiration—to “break through…break out…be free” reminds me of something Voltaire said: “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”
I’d like to home in on modern education and the Arts. Yes, modern tech can lead us through a labyrinth, lead us right to the clutches of the devouring monster. But, I worry about modern education, too. As you say, it’s very slow, too slow to adapt. Also, it neglects context; it doesn’t teach the Arts, or if it does, it doesn’t teach Art History. It may focus on a particular artist in a particular time, a particular kind of art, but it doesn’t teach the broad spectrum. How can the Arts be focused to help people think better, develop dimensionality—help individuals and society to go forward, to blossom, expand and transcend?
PV: Big questions! I think we have covered some of that ground here. As Bernard of Chartres and other sages counseled: we need to re-think, re-consider, know our roots, study, pay homage, observe carefully.
Since 1997, I’ve been connected to, working with, InSEA—the International Society for Education through Art—a non-profit whose purpose is to encourage and advance creative education through Art. And, to promote international education through Art. Founded in 1947, InSEA’s mission has been to develop peace and understanding between the countries involved in the Second World War. InSEA holds regular regional Congresses each year on each continent and a Worldwide Congress every five years. You can look it up….
So, to answer your question: Get involved! Get informed! Explore and respect one’s own creativity and those of others who live on the bridges with us!
GC: Thank you, Pilar. Much to investigate, much to think about and feel our way through. Thank you for your light.
Pilar Viviente is a “Mixed Media Artist, Visual Artist, Pianist/Composer, Author/Editor,” and a Professor at the Universidad Miguel Hernandez de Elche, Spain.
Poet-dramatist-fictionist-journalist-editor-professor Gary Corseri has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library.
Tags: Conflict Transformation, Culture, Education for Peace, History, Literature, Nonviolence, Peace, Poetry, Politics, Solutions, arts, cultural violence
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Aug 2019.
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