Fighting Spirit and Communication Trash / Freddy Fjellheim

/ Hilde Honerud, from the Exhibition “It is a Light Which Objectifies Everything and Confirms Nothing”, 2019. Foto: Øystein Thorvaldsen

“An international environmental action for the public sphere of expressions is required.”

Where and how will authors and artists express themselves during the life-threatening nature upheavals? The journal Vinduet recently interviewed some authors under the title “Norwegian literature today.” A couple of them questioned whether authors should speak out in public debates. Not a word was mentioned of the climate exacerbations. Was it the journal or the authors that left the impression of an understanding of literature that is out of touch with reality?

Discussions are ongoing in several countries. Authors are called for in the public conversation, or in what is left of it. Maybe the authors simply must learn how to write and express themselves in an environmentally damaged media-sphere. History will judge us if we continue to employ the purely literary, without reflecting on the threats against our whole future as humans and writers.

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Yes, what kind of knowledge can authors contribute with? Are we good enough to ask questions? Do we know anything else than writing?

Authors participate in a pre-political community with a myriad of knowledges, forms of expressions, and human experiences. Our time’s professional politicians do not express such experiences any longer. They have chosen the communications consultants’ sordid attire. But where the politicians have disappeared into a hollow professionalism, there has occurred a public free space for popular and literary utterances. Fill it!

Historically, an article signed by well-known authors could change a paper and web edition from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Media houses’ boards and administrations could, in turn, contribute to the public sphere by paying freelancers on par with the journalists.

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When the media public becomes so journalistically monotone that we only recognise ourselves as opinion consumerists, will the freedom of speech then wither away from the inside? The blog inferno exists not only as zones of noise on the web; it flickers on the retinas of increasing numbers of sleepwalkers.

Communication trash is just as widespread as plastic pollution in the ocean.

Communication trash is just as widespread as plastic pollution in the ocean. The trash is spread by presidents and populist politicians, and from reclusive mentalities in private self-references, everyone hiding behind their slightly flickering blue screens.

Who else than knowledgeable and daring writers can address such a littered public sphere? Some here would prefer to wash their hands, but such hand movements indicate a complete lack of spine.

An international environmental action for the public sphere of expressions is required. Awakened writers will then get the chance to sign up for service, by fighting for human dignity as nature collapses – and by renouncing the unambiguous forms of dystopia.

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The “climate issue” is no longer about climate. The ecological crises in nature and mentality lead to a new humanistic rallying cause the world never has seen. We will learn how to see the refugee with new eyes. Especially the children, who will inherit the earth! We are already reading about fellow human beings who are forced away from their homes because local ecosystems have reached a tipping point.

Again, it is the fleeing children we then must have our eyes on. Children in refugee camps play together, even when they cry. A greater declaration for hope than play is hard to imagine. We have no right to fail children who so strongly hope for a better life.

What do we experience within ourselves when we see small children play? What happens when we as adults let go of the rigid control mechanisms and let ourselves get lost in the game?

Talking about games when people flee and suffer in an inhumane way can feel both tactless and absurd. But those who have seen the photographs of Hilde Honerud will understand something neither philosophers, artists, or literates can present, without making a radical perceptual choice. Honerud has travelled to refugee camps and documented many of the daily life situations we rarely associate with humans in distress – amongst other things, we see children play. The photographs and her lighting humanize the refugee. Our recognition becomes instantaneous and interrogative, in a different way than when we see the refugees’ suffering and unimaginable tragedies.

Is Tellus itself about to dissolve old nations and unite humans into one humanity? Will it be the forces of nature that annihilate capitalism?

We must see both, but Honerud’s photographs can revitalize the inner pictures we all carry in our hearts: the friendly images that lift us up to the brain’s bridge span, corpus callosum, and lets our intrinsic tendencies to false contradictions go. Such non-dualism is much more than its conceptual denial, because it combines the experiences of inequalities with an understanding of dissimilarities. In the example with the photographs, the combination arises by seeing both suffering and play in parallel, so that the artist in us can learn to recognize the playful forces’ struggle to alleviate suffering, and at the same time, the affliction’s profound worldview that blatantly awaits play’s bluntness. As Arne Næss showed, play is civilizing because it equates different people in a similarity that is not uniform, but diverse and expanding, risky and full of possibilities.

/ Hilde Honerud, from the Exhibition “It is a Light Which Objectifies Everything and Confirms Nothing”, 2019. Foto: Øystein Thorvaldsen

 

If authors and artists become pillars of salt in the field of aesthetics, vegetate in the safe “disciplinary communities” where disagreement is only social pastime, and slumber in inner categories that obey the human of competition and oppress the “homo reciprocans” (the human of reciprocity) then art and literature are on the right track to become politics in a cultural sense. This is to say, a part of the existing, a resourceful or brilliant exercise of oeuvre and mastery, blinded in a competition-drugged sensory apparatus, subjected to a pale and prosaic will to succeed.

It is this passive artistic art that is damaged by politics, not the art that is active in its heart and political in its action. An archaeologist researching collapses of civilizations, Chris Begley, predicts the future as follows: “kindness and fairness will be more valuable than any survival skill.”

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Political literature and literary politics: someone must stand ready with willing hands and offer civil society’s earthbound perspectives. Fleeing children and families remind us that human injustice knows no borders. The same applies to environment and climate. Thus, the climate crisis becomes first and foremost a question of how we meet one another as fellow human beings, crossing borders.
            Is Tellus itself about to dissolve old nations and unite humans into one humanity? Will it be the forces of nature that annihilate capitalism? How are we going to discover the countless possibilities for a just world and a more respectful community between humans and nature if not by respecting and loving one another’s inequalities? The transition period can be violent and painful, and we know by historical experience.
            If the eloquent do not stand up for the poor, the sick, and other minorities in times where populism is ravaging, barbarism will wreck us in its divisive chaos.

Young people like Greta Thunberg, Kelsey Juliana, and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez are signs of the popular will power “that creates the world” (Boye 2015). More and more are whirling into such community action now. The ways of speaking follow. [ii] The time has come for authors and artists to participate in this clean-up of the public sphere of expressions.

The Norwegian Writer’s Climate Campaign has for a long time predicted that authors would integrate the climate crisis into their books. Increasingly, more prose writers are doing so. The poets, the non-fiction writers, and the artists have tried for some time. A new literature is under way, not yet recognisable as literature. But to escape from the populist media sphere and hide in literary fictions is and remains a dangerous form of casualty. 

Since the start of the Norwegian Writer’s Climate Campaign, our webpage has contributed to giving the refugee increasing attention. Our hope is that more authors pick up this gauntlet, such as Hilde Hagerup and Line Baugstø in Norway, Jonas Eika in Denmark, and Gunnar Wærness in the poetry book “Friends with everybody” (2018):

 

we who only want to forget        wave to the boat

it baptized us to          the bereaved

we who flag with a plastic bag

boats give us little comfort

the boat says         I can give you the ocean

we do not want an ocean

we want a country

 

 

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[i] A shorter version of this essay has been published on Forfatternesklimaaksjon.no in Norwegian.

[ii] “…if people see a norm not as in place but as emerging, then they are inspired to join, partly because then they feel freed, but partly because they might not know what they think but they want to be on the right side of history. For activists to say, ‘increasing numbers of people are,’ is smart.” / Prof. Cass Sunstein, 80000hours.org (Wiblin & Harris 2019).

 

Bibliography:
Boye, Kari. 2015. “YES, OF COURSE IT HURTS.” Accessed November 1, 2019.

     http://karinboye.se/verk/dikter/dikter-mcduff/of-course-it-hurts.shtml.

Wærness, Gunnar. 2018. Venn med alle. Oslo: Oktober.

Wiblin, Robert & Harris, Kerin. 2019. “Prof Cass Sunstein on how social change

happens, and why it’s so often abrupt & unpredictable.”Accessed November 1,

  1. https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/cass-sunstein-how-change-happens/.

 

Hilde Honerud, born in 1977. Photographer og Associate professor of Photography and Media Skills, University of South-Eastern Norway. Lives and works in Kongsberg, Norway. Honerud’s work feels like journalism, apparently delivered as a documentary, but her motifs are far from classic catastrophe photojournalism. Honerud has participated in a series of exhibitions home and abroad. In the year to come, NWCC will show several of her pictures from the Moria-camp in Greece.

 

Freddy Fjellheim, born 1957. Author of seventeen books, editor and literary critic. His works are characterized by a widespread experimentation and integration of different literary forms: poetry, prose and essays. He is an outspoken participant in current debates about literature, science and religion, and his essays and articles are widely published. Fjellheim is founder and Artistic leader of the festival “Poesi i Grenseland” and editor and founder of Norwegian Writers´ Climate Campaign and their website.

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This essay was translated from Norwegian into English by Kathleen Rani Hagen. It appears in the periodical Tvergastein #14-2020.

 

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