zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







about zing


8 poets making it new
generation z
lutwidge finch
the back of beyond

It is this same provincial mindset that reflexively brands any art as
obscene or threatening when said art refuses its commodity status
by challenging the socio-cultural values of the alpha culture
set. But no one can be innoculated against new ideas, and transgression
is precisely what the best art gives back to us; not the superficial
transgression of advertising, but a deeper sort of inquiry, and
an unvarnished reflection of who we are. In a culture devoid of
critical reasoning, the most transgressive act is a good question,
and it is such questions that so unnerve the frightened ministers
of culture that would protect the innocent public. Art happens,
of course, oblivious to such dainty shadings as these. (There
are those who feel that anyone stupid enough to do the things
that warning labels caution against deserve to be excised from
the gene pool anyway, a pragmatic social Darwinism to weed out
those less fit. However, brief reflection should tell us that
the individuals who need to see the warning labels are, by nature,
the least likely to slow down enough to read such minutiae.) So
we lurch forward, with the welter of warning labels conjuring
a cultural drama in which we are witting participants and victims,
and casting lawyers in the role of deva-protectors, the masters
and mistresses of incantations juris and obscure that alone can
absolve us of responsibility, or wield our offended state as bluntly
as a spiked mace over the heads of those who have wronged us.
Indeed, the warning label is a symbol of a futile hope, a naive
aspiration, that somehow, somewhere, life can be made fair. Reason
has primacy over passion (the better to mitigate you, my dear)
in the name of sublimation. Here is our rational nature's disclaimer
to the passionate self: Don't say I didn't warn you! But life
cannot be made risk-free, and it is worse than fantasy to believe
otherwise. If the absorption and transmittal of such survival-level
knowledge no longer occurs on a person-to-person basis (how many
people who actually buy a chainsaw have never used one before?
Or will have never been told or shown that stopping the blades
with one's hand is not a good thing? Please!), but has instead
become relegated to precautionary labels affixed to machines,
then we have precious little time left as a species, indeed.