Translating the Invisible Wind – Part Ten

by Geoff Hall on July 8, 2010

A response to despair – the language of lament 

Brueggemann – the language of lament is powerful
“The task of the prophetic imagination…is to cut through the despair and to penetrate the dissatisfied coping that seems to have no end or resolution.” (Walter Brueggemann, ‘The Prophetic Imagination’, Fortress Press. 2001, p63)

Whilst Brueggemann writes mainly about the ‘word’ of the prophet, it limits a truly cultural response to one medium, it limits the prophetic imagination.  As a counter to this, remember the performance art of Ezekiel!!  (What we don’t have time to do here is realign the prophetic imagination to the various media in visual and performance arts.)  Brueggemann also writes about offering symbols to penetrate the despair.  As an aspiring filmmaker, my aim is not to provide the viewer with new symbols of hope and transformation, but to enable them to perceive things metaphorically.  Krzysztof Kieslowski said, ‘I don’t film metaphors.  People only read them as metaphors…That’s what I want.’   Another slant on ‘film as visual metaphor’ is found with Andrei Tarkovsky.

“I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically.  A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image.  An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents.  An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite.”  (In, ‘Andrei Tarkovsky Interviews’.  Edited by John Gianvito.  University Press of Mississippi, p86)

Put away the formula milk of the symbol and turn to the meat of the metaphor, or if you are a vegetarian, the Quorn of the metaphor!
Changing Perception cannot be achieved by prescriptive measures; hope reduced to a symbol, knowledge limited to a didactic method.  We have put our faith in the logic of the Word, an intellectual formula and not the Word Incarnate.  The letter kills, the symbol withers, but the Spirit animates, transforms; breathes life, everyday.  As McLuhan has pointed out, God as a concept is dead.  We need to return to the God of Creation, the animator who attracts our attention through the percept, the metaphor, the vision of life which rejects the status quo and challenges us through the prophetic imagination of the artist.
This is the age of despair and dissatisfied coping.  If our art does not address this condition, it is impotent, self-infatuated.  Here’s Brueggemann again,

“I believe that grief and mourning [the language of lament], that crying in pathos is the ultimate form of criticism, for it announces the sure end of [the status quo, the dominant consciousness].”  (Op. cit. p.46)

This is an uncomfortable art, not a palliative for pain, nor a panacea for pathos.  The artist is to embrace pathos, communicating with those who have been injured, marginalised in society; the have-nots who cry out for redemption, for justice, for a new way of life to be born in their day.  The vision offered by the artist should embrace those discarded by the affluent, by static religion and by political oppression and should show a different world is possible.  This is not feasible if we are complicit with contemporary art’s experimentations with navel lint; the propaganda of despair, the concept of ready-made sophistry.
In Part Eleven, we’ll look at the Art of Perception.

‘We only can know the ‘actual’ by contrasting it or likening it to the ‘imaginable’.  (Hayden White, ‘The Tropics of Discourse’, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. p98.)

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