Thursday, December 11, 2008

Relatively Speaking, Part the Second

Off of what I said last night, I would like to add simpler terms.

If the only way we can deal with monstrosity is to dehumanize it, we're fucked.

That's why I have such vociferous objections to the views voiced by Manohla Dargis and Anthony Lane. They seem to have a paralyzing fear that if we view a Nazi as human, we'll forget she's a Nazi, and then where O where will we be? The same problem has sneaked in to Dexter over the last season and change: first it was a show that explored a monster as a human being—a sociopathic human being, but a human being—but slowly it has devolved into dismissing every serial murderer besides Dexter (Lila, say, or Miguel, people who started as deeply compelling characters) as an irretrievable monster, and as soon as we recognize *their* monstrosity we're not supposed to be invested anymore. It's a stupid annoying double standard, and beyond that it's counterproductive.

Why counterproductive? Because monstrosity *is* among us, every day, and those of us capable of love—still the majority—like as not will have some loving relationship with monstrosity. Good art should be willing to look that in the face. In fact, I'd go so far as to say art about monstrosity, and honestly art about Nazis in particular, has a *responsibility* not to dehumanize monstrosity, because we go in with the assumption that monstrosity isn't human, and good art needs to be challenging that assumption. So does good thought, for that matter; that's what Hannah Arendt was talking about in Eichmann in Jerusalem. The "banality of evil" is that monstrosity *is* human, and that's really what's scariest about it. It's too easy when we can dismiss it as some horrific outlier to humanity.

We accepted with relative ease the "few bad apples" idea of Abu Ghraib because we couldn't stand to think that that kind of behavior was endorsed by those who supposedly represented us. In The Last King of Scotland, Nicholas couldn't think he was attached to violence and monstrosity until one act was made to confront him personally, and then he had to acknowledge both monstrosities: that he had been interacting with, and that he had become.

Lucas mentioned last night that Foucault names a similar process "speciation": the notion that the criminal, and the murderer in particular, is a separate species from the rest of us. It's a notion that Les Miserables debunks over and over, this concept that "he's a convict, what else do you need to know?"

I'm not willing to go as far as Sufjan Stevens and say that all secret lives are really morally equivalent—that's where I reject relativism—but I think that separation is foolish. That's a postulate assumption, though. As I said in the previous post, it's why I am not a moralist.

We should, we must, explore all the components of evil acts and people, even those components that aren't evil. If we can only deal with monstrosity by dehumanizing it, monstrosity will continue to come upon us in alarming doses, because we'll never be able to see or admit its connection to our lives. You cannot contest or fight what you do are unwilling to know, because then it will always have tricks up its sleeve to which you cannot nor will not have any access. No matter how you define evil, as an artist or an activist or a politician or whatever the hell you are, it is an egregious mistake not to take a comprehensive look.

I'm glad Kate Winslet, the love of my imaginary alternative life, played a Nazi. I am particularly glad she played a Nazi who loved and was loved by someone else, someone real and well-thought-out. The movie was not quite good enough to accomodate this conflict and contradiction, but it was good enough to get me obsessed with this line of thought.

It is not shameful or unethical to condemn evil, or even wrongdoing, but it is fucking dangerous to dismiss it. And to say that you should not try to see all sides of something *is* to dismiss it.


At 10:46 AM, Blogger Connor said...

Great couple of posts. I can't write much now on this, but I agree with your main point (of course), and in fact, most worthwhile uncharted waters lie in that space between the Sufjan Stevens song and the Anthony Lane review.


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