‘We are indeed at war’

– How do you explain the rise of antiscientific thinking and “alternative facts”?
– To have common facts, you need a common reality. This needs to be instituted in church, classes, decent journalism, peer review. … It is not about posttruth, it is about the fact that large groups of people are living in a different world with different realities, where the climate is not changing.
The second science war has at least freed us of the idea that science and technology can be separated from policy. I have always argued that they can’t be. Science has never been immune to political bias. On issues with huge policy implications, you cannot produce unbiased data. That does not mean you cannot produce good science, but scientists should explicitly state their interests, their values, and what sort of proof will make them change their mind.

– How should scientists wage this new war?
– We will have to regain some of the authority of science. That is the complete opposite from where we started doing science studies. Now, scientists have to win back respect. But the solution is the same: You need to present science as science in action. I agree that’s risky, because we make the uncertainties and controversies explicit.
The Australian public ethics professor Clive Hamilton has proposed another line of defense named “strategic essentialism”—stating that the science is indisputable for strategic reasons. This sounds reasonable, but in the long run we need a more realistic image of scientific knowledge. Also, given the state of the dispute and the current lack of confidence, we can’t just go back and state that climate change is “just a fact.”

– Isn’t it?
– No, science is more complex and messy than to understand how the climate works. It is an illusion of certainty to state that we fully understand it, a remnant of the ideal of science.

– But climate change doubters use the uncertainty strategically, too.
– That is true. But the uncertainty is no legitimate reason to block or postpone policy. And certainly, it is no reason to defund the research. That is the real crime: defunding research which might produce unwelcome results. By the way, calling it “skepticism” is an abuse of the term.

Bruno Latour, interviewed by Jop de Vrieze. In Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/10/bruno-latour-veteran-science-wars-has-new-mission


On leaving

For most of you, (assuming of course that “most of you” fall within the category which i’m addressing) it isn’t hard to see that social media of all kinds is absolutely entrenched into our daily lives. It is rooted so deeply, that it defines entire conversations, relationships, opportunities and much more. While i promise to make this not a “damn the technology!” sort of speech, i can’t promise that i don’t utter those words at some point or another during my week.
i left Instagram, and while i won’t bore you with the numbers of it all, i do know the numbers by which i was defined for the past few years, and it topped out at 605,000. Followers, a number of people, robots and businesses that “follow” me along on my journeys through sponsored posts, travel experiences, and personal relationships. In my head, i humbled myself as often as i could – not often enough truth told – but still, i drudged on through the cyclical process of, go, photograph, edit, post, observe. i could have a conversation with massive design firms and hear “We love your instagram” and a piece of me felt missing. i’d have random (and nearly always delightful) strangers come up to me to talk of how they loved my work, and a piece of me felt missing. i’d go home to my family where they would ask about my recent expeditions, and where Instagram had taken me, what i was working on, what, what, what, your, your your…
i was missing.
Though i could never have admitted it before, all the “success” drained me of my own ability to deal with the ever-growing problem: self-awareness, or the lack thereof rather. i believe ferociously that my intentions with social media has always been, well, let’s say about 60% good.
i’d write these longwinded, poorly reviewed words of hope and ‘off-the-cuff’ emotions that i was dealing with and slap it underneath a photograph i’d semi liked. This isn’t some cut at the crowds of kind people who followed and heard and really saw themselves in the truth of my work, it’s more an honest review of the darker side of what was going on while so many were clicking “like” and “follow”. While i was showcasing the tip-top, best moments of my life, i was tip-toeing around the shattered remains of my relationships (of all kinds) and pointing the blame at all of them, ever-fearful of stepping on something that may hurt me; honesty.
We have a word for honesty now, it isn’t really honesty, it’s just rebranded. We call it authenticity, or genuineness, and now these are words you can buy on tee-shirts, they come attached to people like me with glazed-over eyes to the reality of their definitions.
Authentic. If i had to honestly describe myself during the past few years, it would be: self obsessive, delusional, manipulative, cowardly, and oh does that list go on. And just before you reach into your pocket for change to throw at the beggar in the street i seem to sound like, let me tell you, these are not words of self-hate, just honest. They are not reflective of me now, thank God, all the same, we have our growth to go through.
It’s a lesson and i learned.
Now, 25, and Myspace, Tumblr and Instagram behind me, all things society would think i was ‘good’ at defined me for about 10 years. Some will tell you it’s not about the numbers, but really in this day of first world society, thats what it becomes. Actually, i’ll counter my own statement and say that social media is more about self-glorification. Ouch. Hard thing to hear, really though think about why you do it, why you Snapchat, or Instagram, or Tumblr, or Tinder, or Facebook.
I’d tell people it was about “sharing” and “i like to see what others have to think” and “well it’s fun to…” this and that and every other thing you can think of that would take me away from facing the hard truth of calling it like it is: self-glorification. Now of course, you can have a business from it, but if you’re not on there simply to make money, you’re on there to buy into it or yourself. There’s no other realistic explanation (well there might be, but i don’t know it) for why you would get on and write about or photograph yourself, it’s to see how others react. If you were doing it just for you, then you’d have no earthly reason to share it anywhere.

Christian Watson, “On leaving, Part I”. In 1924.US: https://www.1924.us/journal/onleaving

Sur l’essence de la photographie

Peu à peu, çà et là, quelques taches apparaissent, pareilles à un balbutiement d’être qui se réveille. Ces fragments se multiplient, se soudent, se complètent, et l’on ne peut s’empêcher de songer devant cette formation, d’abord discontinue, qui procède par bonds et éléments insignifiants, mais qui converge vers une composition reconnaissable, à bien des précipitations qui s’observent dans l’esprit; à des souvenirs qui se précisent; à des certitudes qui tout à coup se cristallisent; à la production de certains vers privilégiés, qui s’établissent, se dégageant brusquement du désordre du langage intérieur.

Paul  Valéry. In Mouna Mekouar, “La photographie trompe et montre qu’elle trompe”. artpress 449, 2017, p. VII-VIII.

Black Fridays

Every Friday is a Black Friday, every Christmas a more garish festival of destruction.
The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care and people who don’t. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, says those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not.
Why? Because environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes that govern our impact on the planet but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions. Those who see themselves as green consumers, the research found, mainly focused on behaviours that had “relatively small benefits”.
I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling any environmental savings a hundredfold. I’ve come to believe that the recycling licences their long-haul flights. It persuades people they’ve gone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts.
None of this means that we should not try to reduce our footprint, but we should be aware of the limits of the exercise. Our behaviour within the system cannot change the outcomes of the system. It is the system itself that needs to change.
When you hear that something makes economic sense, this means it makes the opposite of common sense. Those sensible men and women who run the world’s treasuries and central banks, who see an indefinite rise in consumption as normal and necessary, are beserkers: smashing through the wonders of the living world, destroying the prosperity of future generations to sustain a set of figures that bear ever less relation to general welfare.
Green consumerism, material decoupling, sustainable growth: all are illusions, designed to justify an economic model that is driving us to catastrophe. The current system, based on private luxury and public squalor, will immiserate us all: under this model, luxury and deprivation are one beast with two heads.
We need a different system, rooted not in economic abstractions but in physical realities, that establish the parameters by which we judge its health. We need to build a world in which growth is unnecessary, a world of private sufficiency and public luxury. And we must do it before catastrophe forces our hand.

George Monbiot, “Too right it’s Black Friday: our relentless consumption is trashing the planet”. In The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/22/black-friday-consumption-killing-planet-growth?CMP=fb_gu

Being perverse

– People often comment on the queasy or perverse nature of your photographs. Where do you think these feelings come from, and is that effect intentional?
– Yes, the struggle is to make the image active and relatable; clear but complex. Like our new reality, it has to be layered and open to paranoid interpretation.

– Where does an image start for you? In your mind, or from observation?
– It can be either. But it’s really about the in-between states. A mental image is vague and un-photographic. It needs physical bodies to be seen and expressed. On the other hand, the observed object already awakens an archetype. I’m not interested if it doesn’t.

– How do your pictures skirt their photographic duty? I’m thinking about some of the qualities your photographs share with commercial photography, how they play with the visual language of advertising.
– Instead of this continuous disappointment over our culture’s meaningless iconography, which typically leads to heartbreak and satire, I take the route of acceptance. Maybe the best way to express authenticity is through a personal and desperate investment in the broken language of popular photography.

– Do you consider your photographs impersonal?
– I don’t know how helpful these dichotomies are. The images shouldn’t need me to make sense, they shouldn’t depend on an author. At the same time, they are deeply personal — I don’t want them to only arise from or cast a critical eye on a culture — and they don’t work if viewers cannot invest their own experiences, dreams, memories or phobias in them.
I’ve inherited a strong sense of surface from postmodern photography, but the movement is inwards, towards an emerging spirituality. This can be easy to miss and I’m not forcing it on anyone.

– How does context factor into the images you make?
– In many ways, the project builds on critical appropriation, a form of art where context is everything. But gradually I’ve become conscious of the independent nature of my pictures. Or maybe they’ve grown more independent. I’m now more confident letting them appear outside of a fine art context than I was twenty years ago. But they are still very sensitive to the context of each other.

– How has living in LA — the capital of image management — affected your work, or process?
– Should I be able to tell how Los Angeles has affected me? I already knew to pretend that everything is alright.
I was never interested in revealing how an image is constructed. That is the old postmodern art. But the awareness of construction is always there. The challenge is to let a picture’s self-awareness make it a more, not less, effective image or vehicle.
The art discourse is naturally elitist, but it doesn’t have to center around itself. My photographs are for people who are stimulated by but ultimately unsatisfied with the photographic images they’re taking in through more predictable channels. Photography is ultimately too important to leave to amateurs and advertisers.

Torbjørn Rødland, interview by Christina Catherine Martinez. In CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/style/article/torbjorn-rodland-photography/index.html

É claro que é um grande romance

– E falam como?
– Falam com humor, mas também com saudade. A maior parte dos soldados eram pobres. Muitos nunca tinham tido sapatos. Uma vez, estava no Porto a apresentar um livro e apareceram. A maior parte eram do Norte. Eram dez ou 15, e fui falar com eles; não os via há que tempos. O apresentador, que era um homem conhecido, disse: “O António gosta muito das pessoas humildes.” Eu fiquei fodido e agarrei no microfone e disse: “Os meus soldados não são pessoas humildes, são príncipes, ouviu? São príncipes!”
– O que faz o charme do livro?
– Se a gente soubesse! A minha mãe dizia que o que um homem podia ter de mais sensual era a inteligência, mas depois acrescentava com desgosto: não há nada mais estúpido do que um homem inteligente. Ela tinha razão. Eu faço coisas tão estúpidas. Olhe a minha vida! Escrevo de manhã à noite.
– Um homem com uma biografia complicada.
– Quem não tem? Mas é um grande escritor. O Proust também foi um amor à primeira vista. A minha mãe era das poucas mulheres que conheci que leram o Proust inteiro. E o meu pai lia-nos muito. Quando um estava doente, adoeciam todos, e ele sentava-se na cama de um de nós e lia. Lia Flaubert, que eu achava uma chumbada. Vou-lhe dar uma imagem do Cocteau: parece-me uma preta que adormeceu no banho cheia de jóias falsas. Era assim que ele retratava Veneza. O Dante tinha 1500 palavras, o Flaubert, que toda a gente achava que tinha léxico riquíssimo, tinha 12 mil, hoje qualquer adolescente português tem 17 mil, e olhe o que escrevem! E há outros escritores, que muita gente considera menores, por exemplo Gautier [Theophile Gautier]. Uma vez levaram-no as ver As Meninas, do Velázquez, e ele ficou a olhar e depois perguntou: “Onde é que está o quadro?” Há alguma maneira mais bonita de descrever aquele quadro? Ou a reacção do Papa Inocêncio XII quando Velázquez lhe pintou o retrato, “tropo vero”. O Inocêncio quis dizer que o Velázquez tinha posto ali Papa a mais. Quando perguntaram a Dali qual o melhor pintor, ele respondeu “Velázquez, siempre Velázquez”. É único. E o único que aproximo dele é Vermeer. A gente põe a fasquia um bocado alta. Como alguns poetas, noutro dia estava a reler alguns poetas americanos do século XX de que gosto muito, o Wallace Stevens… Sei tantos poemas de cor.

António Lobo Antunes, entrevista por Isabel Lucas. In Público: https://www.publico.pt/2017/11/10/culturaipsilon/entrevista/e-claro-que-e-um-grande-romance-fui-eu-que-o-escrevi-1791615


A estranha ordem das coisas

– E o que é a vida?
– É uma coisa venerável, confusa, efusiva. A grande arte dá-nos isso e a grande literatura dá isso extraordinariamente. Quando não se inclui essa componente de confusão, efusividade, aquilo que pode ser qualificável de bom ou de mau, perde-se uma grande parte do que é a vida. Por isso, e para acrescentar uma nota à sua pergunta anterior, os sentimentos como personagem são as representações, aquilo que está na nossa experiência mental quando estamos a viver uma vida real. E ao mesmo tempo uma forma de nos alertarem para aquilo que está a correr bem ou mal no sentido mais amplo do termo: a vida dentro de um organismo. Um organismo vivo, que tem bons momentos e maus momentos, que tem todas as variações e flutuações que vêm do seu metabolismo e que, porque tem mente e tem consciência – que é uma coisa que nós temos e as bactérias não – vai poder ter acesso a esse relato daquilo que está a correr bem ou mal.

António Damásio, entrevista por Isabel Lucas. In Público: https://www.publico.pt/2017/11/05/ciencia/entrevista/antonio-damasio-1791116

Is it too late to save the world?

One of the mysteries of literature is that personal substance, as perceived by both the writer and the reader, is situated outside the body of either of them, on some kind of page. How can I feel realer to myself in a thing I’m writing than I do inside my body? How can I feel closer to another person when I’m reading her words than I do when I’m sitting next to her? The answer, in part, is that both writing and reading demand full attentiveness. But it surely also has to do with the kind of ordering that is possible only on the page.
I really did want to change the climate. I still do. I share, with the very people my essay criticised, the recognition that global warming is the issue of our time, perhaps the biggest issue in all of human history. Every one of us is now in the position of the indigenous Americans when the Europeans arrived with guns and smallpox: our world is poised to change vastly, unpredictably, and mostly for the worse. I don’t have any hope that we can stop the change from coming. My only hope is that we can accept the reality in time to prepare for it humanely, and my only faith is that facing it honestly, however painful this may be, is better than denying it.

Jonathan Franzen, “Is it too late to save the world? Jonathan Franzen on one year of Trump’s America”. In The Guardian:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/04/jonathan-franzen-too-late-to-save-world-donald-trump-environment

Walking while black

One definition of home is that it’s somewhere we can most be ourselves. And when are we more ourselves but when walking, that natural state in which we repeat one of the first actions we learned? Walking—the simple, monotonous act of placing one foot before the other to prevent falling—turns out not to be so simple if you’re black. Walking alone has been anything but monotonous for me; monotony is a luxury.

Garnette Cadogan, “Walking while black”. In Literary Hub: http://lithub.com/walking-while-black/

“One can recognize…”

I am still bewildered and enchanted by landscape. It is exclusively experiential. There is no other way to know it. A landscape is something that is too complex in itself to express in any other form. It is experiential or it is nothing. (…) I am fascinated by things that are not what they appear to be. As well, I am interested in things that don’t reduce. Things that, by nature, are complex.

Roni Horn. In e-flux newsletter: October 12, 2017.