Black Panther Transmedia: The Revolution Will Not Be Streamed

Written by Niels Niessen

The following text is the introduction of a longer essay published in the Journal for Cinema and Media Studies (2021), https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/idx/j/jcms/18261332.0060.506/–black-panther-transmedia-the-revolution-will-not-be-streamed?rgn=main;view=fulltext.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and the Black Panther figure of Marvel’s comic book universe were both created in 1966. There was no direct link, however, between the political organization that Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton launched in October that year and the introduction of the first superhero character of African descent a few months earlier in May, in an issue of Fantastic Four (vol. 1, no. 52), which was authored by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Introducing the Black Panther in Fantastic Four, no. 52 (Marvel Comics, 1966).

As Lee states in a 2009 interview:

It was a strange coincidence because, at the time I did the Black Panther, there was a political party in the country— mostly Black people— and they were called The Black Panthers. And I didn’t think of that at all! It had nothing to do with our character, although a lot of people thought there was some tie- in. And I was really sorry— maybe if I had to do it over again, I’d given him another name, because I hate that confusion to be caused. But it really had nothing to do with the then-existing Black Panthers (cited in Clark 2018).  

The 2018 film Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler also does not make explicit reference to the Black Panther Party. But the film’s promotional materials do indirectly invoke the historical reality in which both Black Panthers appeared in the late 1960s cultural air. One of the film’s promotional posters depicts T’Challa— the reigning Black Panther— in visual citation of the iconic 1967 portrait of Huey P. Newton, seated on a throne, a rifle in one hand, a spear in the other (a photo that in turn was a mockery of colonialist portraiture). Moreover, one of the film’s trailers contains remixed samples of Gil Scott- Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televized,” a track from 1970, which is also the year Black Panther Party membership reached a peak. In this trailer, as the Black Panther flies across the screen, a male voice- over cites the following, tuned to the beat of Vince Staples’s “BagBak” (2017):

            You will not be able to stay home, brother.
            You will not be able to plug in, turn on, and cop out. . . .

            The revolution will not be televised. . . .
            The revolution will be live.

Marvel thus links its Black Panther universe to the long history of African American struggle. These offhand gestures beg the question of how Black Panther’s mainstream Afrofuturism holds up to the political activism it invokes. Does the film merely commodify revolutionary discourse, and wouldn’t such commodification prevent the film from constituting an “act of civic imagination,” as Henry Jenkins has called the film? (Jenkins 2018) Doesn’t Black Panther’s production by Marvel, a subsidiary of Disney, by definition preempt the film from its claim to politics— especially when recalling the imperative of turn-of-the-1970s Third Cinema that a political film must also be made politically? And how to square Black Panther’s imagination of a never-colonized Black nation with Achille Mbembe’s analysis of “Blackness” as a discursive product of colonization?

Addressing these questions, it is important to acknowledge the wide acclaim Black Panther has received from within the African American community. During a special event in Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Ta-Nehisi Coates described the film as “Star Wars for Black People,” sharing with the audience that he “didn’t realize how much [he] needed the film, a hunger for a myth that [addressed] feeling separated and feeling reconnected [to Africa]” (cited in Beta 2018). Similarly, Tre Johnson writes that Black Panther’s greatest legacy is that Black viewers find “a cultural oasis that feels like nothing we’ve seen before” (cited in Johnson 2018). And as Jenkins observes, Black Panther offered “a shared myth desperately needed in the age of Trump: the film inspired many different forms of participatory culture . . . as people fused its iconography into their personal and social identity” (Jenkins 2018).

So yes, following its release, Black Panther has undeniably manifested itself as a political-cultural event, but this does not, of course, prevent a critical reading of the film. That critique is the gravitational point of this essay. I argue that, taken on its own, the Black Panther film only marginally integrates its offhand promotional references to the history of African American resistance. Despite its multiracial cast and strong female characters, Black Panther at the end of the day is built on a conventional Hollywood logic, while its plot purports an anthropocentric American Dream narrative in which humanity masters nature through technology. (Figure 2)

Figure 2. Technology as second nature in Black Panther (Marvel Studios, 2018).

Yet the film cannot just be considered on its own. The film emerges out of and inscribes itself into a transmedia franchise that in recent decades has evolved as a platform for rethinking African American identity in the post–civil rights era. This has been the case under the authorship of Christopher Priest (who wrote the 1998 Black Panther comics volume on which the movie was largely based), Coates (who picked up the comics’ authorship in 2016, starting with A Nation Under Our Feet), and Kendrick Lamar (who cocurated the film’s soundtrack, including the hit single “All the Stars,” performed with the American singer SZA). As Coates writes elsewhere, in Between the World and Me (2015), the dreamed synergy between nature and technology at the heart of the American Dream is an all-too-human construction torching the planet, socially and literally (Coates 2015).

Figure 3. Black Panther’s science fiction of a nation shielded from global heating.

The Black Panther film revels in such phantasmagoric synergy, telling a fairy tale of an extractive utopia, while it has no sight for the exploitation of bodies and ecosystems that marks the reality of every mining economy (Figure 3). In that light Black Panther is like, say, Apple’s new American Dream, in which technology is posited as second nature and which was equally designed in California. Only when the film is considered in the light of its broader transmedia universe does its superhero texture open to the speculative potential that Michael Gillespie and others have embraced as central to film Blackness. As I will argue in the final section, “The Fire in the Sky,” at those moments Black Panther invites its transmedia traveler to think through what Mbembe calls the “Becoming Black of the world” (Mbembe 2017).

Niels Niessen is a Researcher in the Arts & Culture department.

For the full article and bibliographic references see:

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/idx/j/jcms/18261332.0060.506/–black-panther-transmedia-the-revolution-will-not-be-streamed?rgn=main;view=fulltext

“My Age Really Doesn’t Matter”: Norms on Young Motherhood

By Marijke Sniekers

This article has been part of the ‘Women On The Timelineprotect, initiated by Anouk Wolkotte and Charlotte Hermanns.

Daniëlle[1], an 18-year-old mother, speaks of becoming a mother: “It really doesn’t matter whether you are young or old. It’s all new and will be hard at times.”Young mothers continuously need to prove that they are great moms, successful and that they deserve respect like any other woman/mother/youngster. They often need to fight stigmas and stereotypes of being incapable of raising children, being a moral and socioeconomic problem and a risk to themselves and their children.

The ‘problem’ of young motherhood (under the age of 24 years) in the Netherlands seems not so big, considering the low numbers of young mothers in the country. Teenage fertility rates in the Netherlands are the second lowest in Europe, and among the 10 lowest in the world. In Dutch society in the 1950s, young motherhood was common. The mean childbearing age for women has risen from 24 years (1970) to 30 years (2019). Nowadays, young motherhood is uncommon and undesirable.

Until 1955, women were legally ‘incompetent’ and could be laid off from civil service once they married. Equal pay for equal work was legalised in that year. Since then, norms about women’s economic independence have started to change. From the late 1980s, women have entered the labour market in large numbers, leading to current high labour market participation of women. Unfortunately, women still receive unequal pay for equal work, experience an unequal gender and age bias in selection for and promotion at work (‘glass ceiling’), and face discriminatory practices at work due to pregnancy. Expectations for women have not changed much in terms of work-care balance and the gender division of labour. Women are commonly expected to become mothers.

Dutch norms on motherhood, education and employment constitute a motherhood ideology of viewing women as child carers and men as breadwinners. This means that mothers should be the main carers, should always be present for their children, and should focus primarily on their children’s needs. Unlike in most European countries, heterosexual couples in the Netherlands commonly conform to the 1.5 wage earner model, according to which men usually work full-time and women part-time in so-called ‘mother contracts’ of work during children’s school hours. Women generally perform the unpaid care and household tasks, even when they also have full-time paid employment. Formally, parental leave days have increased for fathers in paid employment. However, in reality are men reluctant to take leave, because of traditional role patterns at home, because work culture does not facilitate it and because of a lack of role models.

Young mothers are caught in the middle of such stereotypical, dominant gender patterns and norms around motherhood, care and employment. On the one hand, as youngsters they are expected to be in school and continue with paid employment. On the other hand, as mothers they are expected to stay at home and care for the children. You are a good mother if you take care of your child yourself and are there for your child. Young people are expected to complete the highest possible education, after which they find a job at that level and in that sector. After that they can settle down with their partner and have children.

Such dilemmas and norms regarding the socioeconomic independence of young mothers were the focus of my PhD study, for which I spend time with young mothers. Daniëlle (quoted above) explains that any first-time parent experiences difficulties and struggles with new responsibilities and structure in daily life. Femke explains how lack of support from a partner made raising her child difficult, because she could not share the responsibility with someone else: “I had to rely on myself and have been sacrificing my own needs”. Manon and Agnes say that combining school and work with caring for children is hard, since their parents cannot babysit (they have their own jobs) and day-care is too expensive or does not match their working hours on weekends and evenings as a nurse. Their stories illustrate that it is not their young age, but circumstances such as being a new mom, a single parent or working parent that led to problems in their lives.

Attending education or going to work is often a practical puzzle for many young mothers, especially single ones. Manon says: “I had a night shift at my work, and when I came back, I made my child his sandwiches, took my child to school and then his teacher said: ‘You look bad.’ And I said, ‘I haven’t slept yet.’ That was hard.” Some women say that they do not have children to have them cared for by day-care or relatives. They feel a strong need and pressure from people around them to be present for their child, instead of completing their education or working. Floor wants to be a role model to her child, which is expected of her from a motherhood perspective. However, this is ‘bad’ from a motherhood ideal, because working and earning wages means she cannot take care of her child herself all day. Even with policies and subsidies in place, young mothers still face contradicting norms. Studying and working parents can receive subsidies for day-care, but schools and the state do not offer free childcare facilities, so young parents have to pay for private childcare services. Policies and organisational structures that are supposed to increase young people’s socioeconomic independence are, in reality, counterproductive.

Schools, particularly, are not used to students with children. Daphne says: “I was lucky to give birth during Christmas holiday, so I could go back to school two weeks later.” Other student-mothers are lucky to have a teacher that gives extensions for deadlines or extra assignments when the women had to stay home, because their children were ill. However, schools are usually not very flexible in assignments and attendance, and do not provide for maternity leave. Student-mothers do not want any study delay, because that means that they will have to pay back their student grant. Getting into debt because of an education is not a pleasant prospect.

Student grants together with fears of not completing the education within the time limit required for the grant, make young mothers often choose for a practical vocational study (BBL) (instead of theoretical vocational, Bachelor’s or Master’s studies). “I’m smart enough to do a Bachelor’s degree, but my child will be two and I want another child. Combining a Bachelor and a child is harder than doing vocational studies with a child, and vocational is fine too for a job and raising two children” says Valerie.

Young mothers like her are more likely to opt for the practical vocational education (BBL), because at the short term it provides them with work experience, job guarantee and wages they need to provide for their children. For better long-term opportunities, it is, once having started to work, hard for young mothers to get back to school after a few years when their children have reached the school-age of four years. This means they get stuck in a low paid job in which they can hardly plan their own working hours and have to work weekend and night shifts. A low paid job also means that they need to pay all their earnings to the day-care centre. Furthermore, the jobs young mothers end up with when doing a practical vocational study are often jobs in health care of elderly care, affirming traditional gender roles of women as carers.

Despite the developments since the fifties and the policies and subsidies that are in place, these young mother’s stories show the ongoing need to contest gender and age stereotypes leading to inequalities. We need to recognise different values and experiences. Even though young mothers exert agency, this is not enough to reconcile conflicting norms on their own and solve structural problems individually. Dominant norms should not stand in the way of people who walk different pathways than what is commonly expected. This column is based on the results of the study Acknowledging the agency of young mothers: A qualitative study into young, motherhood and socioeconomic independence by Marijke Sniekers


[1] The names of the women are pseudonyms.

The History of Feminism(s) Around the Globe

Women on the Timeline, a project initiated by two of our very own Arts and Culture students, Anouk Wolkotte and Charlotte Hermanns, aims to honour the contributions of women and non-binary folks to our society. Because many of those are still missing in our collective memory, Charlotte and Anouk wish to create a diverse community to redirect the spotlight, with the hope to inspire young women and girls. They publish articles written by their team of permanent writers thrice a week. Guests are invited to contribute as well! The history of feminism and topics related to diversity and inclusion are explored in a monthly column, which we will be publishing on this Culture Weekly website. Find them on Instagram: @w_o_t_t   Facebook: @WomenOnTheTimeline Mail: womenonthetimeline@gmail.com and contact them if this project sparks your interest!

We now present the first article of the column:

The History of Feminism(s) Around the Globe – Written by Saskia Bultman

When you think of feminism nowadays your mind might go to #metoo, pink ‘pussy’ hats or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TED talk on ‘We should all be feminists’. But what are the roots of this huge movement? Maybe the best way to talk about the history of feminism, is to look at how this history has been told in the past, and how it is told today.
The history of feminism is traditionally told – in Western countries, school books and popular culture – as a series of ‘waves’. In this narrative, first-wave feminism (roughly late 19th-early 20th century) was focused on overcoming legal obstacles, and focused on issues such as the right to vote, or, suffrage. Second-wave feminism (1960s-1970s) had a more cultural focus, and criticized sexist institutions and practices of discrimination, focusing on issues such as the limited expectations of marriage and motherhood for women, reproductive rights such as access to abortion and birth control, rape, domestic violence and equal pay. Third-wave feminism (1990s-2000s) focused on a more intersectional understanding of feminism, criticizing former feminist movements for excluding non-white and working-class women. Besides becoming more inclusive of women of colour, the third wave also focused on sexuality, redefining women and girls as powerful and in control. Fourth-wave feminism (beginning in the early 2010s) focuses on issues such as body shaming, rape culture, #metoo, trans* rights, disability, and the representation of marginalized women in politics, culture and business.
The roots of this series of ‘waves’ are commonly traced back to a standard cast of well-known figures. Traditional histories of feminism begin, for example, with seventeenth-century writers, such as Aphra Behn (a playwright who depicted men and women as equals) and Sarah Fyge
(who, as a teenager, wrote an impassioned poem in defence of women in response to an incredibly misogynist piece of verse by Robert Gould), who drew on Protestant religious traditions to claim women’s equality. The next figures to appear in this version of the story, are those who were inspired by the ideas of equality in the eighteenth-century American and French revolutions, such as the French activist Olympe de Gouges. In response to The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which asserted, in 1789, that all men ‘are born and remain free and equal in rights’, de Gouges wrote The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen, arguing that women should be included in the new revolutionary ideas on equality for all. Next, traditional narratives often move on to the nineteenth-century suffragettes, such as the Pankhursts in England and Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the United States (who campaigned for women’s right to vote), down to later twentieth-century figures such as Betty Friedan (whose work on the discontent of American housewives is said to have sparked the second wave of feminism) and Gloria Steinem (who criticized societal beauty standards in an exposé for which she went undercover as a Playboy ‘Bunny’).
In later years, figures such as the eighteenth-century author Phyllis Wheatley (the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry) and Sojourner Truth (a black abolitionist who demanded equal rights for African-American women) were added to the story.
While all of these figures are undeniably important (as is witnessed by their achievements), the traditional history of feminism remains predominantly white, and focused on the Anglo-Saxon world, particularly England and the United States.
Recently, however, the history of feminism has acquired a broader focus. As Lucy Delap argues in her recent (and really quite thrilling) book Feminisms: A Global History, there isn’t just one story of feminism to be told. Instead, there have been many feminisms, which were all shaped, from the outset, by women and men of varying historical contexts, nationalities, ethnicities, sexualities, ideological backgrounds, classes and ages. The metaphor of the ‘wave’, which presents feminist history as neatly progressing from one set of concerns to another, doesn’t do justice to this complexity. What’s more, it limits our focus to one part of the world.
As Delap shows, throughout at least the last 250 years, in other parts of the world things were happening that were just as much a part of the history of feminism. In 1886, for example, when women were campaigning for the right to vote in Europe and the United States, an anonymous woman in what is now Ghana (then under British rule) wrote a rousing letter to local newspaper Western Echo:
We Ladies of Africa in general are not only sadly misrepresented but are made the foot-ball of every white seal that comes to our Coast … We have been sadly abused by people of such description, and because we have said nothing they continue to abuse us with impunity … Although we have not white or angelic faces we are capable of as high a degree of culture as any white lady.
Examples such as this, from non-Western thinkers (which Delap’s book is packed with), are not often included in traditional histories of feminism. They are important, however, because they illuminate the diversity of the movement and its concerns, and highlight the contributions of non-Western feminists, which are often overlooked. Rather than suffrage, this anonymous
woman’s concern was with an ‘African’ feminism that countered colonial ideas about women of colour.
This is all the more significant, considering that suffragettes in Europe and the United States – who are popularly depicted as the ‘only’ feminists active at the time – often expressed colonial attitudes in their activist work. When Dutch feminist Aletta Jacobs travelled through a series of African and Asian countries in the early twentieth century, for instance, campaigning for women’s right to vote, she characterized herself as a ‘motherly friend’ to the inhabitants of South-Africa, who she described as ‘children … who only need to be led’, as historian Ena Jansen has shown. As we can see, placing different feminist histories alongside each other can make us aware of the divergent struggles women around the globe had – which leads to a whole new narrative.
Viewing feminism in a global framework can also make its history less Eurocentric. With regard to women’s right to higher education, for example, Delap points out that the same developments were taking place all across the world: Britain’s first university college for women opened in 1869, and in Brazil women obtained the right to enter higher education only a decade later, in 1879. Connections like this give us a fuller understanding of the movement’s history, and prevent us from taking Europe or the West as our only reference point.
In her book, Delap calls for a new approach, which involves placing stories of feminisms from different parts of the world and different periods of history alongside each other, and studying their interactions and linkages, as well as the ways in which they were at odds with each other. This leads to a history of the movement that includes figures such as Alexandra Kollontai (an early-twentieth-century Russian revolutionary who advocated for free love) alongside groups
such as the French ‘femmes en lutte’ (who, quite differently, emphasized the maternal qualities of women in the 1970s and 1980s), and figures such as German feminist Karin Schrader-Klebert (who envisioned a universal feminism arguing that ‘women are the Negroes of all nations’) next to African-American activist Frances Beal (who, around the same time, in 1974, envisioned a far narrower brand of feminism when she termed white women the ‘economic enemies’ of black women, saying: ‘If your mother worked in a white woman’s kitchen, she knows what I mean’).
Taking a global view also offers alternative starting points for the history of feminism. Rather than with seventeenth-century English writers or nineteenth-century suffragettes, it might begin in Sierra Leone in 1792, when female householders were given the right to vote (a right they lost when the country came under British colonial rule in 1808), or at the Rosetta Women’s Conference held in 1799, when Egyptian women came together to discuss their gendered roles in society, as Delap shows in her book.
From ‘waves’ of feminism and (white) feminist ‘foremothers’ to the expansion of the feminist canon with other important women (of colour), the telling of the history of feminism has changed over time. Hopefully the new focus on the global history of the movement will lead to new information being uncovered about the concerns, struggles and accomplishments of feminists, past and present, around the globe. Perhaps the stories of Women on the Timeline, which focus on women from all parts of the world and all periods of history, will lead readers to make new, unexpected connections, and prompt them to read about the achievements of women who have been forgotten, but who played an important role in the worldwide history of feminism. Every reader will be able to determine, for herself, which histories, and which feminisms, resonate the most.

Van clusterfuck tot autoseks: hoe Rob van Essen ons voorbij het postmodernisme (ver)voert

By Dennis Kersten

Hans Demeyer en Sven Vitse publiceerden onlangs Affectieve crisis, literair herstel, een grondige studie naar het prozawerk van jonge Nederlandstalige schrijvers. De gevoelsstructuur die zich daarin manifesteert heeft veel weg van wat vooral in het buitenland “metamodernisme” wordt genoemd. Maar reageren alleen millennials op het vermeende einde van het postmodernisme?

“Alles in het leven draait om seks. Behalve seks zelf. Dat draait om macht.” Die uitspraak wordt wel eens toegeschreven aan Oscar Wilde, die hem vast en zeker graag aan zijn beroemde witticisms had toegevoegd. Hij had ook perfect bij het werk van de auteur van The Picture of Dorian gepast. Gelukkig hoefde Wilde niet meer mee te maken hoe in een toekomst gedomineerd door kunstmatige intelligentie mensen seks bedrijven met zelfrijdende auto’s, zoals gebeurt in een veelbesproken scène in Rob van Essens roman De goede zoon (2018). Seks met state of the art technologie, wat zegt dát over mensen en macht? Wilde zou waarschijnlijk de voorkeur hebben gegeven aan intelligente kunstmatigheid.

Een “slimme” autostoel die een nietsvermoedende passagier tot een hoogtepunt brengt (“Geen zorgen, ik ben zelfreinigend meneer”): het is zowel een geestige als serieuze scène in een roman die op vele andere plekken en manieren tussen tegenstellingen heen en weer beweegt. Van Essen zou in dat opzicht wel eens een “post-postmodern” boek geschreven kunnen hebben. Het is zeker een intrigerend voorbeeld van een werk waarin belangrijke vragen worden opgeworpen over de erfenis van het postmodernisme – zowel in de beeldende kunst als de literatuur. De verteller en hoofdpersonage van De goede zoon ziet overal een getransformeerd postmodernisme om zich heen: “Ik heb het postmodernisme nog meegemaakt (postmoderne gebouwen staan tegenwoordig op de monumentenlijst zag ik laatst in een krant staan) en we leven nu in een post-tijd, een post-iets…” (41).

Dit soort passages, maar ook de vorm van Van Essens roman, nodigen uit tot een lezing in het licht van een discussie die filosofen en cultuurwetenschappers bezighoudt: die over het zogenaamde “metamodernisme,” de steeds populairder wordende benaming van wat er op het postmodernisme volgt. Of misschien beter: van wat er naast het postmodernisme is ontstaan en qua dominantie dat eerdere paradigma heeft ingehaald.

Het beste boek

De goede zoon, winnaar van de Libris Literatuurprijs 2019, speelt zich af in een toekomstige tijd, een periode van kunstmatige intelligentie, surveillancetechnologie en een basisinkomen voor iedereen. Het naamloze hoofdpersonage is een 60-jarige schrijver van onder andere “plotloze thrillers” die vanuit het niets een telefoontje krijgt van Lennox, een vriend uit de jaren waarin zij beiden meededen aan een werkverschaffingsproject in het gemeentearchief van Amsterdam. Lennox belt namens een andere collega van destijds, Bonzo (a.k.a. De Meester), een crimineel die aan geheugenverlies lijdt en om die reden niet meer weet waar hij een kostbare verzameling diamanten moet zoeken. De verteller moet hem helpen zijn herinneringen terug te krijgen, maar Bonzo, die ergens in Zuid-Europa leeft, eist dat hij ook een nieuwe identiteit voor hem schrijft.

Het is Lennox’ taak om het hoofdpersonage mee te voeren naar het zuiden; onderweg geeft hij het stokje over aan een voorgeprogrammeerde zelfrijdende auto. Deze “Jerôme” doet ook dienst als empatische therapeut door met de verteller over diens herinneringen en gevoelens te praten. Het hoofdpersonage blikt tussen de bedrijven door terug op zijn tijd op het gemeentearchief, maar ook op het meer recente verleden. Daarin bezocht hij jarenlang wekelijks zijn dementerende moeder.

Metamodernisme

Over het metamodernisme is de afgelopen jaren al veel nagedacht en geschreven. Toen Timotheus Vermeulen en Robin van den Akker in 2010 met hun “Notes on metamodernism”[1] iedereen uitnodigden om de manieren waarop het metamodernisme tot uiting komt in kaart te brengen, was de respons overweldigend. Ze startten tegelijkertijd een website, ook Notes on Metamodernism genaamd, waarop onderzoekers analyses konden delen van kunst en cultuur waarin de metamoderne sensibiliteit zich manifesteert.

In hun oorspronkelijke artikel doen Vermeulen en Van den Akker een eerste aanzet tot een definitie van die sensibiliteit. Het metamodernisme, een gevoelsstructuur opgekomen in een periode van ingrijpende maatschappelijke gebeurtenissen en mondiale crises (Vermeulen en Van den Akker schrijven elders dat we afstevenen op een “clusterfuck of world-historical proportions”),[2] wordt gekarakteriseerd door “the oscillation between a typically modern commitment and a markedly postmodern detachment”. “Oscillation” is een sleutelbegrip hier: metamoderne kunst gaat heen en weer tussen verschillende, soms tegengestelde posities. “Inspired by a modern naïvité yet informed by postmodern skepticism, the metamodern discours consciously commits itself to an impossible possibility,” schrijven Vermeulen en Van den Akker. De metamoderne mens streeft naar het eigenlijk onmogelijke – en wéét dat ook.

Alison Gibbons, die samen met Vermeulen en Van den Akker publiceert, is een belangrijke stem in de discussie over de invloed van het metamodernisme op de hedendaagse Engelstalige roman. Zij schreef in 2019 een helder stuk in de Times Literary Supplement over de “cultural paradigm” die Vermeulen en Van dan Akker metamodern noemen en hoe deze zich aftekent in fictie van de jaren 1990 tot nu.[3] Aan de hand van een lezing van Ben Lerners 10:04 (2014) laat Gibbons zien dat metamoderne romans postmoderne technieken gebruiken om andere effecten te sorteren dan de postmoderne auteurs die deze technieken ontwikkelden. Zo levert de extradiëgetische  verteller van 10:04 commentaar op personages ín het verhaal, maar niet om daarmee het fictieve gehalte of kunstmatigheid van de roman te benadrukken: “The device is postmodern, recursively framing and foregrounding the story in a story, yet it serves not as a self-reflexive affectation; but rather as a way of showing the hermeneutic function of stories in our memories”.

Gibbons is het met Vermeulen en Van den Akker eens dat het metamodernisme niet als een radicale breuk met het postmodernisme moet worden opgevat. Vermeulen en Van den Akker spreken van postmoderne neigingen die een nieuwe betekenis en richting krijgen (“a new sense”), terwijl Gibbons concludeert dat postmoderne technieken mainstream zijn geworden en we een nieuwe, meer serieuze literatuur nodig hebben om de echte problemen in de wereld te kunnen onderzoeken.

Nederlandse millennials

Het woord “metamodernisme” wordt in Nederland weinig gebruikt, al weidde Vrij Nederland vijf jaar geleden een groot artikel aan de gevoelsstructuur waarvoor Vermeulen en Van den Akker, maar ook Niels van Poecke werden geïnterviewd.[4] Het niet aanslaan of het bewust vermijden van de term wil uiteraard niet zeggen dat de Nederlandstalige literatuur niet reageert op nieuwe gevoelsstructuren of vragen negeert over het doodlopen van het postmodernisme. Er wordt ook al uitgebreid onderzoek gedaan naar “post-postmoderne” Nederlandse literatuur, al dan niet in verband met het metamodernismedebat in de Angelsaksische wereld. Een belangwekkende publicatie is Affectieve crisis, literair herstel (2021)[5]van Hans Demeyer en Sven Vitse, een boek dat bouwt op eerder onderzoek naar “laatpostmoderne” Nederlandstalige literatuur die vooral een correctie lijkt op de excessen van postmoderne ironie. De Nijmeegse master Letterkundestudent Tom Verstappen bereidt daarnaast een podcastserie voor over het metamodernisme in de Nederlandse literatuur, met interviews met onder meer Max Hermens en Joost Oomen. Ook dat is er eentje om in de gaten te houden (de serie zowel als Tom)!

Demeyer en Vitse kiezen in Affectieve crisis, literair herstel voor auteurs die chronologisch gezien van na het postmodernisme zijn, dus geen Rob van Essens die in hun oeuvre mogelijk een “wende voorbij het postmodernisme [hebben] gemaakt” (22). Hun centrale stelling is dat millennialliteratuur een “affectieve focus” heeft, “met een grote nadruk op thema’s als hechting, verbinding, gemis en verlangen” (14). Ze schrijven dat de romans die zij bespreken vorm geven aan een nieuw soort engagement, in de wetenschap dat “politiek-kritische benaderingen van de maatschappelijke realiteit zodanig aan geloofwaardigheid (…) hebben ingeboet – na de deconstructie van de ‘grote verhalen’ – dat deze realiteit in eerste instantie slechts affectief beleefd kan worden” (14). Demeyer en Vitse gebruiken de term “metamodernisme” niet, maar verwijzen wel naar “gevoelsstructuren” die de “epistemologische focus van de (post)moderne literatuur van de twintigste eeuw” zouden hebben vervangen (14) – niet alleen in het Nederlandse taalgebied. Om die laatste reden vergelijken ze de Nederlandse millennials met buitenlandse auteurs als Éduard Louis, Lina Meruane en Sally Rooney.

Oscillerend zuidwaarts

Het postmodernisme komt in De goede zoon expliciet aan bod en wel in passages die lezers met een bijzondere belangstelling voor het metamodernisme zullen fascineren. De verteller, ooit een blauwe maandag kunstgeschiedenisstudent, denkt hardop na over wat er is geworden van het postmodernisme waarmee hij is opgegroeid. De hierboven geciteerde reflectie op de postmoderne monumentenlijst wordt later in de roman gevolgd door de opmerking dat begin jaren negentig het verschil tussen “ouderwets” en “postmodern” nog duidelijk was (188-189). Toen was “ironie [ook nog] van ons,” merkt de verteller op nadat hij een robot een binnenpretje heeft zien hebben.

Van Essens verteller verlangt terug naar een tijd waarin het postmoderne nog onderscheidend was, maar tegelijkertijd is hij kritisch op de uitwassen van datzelfde postmodernisme. Hij hekelt vooral de vercommercialisering van hedendaagse kunst, dat zich onder andere uit in het onschadelijk maken van de avant-garde en het reduceren van de kunstgeschiedenis tot “hoogtepunten”:

In de nieuwste kunst is niemand meer geïnteresseerd, ze willen zien wat vroeger gemaakt is, wat de handboeken heeft gehaald, waar ze ooit over gelezen hebben in de kranten die toen nog bestonden en die ze nu uit apparaten kunnen oproepen als ze ergens koffiedrinken. Ze willen zien wat ze eerder zagen, toen ze nog jong waren en er nog toe deden, net als die kunstwerken. Ze willen de schok van het nieuwe nog eens ondergaan, maar dan als echo. (68)

Voor de verteller was het gedaan met de kunst na Damien Hirsts For the Love of God (2008), een met diamanten bezette menselijke schedel die hij in het Rijksmuseum veelzeggend “op ooghoogte van een kind” tentoongesteld ziet (71). Wanneer hij met Lennox over dit soort kwesties praat, toont die zich begripvol voor tijdgenoten die kunst vooral consumeren. Maar volgens de verteller hebben zij een fundamenteel andere opvatting over wat “echt” is:

Ga jij nog naar musea dan, ik bedoel, naar een gebouw? Dat hoeft toch allang niet meer?

Mensen gaan anders nog steeds in drommen naar musea om de echte dingen te zien, zeg ik.

Maar je kan thuis alles vanuit alle hoeken zien, en in alle details. Echtheid is belangrijker dan die verhevigde ervaring?

Echtheid is de verhevigde ervaring, zeg ik. (162)

De roman neemt dus een ambivalente positie in ten opzichte van het postmodernisme. Maar hij is in meerdere opzichten twee schijnbaar tegengestelde dingen tegelijkertijd. Het boek bestaat uit satire en ironie, maar klaarblijkelijk júist om serieuze vragen over oprechtheid te stellen. Het heeft geen hechte, plotgedreven structuur, maar komt wel tot closure. De science fiction gedeeltes gaan bovendien verdacht vaak over het verleden, terwijl de hoofdstukken over de moeder van de verteller het midden houden tussen autobiografie en fictie. Zoals Van Essen in een gesprek met Lottes Lentes van de Nieuwe Oost/ Wintertuin aangeeft,[6] had hij de roman graag “autobiografische science fiction” genoemd, maar zijn uitgever stak daar een stokje voor. Jammer, want zo’n “eigenlijk onmogelijke” ondertitel had perfect gepast bij een roman die op zoveel verschillende vlakken “oscilleert”.

Er zijn legio romans aan te wijzen waarin op een vergelijkbare manier tussen tegenstellingen heen en weer wordt bewogen. Maar wat opvalt in De goede zoon is de voorname rol van verwijzingen naar het postmodernisme in dit proces. Die zijn er niet alleen in bovengenoemde passages, maar ook in de vorm van de roman. Bij Van Essen zijn een aantal “typisch” postmoderne technieken terug te vinden, maar deze worden niet gebruikt om te deconstrueren of ironiseren. Het vermengen van schrijfstijlen en literaire genres lijkt in De goede zoon bijvoorbeeld geen doel op zich. En dat geldt ook voor de manier waarop de roman naar zichzelf als een fictie verwijst. Want een schrijvende verteller, zelf de creatie van een auteur, die een nieuwe identiteit voor een ander personage bedenkt: dat riekt naar hardcore postmoderne metafictie. Toch wordt dat hier niet ingezet om het realisme van de roman te ondergraven.

Stilistische variatie zorgt er ook voor dat de delen over het (familie)verleden van de verteller minder gehaast aanvoelen dan de passages op de snelweg naar het zuiden. Het is alsof de roman wil zeggen dat de herinneringen die je maken wie je bent (of denkt te zijn) je overeind kunnen houden in een dolgedraaid heden. Als de tegenwoordige tijd in De goede zoon veel weg heeft van de “plotloze thrillers” die de verteller zelf schrijft, dan vormt zijn praten over zijn rol als zoon een baken van rust, ook voor de lezer misschien. Onderweg naar Bonzo is hij inderdaad vooral de speelbal van zijn criminele vrienden, semi-autonome technologie en een hem steeds vreemder voorkomende wereld: een schrijver gevangen in een voor hem geschreven script, zonder macht of verbinding met zijn omgeving.

Bestemming bereikt

“Echtheid”, affect, het verlangen naar wezenlijk contact in een maatschappij gedomineerd door planmatigheid en efficiëntie: het zijn blijkbaar ook belangrijke thema’s bij Van Essen, die even goed op een nieuwe, eenentwintigste “sensibiliteit” kan reageren als een millennialschrijver. Zijn roman toont veel gelijkenis met binnen- en buitenlandse fictie die zich van postmoderne technieken bedient om het leven na de vermeende dood van het postmodernisme te verkennen. Of we om die reden met “metamodern” het juiste woord voor De goede zoon te pakken hebben, is minder belangrijk dan de terechte constatering, zowel door Vermeulen en Van den Akker als Demeyer en Vitse, dat er meer aan de hand is in hedendaagse kunst dan slechts het bijsturen van doorgeschoten postmoderne ironie.

In zijn gesprek met Lotte Lentes zegt Rob van Essen dat hij door literatuur vooral vervoerd wil worden. In De goede zoon worden we dat letterlijk en figuurlijk. Maar wie zich liever niet inlaat met net iets te empatische zelfrijdende auto’s moet weten dat die roman zich ook prima in de trein laat lezen. Van Essen had in 2019 ook de NS Publieksprijs mogen winnen.

References


[1] Vermeulen, Timotheus en Robin van den Akker. “Notes on metamodernism.” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, vol. 2, 2010.

[2] Akker, Robin van den et al. (eds.) Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect, and Depth After Postmodernism. Rowman & Littlefeld, 2017, p. 17.

[3] Gibbons, Alison. “Postmodernism is dead. What comes next?” Times Literary Supplement, 18 feb. 2019.

[4] Verschuer, Nynke. “Metamodernisme: tussen geestdrift en ironie.” Vrij Nederland, vol. 77, nr. 25, 25 juni 2016, pp. 68-73.

[5] Demeyer, Hans en Sven Vitse. Affectieve crisis, literair herstel: De romans van de millennialgeneratie. Amsterdam UP, 2021.

[6] Zie de opname van dit “Grote Gesprek” op de website van de “Notulen van het Onzichtbare”, gepubliceerd op 22 september 2020: https://www.notulenvanhetonzichtbare.nl/notulen/het-grote-gesprek-rob-van-essen/.

Summertime!

By Timotheus Vermeulen

Alright, here’s
my summer reading list. It features books I imagine readers might actually
enjoy reading whilst lying on the beach or gazing across the mountain valleys
or – in case you are holidaying in the Netherlands – hiding from the rain in
your camper van or tent (as opposed to those books I personally always think,
or hope, rather, I might want to read but inevitably, and not without relief,
keep pushing to the bottom of my suitcase).

Changing my mind, Zadie Smith

What Judith
Naeff said
. Thoughtful in a mostly intuitive way; emotional in a contemplative
manner, meandering and measured, exploring the cosmically great and the intimately small. This is one
of the most talented authors of our moment at her best. (I would recommend
starting your holidays with this book; it will put your mind to a kind of
inspired, meditative serenity).

 

I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Zlatan Ibrahimovic & David
Lagercrantz

The, ahum,
autobiography of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, not just ghost paraphrased but “ghost imagined”,
if that’s a thing, by David Lagencrantz, is, simply put, splendid fun. There
really is no other way to describe it: it’s splendid fun: intentionally (there
are spot-on characterisations of other players and coaches in football) and
unintentionally (in its apparent lack of self-reflection) hilarious, gripping
(it’s a rags to riches story, after all), suspenseful (which fight will break
out next) and superbly written. I’ve read it two summers in a row and look
forward to getting into it again this august. (Best on the beach or next to the
pool, if you ask me).

 

10:04, Ben Lerner

I think
this may well be my favourite book of the past decade: moving seamlessly between
life-writing and (meta-)fiction, farce and melodrama, cultural philosophy and anecdotal
kitsch, in a prose that is lively and spot-on, the novel at once reflects on
the ills of contemporary society and contemplates the more and less effective cures.
(A good second holiday book).

Can’t and won’t, Lydia Davis

Everything Lydia
Davis writes, regardless of what it is or is about, is the best American
literature has to offer. Period. (Wonderful for reading out loud to your fellow
travellers on long journeys by car, train or plane)

Precision and Soul, by Robert Musil

Precision and Soul is a collection of essays written by Musil
between 1911 and 1937. The essays are, without exception, mind-blowing, each of them in and of themselves timeless intuitive philosophy. (Indeed, if you begin your holidays with
Smith, book-end it with this companion piece by Musil.) If the collection is
timeless however, it is also exceptionally pertinent to our current moment.
These essays read like they might have been written today, dealing with the
simultaneous bureaucratization and monetarization of thought, the perverse
obsession with measuring everything, and rising fascism. Scary stuff, but essential
stuff.

Judith Naeff leest de zomer door

Door Judith Naeff

image

Wie naar Parijs gaat deze zomer zou onmiddellijk Etel Adnans prachtige overpeinzingen moeten bestellen, getiteld Paris When it’s Naked – een verscheurde liefdesbetuiging aan de stad, geschreven vol compassie, wijsheid en poëzie. Wie niet naar Parijs gaat ook. Dan kun je gelijk de trein boeken voor de herfstvakantie.

China Miéville’s The City & the City is een spannende thriller die zich afspeelt in twee steden die strikt van elkaar gescheiden zijn maar dezelfde geografische locatie delen. Dit gedachte-experiment is ver gezocht maar zo consistent doorgevoerd dat Miéville erin slaagt onze suspension of disbelief tot het eind toe te rekken en ondertussen vragen op te roepen over hoe de detectives zoektocht naar de waarheid beperkt wordt door sociale blinde vlekken, politieke uitsluiting en de belangen van de staat en de bedrijfswereld.

Met Kamila. Het verhaal van mijn moeder (uit het Arabisch vertaald door Djûke Poppinga en in het Engels vertaald als The Locust and the Bird ) vertelt auteur Hanan Al Shaykh het levensverhaal van haar moeder. De literaire transformatie van Al Shaykh, die voor deze roman een totaal nieuwe toon aanslaat om de stem van haar analfabete moeder te benaderen; de ruimhartigheid die ze met deze roman tegenover haar moeder weet op te brengen ondanks de woede over haar ontrouw; de sociale veranderingen in Libanon die op de achtergrond spelen en de levenslustige omarming van de moderniteit, poëzie, de liefde en cinema door deze eigenzinnige plattelandsvrouw maken dit tot een geweldige roman.

Between the World and Me is het veelbesproken besproken boek waarin de auteur Ta-Nehisi Coates zich richt tot zijn zoon om hem uit te leggen wat het betekent om zwart te zijn in de Verenigde Staten vandaag de dag. Het leest als één lange bevlogen speech en weet bijna invoelbaar te maken hoe de constante blootstelling van de zwarte bevolking aan allerlei vormen van mogelijk geweld de Amerikaanse samenleving ontwricht.

De eloquentie en intelligentie van Zadie Smiths essays over literatuur, filosofie en het leven in Changing my Mind zijn om te smullen. Haar scherpe observaties krijgen diepte door haar reflecties die moeiteloos schakelen tussen theorie en intuïtie.

The Day of the Cat Tweets

By Puck Wildschut

image

Imagine that about 90% of the world’s human population loses their
eyesight due to a meteorite shower, and that the other 10% has to deal with the
following ethical dilemma: Do we help the vast, visually disabled majority to
survive for a short time, or do we put ourselves first and try to rebuild the
world only with those who can still see? This is the hard choice Bill and
Josella face in John Wyndham’s classic sci-fi novel The Day of the Triffids (1951), soon after catastrophe has hit the
earth. Although Josella doesn’t need that
much convincing to take the apparently a-moral road to survival, she feels that
it isn’t the proper thing to do and tells Bill so: Josella “dug her fingers
into the earth, and let the soil trickle out of her hand. ‘I suppose you’re
right,’ she said. ‘But you’re right when you say I don’t like it.’” And in
comes Bill: “‘Our likes and dislikes as decisive factors have now pretty well disappeared,’
I suggested.” (Penguin Edition, 2000: p.85)

Now imagine that in 2015 the entire western world is in shock over a
terrorist attack in Paris, where 130 people get shot in cold blood, and the
effects of which are clearly felt in people’s daily lives: bands cancel their
shows in Europe out of fear for new attacks, the city of Brussels is nearly
inactive for four days, and people are advised to be ‘extra alert’ when in
crowded places. Of course, you don’t need to imagine that, since sadly this is
no plot out of a suspense novel, but precisely what occurred in the last few
weeks.

With these impactful events still fresh in our minds, all of us who
live in the west, who consider ourselves to be ‘free’ individuals in a part of
the world in which free speech is deemed king, have been prompted to reflect on
our own ‘survival’. We may not be facing the aftermath of planetary apocalypse,
like Bill and Josella in Wyndham’s novel, but we are faced with issues
concerning the survival of our selfhood, of keeping our own identities intact following
an attempt to destruct our ideological habitat. And, in contrast to Bill’s
suggestion when facing his ethical dilemma, our likes and dislikes have
actually become the decisive factors
in our reaction to the current state of affairs.

Who hasn’t liked or shared the facebook post on police dog Diesel who
was killed during a raid on an apartment of a suspected terrorist? Who didn’t
like one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of posts asking users to ‘like this
post if you stand behind France’? There was a lot I myself personally ‘liked’
and shared following the Paris attacks, and it gave me a sense of hope that so
many other people came to a virtual stand condoning the senseless violence.
However, with the possibility to like comes that to dislike: a great number of
people use the attacks as a convenient stepping stone for spreading hate, fear,
and more violence. Since facebook has yet to implement a ‘dislike’ button (will
they ever?), harsh words are spoken in its stead and offer another,
inconclusively a-moral way to our metaphorical survival after a high impact
event in the western world.

The question remains then how to negotiate the outspoken and often
polarized discourse within that highly populated social media universe. Engage
in its discussions? Ignore those parts of it that you don’t like? Well, for now
I’ll let the Belgians have the final word …ehhm… meow in this matter.
#BrusselsLockdown

Source: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/belgians-flood-twitter-cat-pics-101133243.html?.tsrc=warhol#UcaVkkN

Now trending: the transgender model

By Lianne
Toussaint

The May 2015 issue of US Vogue
(Vol. 222) featured the first transgender model in the history (132 years!) of
its existence: Andreja Pejic. That same month, IMG Models – one of the biggest
modelling agencies worldwide – announced transgender actress, writer and model Hari Nef as the
newest addition to its roll. Two months later, H&M sister brand ‘&
Other Stories’ followed the example of brands like Barneys and Make Up For Ever by launching an advertising campaign featuring transgender models Valentijn De Hingh and Hari Nef. And last week, it
was all over the news when Dutch model Loiza Lamers was crowned the first-ever transgender winner of the ‘Next Top Model’ television franchise. Has the fashion industry
suddenly become all trans-friendly?

image

Although the vocabulary used to describe this trend may fool you into believing
otherwise, the presence of transgender models in fashion imagery is not exactly as new as it seems. In the 1960s, after going through the horrors of
bullying, assault, failed suicide attempts, and (electric, drug, hormone)
treatment in a mental institution, April Ashley worked as a professional model in Britain until the
news about her gender confirmation surgery soon made an end to her professional career. In 1991,
the British model Caroline “Tula” Cossey became famous as the first trans women to pose for Playboy.

It may not be
an entirely new phenomenon, but in many ways the recent rise and success of the
transgender model does seem groundbreaking. The increasing visibility of trans
models such as Valentijn De Hingh, Lea T, and Andreja Pejic on the runway, and
in print and media seems to contribute to – or at least coincide with – a broader, cultural and political mainstreaming of
transgender identity
. As there are
but few role models and spokespersons for the transgender community, their
visibility is literally of vital importance in raising awareness and advancing tolerance.

Unfortunately,
the current ‘trans model trend’ also has its downside. Many of the captions,
press releases, interviews, and statements appearing alongside all the
seemingly trans-friendly fashion imagery testify to a less trans-tolerant
climate, to say the least. LGBT (!) news site The Advocate, for example, blatantly notes that the ‘& Other
Stories’ campaign shows “that trans people are beautiful, too”, while Elle headed
that Pejic modelled for a beauty brand “And looks gorgeous doing it”.

As much as I
would love to believe that the recent success of the transgender model is the
definite harbinger of a more gender-diverse fashion industry, I can’t help but
notice the accompanying, stigmatizing discourse of the transgender model as an
‘object of curiosity’. Like Pejic, I nonetheless hope that the trans model trend will
turn out to be much more than just another case of cynical casting, clever
marketing, or fashion tokenism.  

– Lianne
Toussaint is a PhD candidate at the Department of Cultural Studies of the
Radboud University in Nijmegen. Her research is part of collaborative
NWO-funded project ‘Crafting Wearables’.

– IMAGE: Andreja
Pejic for Dossier, Issue 7, Spring
2011. Photography by Collier Schorr, Styling by James Valeri, Hair by Holly Smith,
Makeup by Ozzy Salvatierra, Shirts and Pants by Haider Ackermann: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nielleborges/6196657940/in/photostream/

By Timotheus Vermeulen

I enjoy the Indiana Jones franchise as much as the next
person. I mean, I grew up watching Indiana Jones films. As a ten year old, Indy
used to be my role model – topped only, perhaps, by Leslie Nielsen (you know, the guy of Naked Gun fame). However, as Anna
Kendrick’s recent spoof has made clear, the films aren’t what you’d call
progressive – and that’s putting it mildly, I’m afraid. 

The franchise’s attitude to,
well, everyone who is not a white, male, heterosexual American, I guess, is at
best unfortunate, but probably just offensive – I’m not speaking about Indiana
Jones’s attitude towards the Nazis, here, obviously; exploding heads and
melting faces is what they had coming for a long time. If the films value Arabs (often of
unspecified origin), Chinese, Indians or women at all – which they rarely do,
since they are mostly portrayed to be too busy sneaking around, poisoning
people, eating gigantic beetles, monkey brains and eyeball soup, or being
hysterical  – it is as the white man’s lesser
versions: less brave, less clever, less civilized, less strong. Indeed, the
franchise’s entire premise is that Jones saves these crippled creatures, from their
enemies as much as from themselves. 

Of the bunch, Temple of Doom is certainly the most cringeworthy, but Raiders of the Lost Ark is not without
its moments of embarrassment either: the one assertive woman, yes, the single
female with agency, reads like Death of a
Salesman
; all her endeavors end miserably, the spirits lifted only by the
arrival of … well you can guess…. It’s called Indiana Jones, not Jane. 

It may be obvious that my ‘enjoyment’ of
Indiana Jones is troubled, to say the least. It relies on nostalgia, though one
that is waning; on an appreciation of how its well structured, suspenseful
narratives made me feel way back when, increasingly marred by what its representations make
me endure today. My aim here is not to take away anyone else’s enjoyment of the
film, let alone berate you. Everyone is free to derive pleasure from whatever
he or she fancies. But perhaps, the next time you see a promotional poster/DVD cover that
features a white man wearing a noble explorer’s top hat, an adventurer’s torn shirt,
a cowboy’s pants and a gun for a penis whipping exotic foreigners and women
into submission, try and be aware of what it is exactly, that your enjoyment
consists of.

What is art education’s answer to the refugee crisis?

By Edwin van Meerkerk

Over the pas few years the arts sector has found an answer to the austerity measures and the economist paradigms underlying the budget cuts, in the endorsement of the notion of value. Art and culture have, it is claimed, a value that goes beyond monetary output and economic growth. Its value lies on the social level, by the development and promotion of empathy and a sense of community, as well as on a cultural level, by fostering understanding for cultural differences, as well as strengthening cultural self-awareness.

In arts education, these claims have resounded strongly. What is more, they have joined forces with a third positive outcome of engaging in cultural activities: cognitive skills and multiple intelligences. These positive effects of the arts: social, cultural, and cognitive have met with little qualitative opposition, although true curriculum or policy change appears to be much slower than the endorsement of the notion of cultural value.

But now the arts in general, and arts education in particular, are facing a challenge that forces us to stand for our claims. The refugee crisis that holds the Near East, Northern Africa, and Europe in its grip, may well be the greatest challenge to western society since the end of colonialism (or maybe it shows that colonialism has not yet fully ended, but that is another discussion).

The refugee crisis may have deep economic and political causes, yet as a crisis it is predominantly social and cultural in nature. This is the crisis that takes the shape of people crossing borders, people living in camps, but also of angry people on the streets, volunteers distributing clothes, food, and toys. That part of the crisis is nothing but social and cultural. 

The arts, the cultural sector, arts education, has to stand up for its claim to have cultural and social value if this claim is worth anything. But what is it we are to do? How does one foster empathy through art in the middle of a crisis? How can cultural differences be celebrated when one party is hungry, tired, and homesick, and the other is scared, uncertain, even angry?

How can an arts teacher enter her or his class tomorrow and make a beginning in solving the social and cultural crisis that has entered the hearts and minds of the students in class? Where do we begin? I don’t know the answer. What I do know, is that it is a question that must be asked, and it must be asked now, from all of us.

This essay was first published on http://cultwise.tumblr.com/post/131576809544/what-is-arts-educations-answer-to-the-refugee