Climate, Grub and Politics

 

 

Anno 2007

The airlines, the airlines, the airlines. And of course the cars. This, in summary, is how the great climate scapegoats have been listed until recently. Here, Lisa Gålmark focuses on a climate question we would rather like to forget: the one about food.

According to the UN, the world’s livestock contributes more to the emissions of greenhouse gases than the whole transport sector – still we defend ourselves against making politics out of what is found on the plate. At last the public, that is to say the media, has opened its eyes to the fact that the problems of the world demand personal and everyday decisions. The weather forecasts became heated, one environmental film after the other was aired on state television, and people in cities on the borders of our biggest lakes realized that their city could at any time find itself under water. Even people in Stockholm were beginning to sense that an escape to Helsinki with one’s belongings in plastics bags may in fact become reality. And swish – suddenly it was possible to talk about carbon dioxide equivalents, rationing and changes of electric light bulbs.

So far, so good. However, well ingrained lines of thinking do not disappear straight away, well ingrained patriarchal lines of thinking where one measure is prioritized and blamed for the whole debacle, like a modern scapegoat, to be shoved away, thereby saving the Western world from ruin. For the climate question, the scapegoat is the airlines. It is the airlines that are the bad guys, environmental organizations and journalists assert, most lately the British author George Monbiot in his book Heat. Monbiot calculates and finds that if we only make a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, the Western world may continue to enjoy today’s standard of living and still save the planet. With one exception: the airlines. We can’t go on flying because the airlines emit enormous quantities of green house gas which in due time lead to the fall of poor human beings. “Porto Alegre – goodbye”, the Swedish writer Andreas Malm wrote in his review of Monbiot’s book in Dagens Nyheter 13/11 2006.

So then we should stay at home. Draw a line through global network meetings, concerts and conferences. Forget about flying over the seas and experiencing what it is like to be in a cultural and linguistic minority. Forget about creating peaceful human relations in foreign places. But what if this is the wrong measure? Or: what if this is the right measure but not enough as a measure? What if the climate problems demand a broader outlook that entails the whole of industry, the economic order, our Western patriarchal culture, how it counts only the finished product and rarely the environmental, human and animal costs of production? What if it even affects how we nourish ourselves, the supposedly neutral and trivial food on the table? Reproduction. The consuming sector. The traditionally feminine, sensitive and politically ignored food industry. Maybe it is here one should get rid of one’s blinkers if the aim is to clear away climate threats and at the same time show solidarity with the poor people of the world.

Food is part of culture, and in the Western world much of the food consists of animal ingredients, that is to say, meat, egg and milk products from the animal industry. Ever since hunting in the Stone Age contributed at most twenty percent of the food intake, and had as its prerequisite weapons that in turn could be pointed towards humans, meat from animals has been culture’s highest-valued protein. Meat from killed animals was traditionally nutrition for men in power, and it was not until the late 19th century that animal meat became everyday food for the masses.

The meat normativity of the West – the institutions, structures, relations and acts which uphold the norm that perceives other animals as objects for humans to do whatever they want with, especially to produce and consume as everyday “meat” – is today spreading around the world through advertisements and export of agricultural systems.

For a long time, this norm went free from critique by people otherwise interested in environmental and social issues. Why? Unequivocally it has something to do with the reproductive status of food, its trivial and animal-like status. The grub, the nosh, the food that mother so naturally, self-evidently and home-sweet-homely prepared and served – could it really have a political bearing? Should mother have been an important negotiating part in the political problems of the world? Should she not just have put the ham sandwiches on the kitchen table and reminded us that it is getting late? Can it be that the kitchen work of the 20th-century Western housewife actually had a decisive impact on the state of the world today?

Maybe it is due to such patriarchal blinkers – priorities ascribing exclusive political weight to masculine-coded questions – that the whole of Swedish media miss when the FAO’s latest report, Livestock’s Long Shadow (November 2006) shows that the world’s livestock for food production is one of the three largest contributors to environmental destruction and – just listen to this – that it contributes more to climate change by emissions of greenhouse gases than the whole transport sector, including airlines and cars.

Those who wish to show solidarity with the poor of the world, and at the same time desire to do something about the climate problem, should ask themselves: How is environmentally sound agriculture to be organized to sustain a continually increasing human population? Which direction should the food industry take in order not to become a security problem when oil prices climb to a hundred dollars a barrel?

Over the last thirty years the number of wild mammals has decreased to half due to shrinking nature areas, hunting and environmental poisoning. The big fish species in the world seas are near depletion. In forty years all of the fish species used for human food will be gone. Simultaneously, one billion human beings are undernourished. Seven million children die every year because they lack access to food and clean water. According to the WWF’s Living Planet Report, the major part of the growing ecological footprint that humans are putting on the earth – that is to say the production and consumption of the West – is due to the increasing usage of fossil fuel, a usage that has risen nine times since 1961.

The sixties was the period when the intensive animal industry, and with it meat normativity, made its breakthrough in Europe. Since the end of the 19th century, the slaughter industry was the first to use the assembly line and – with the aim of increasing efficiency and turnover – animal factories with small areas and confinement were introduced. This meant: increasing efficiency and turnover in a sector contributing greatly to fossil fuel consumption. Just a few years ago, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences found that the amount of energy needed to produce one kilo of Swedish meat from a pig would transport the same amount of energy in the form of beans three and a half times around the earth by ship.

Still, today four billion people sustain themselves on a plant-based diet while two billion live on an animal-based diet. Concurrently with the Western export of agricultural systems to Asia, Africa and South America, the human consumption of animal flesh is projected to double by 2050. Today, soy beans and maize are given to cows that naturally eat grass and almost all – ninety-five percent – of the global production of soy beans become food for animals in the animal industry. China has gone from consuming a little over 13 kilos of animal meat per person per year in 1980 to 53 kilos in 2004. Between 1992 and 2002, China accordingly increased its import of grain by over 70 percent, most of it to use as fodder in the animal industry.

When more and more animal products are consumed by more and more people – the number of animals raised and slaughtered per year has already reached fifty billion – the demand for energy rises at a high speed. So does the demand for grazing and fodder grain areas. Where are the areas to be taken from? The coasts that disappear in the wake of climate changes? The deserts that develop as a consequence of forest felling and over-grazing?

The above mentioned George Monbiot said in an article in The Guardian in 2002 about world starvation that the world in ten years will be forced to make a choice: either agriculture growing food for animals or agriculture growing food for people directly. Here, Monbiot had a point: to do something about starvation in the world it is no longer only the distribution of food, ownership and capital that is important; the type of food that is produced is just as important. Recently the Swedish scientist Lisa Deutsch showed that in Swedish animal meat production the animals raised are given fodder up to 80 percent based on raw materials from areas in other parts of the world, for example soy from cleared rainforests in South America and palm oil from rainforests in Asia.

A change of agricultural policies – from an animal industry to a mainly vegetable industry –directed from parliament could be used as a model globally, and this in more ways than the positive effects on climate, seas, rainforests, oil consumption and area demand. The problem of animal ethics – alarming in itself – may at last find a happy solution. A world without slaughter and animal industries is a world that also takes animals without human language into consideration, thereby relieving itself of a heavy moral burden.

The phasing out of the animal industry would lead to less environmental pollution and poisoning when nitrate from manure would no longer leach into the groundwater and rivers and streams, turning into algae bloom and eutrophication. The high content of phosphorus in human excrement would become less with more vegetable production instead of animal production. For example, as a study from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology shows, the water in Stockholm would immediately be one-third cleaner if half of the animal ingredients in people’s food were replaced with vegetables.

The neglected FAO report focuses not only on the consequences of the animal industries on climate change and the environment in general, it also shows that these industries are one of the biggest factors behind the world’s decreasing supplies of fresh water: The production of one kilo of vegetable protein may require 98,000 less litres of fresh water than the production of one kilo of meat from cows (California). And this in a world where already more than one billion people lack access to clean water. (Actually, each person may save more fresh water by abstaining from eating a large hamburger made of animal protein compared to not taking a daily shower during one year.)

Thus, huge economic gains may be made would society abolish the subsidies that are given to the animal industries: 350 billion dollars per year is granted in support of world agriculture. In the 2004 budget of the EU, half of the tax money was spent on various forms of agricultural subsidies. These state subsidies and credits could be used for more urgent needs than to support an environmentally destructive, energy-consuming and uneconomical agricultural system. What about looking over the tiny investments on women’s shelters, integration, elderly care, pre-schools, animal welfare, and culture? It would not be hard to find activities on which to invest the billions now granted to the animal industry.

That is the measure on a national and international level. The private and the state levels should not be played out against each other. Both may be good politics, and to choose between them is rather a counter-productive result of an antiquated line of thinking: the logic of either-or. Sweden, Swedish companies and households have, all in different ways, backed provincial meat food into becoming the global norm. For those who wish to do something about their personal part in the climate crisis and starvation in the world, there are more alternatives to choose from than the recommendation: “the only thing you have to do is to give up flying.” Recently, the scientists Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin at the University of Chicago found that the amount of carbon dioxide, from production to distribution to cooking and eating, is considerably lower in a vegan diet than in the standard American diet. The vegetable diet causes one and a half tons less carbon dioxide per person per year compared to standard food. Giving up a couple of eggs and a few steaks and hamburgers every week does make a difference and is a good start, the scientists say. This choice can be made three times a day.

How do we stop regarding problems of environmental and social justice as isolated from each other? How does the threat to our world become a start for new ideas and better alternatives? How do we continue to open the borders of the world – in a sustainable and socially justifiable way? How do we make it possible for more people to travel and meet each other? What can we do to help the peasants of the world, 70 percent women, in sustaining themselves and live a good life? More trains and boats, taxes on airlines, research on environmentally sound aeroplane motors. Phased-out subsidies to the animal industries, abolished tariffs on imported refined food stuffs to the EU, a Tobin tax, written-off national debts. Rehabilitated vegetable and sustainable food cultures spread over the world. Etcetera – feel free to add to the list. It is time to demand more than one thing. It is time to look over the whole system. It is time to invite your mother to a dinner of veggie meatballs and root vegetables au gratin.

Published in Arbetaren Radar 2007 no 4 (January/February), translated from the Swedish

©Arimneste Anima Museum #6

 

Rosana Antolí

 

 

In what way may time be shown as form and experience?

Today, the significance of questioning standard linear notions regarding growth, time and development is acknowledged. However, remaining to be recognized is the origin of this critique: indigenous populations, the environmental movement, and ecofeminist thinkers.

But is it possible to imagine time materially? As a distinct body? A wormlike snake ditto, twisted around their body? With repeated turns and returns, yet on their way to the body’s end, accordingly on their way to the very end?

Rosana Antolís When lines are time, curated by Martí Manen at Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona 1/7 2016 – 11/9 2016, plays around with chronology as choreographed material movement in the form of installation and as circulating performance: In what way do I imagine time? How do I feel time?

Antolí transforms critique of the linear to form; the notion of time as something universally straight and flat is incorrect. As image and symbol for each and everyone’s separate experience it is wanting; events happen, feelings return, veer, make leaps, hurl, land, seem to cease, but continue in the same body within a rectangular space.

Antolís’ time snake of accumulated moments is here seen as consciously exact; in accordance with and dependent upon the source, the unique consciousness:

You lose your shoe, you are five.
You drop your shoe, you are thirty-three.
You are unable to get your shoes on, you are sixty-seven.
You are eleven, you betray a friend.
You are forty-two, you are betrayed by a close friend.
You are one-hundred and seven, you lose your first friend.

To live through a feeling, to relive it as a new feeling resurrecting within the old. How would my time, your time, our lives, appear were they to take form in bended material like this? What kind of directed snarl sums up our time, our consciousness? When will my time turn into a form ready to be exhibited?

 

 

It is possible to perceive questions about time as individually existentially human ontological, although, they are, simultaneously, social, societal, and concerns civilization. In what way would the conditions of different societies’ – the collectives of people and other beings – struggles, moments, snarls of seen, and seen again, felt and relived, unite in a curling snake body?

 

Translated from the Swedish AAM 26th of August 2016

©Arimneste Anima Museum #1

 

Where is my home?

 

 

a propos Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis

The year is 1915 and Gregor’s room and family are a microcosmos of the legally maintained European patriarchal family order: Gregor must rise at four o’clock, go to his work in the male-coded public space, not speak with a squeaky voice, not yearn to lock himself up in order to write.

To try to fit into the standard pattern would be to perform the right kind of masculinity; to be a correct man and citizen, a cog in the machinery, as in August Strindberg’s marriage dramas where the husband is depicted as a labourer to the parasitical wife (the house slave who lacks formal opportunities to study and work).

The person not able to bring herself to behave in line with the called-for order, that is, to behave as either man or woman at the right place with the right kind of chores in the right room, is at risk of being perceived as a monster, vermin, ghost. But before Gregor becomes a monster, he becomes an insect. Gregor turns into a beetle body too big to fit in the passage to the bedroom. He is wrong in the wrong room, the female coded homey room, where he, most of all, wants to spend his nights writing and his days sleeping in.

To exist as an ‘animal’ in human society implicates being locked up as worker to produce goods, or as body to be consumed, alternatively, putatively without function, like a bug or a beetle not yet easily exploited in industrial projects; vermin only worthy of contempt. Gregor’s human consciousness performs the wrong species gender in the (for him) wrong human room. The family displays xenophobia, and Gregor’s behaviour is misinterpreted.

The gender system, detected in Swedish by historian Yvonne Hirdman, may be extended with the species gender system: Gender, and species gender, converge into a normative dichotomy pattern of superiority and subordination. Gregor finds himself outside the informal system of rules that ascribes him less humanity (incomprehensible gender) and absence of humanity (incomprehensible species).

However, Gregor is loyal to humanity: ‘He felt himself included once again in the circle of humanity and was confiding in both the doctor and the locksmith, without differentiating between them with any real precision, to reach splendid and surprising results.’ The doctor could give him medicine and the locksmith could lock him up – for life – and the case would be solved!

One’s own room becomes a shelter: To hang from the roof, explore the walls, explore the world, like, later on, Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. To act out your true self, although the edicts of the other rooms discard your performance – to speak with literary scholar Judith Butler. The room as an admissible feminist place for queerness, writing, and other incomprehensibilities. The petty bourgeoise family eats meat and Gregor is in his room. Gregor does not want the milk Grete is offering, he only wants leftovers: ‘I really do have an appetite,’ Gregor said to himself, miserably, ‘but not for these things.’

To be subordinated with the will to eat vegetarian, to breach meat normativity in human society, implies the risk of being treated like the animal one desires to defend. It is to become an artist of starvation, to be placed in front of the empty plate. Gregor stays in his room for three months: Is it going to be a cavern with no furniture, or remain human with furniture? The family empties the room only to let it deteriorate by filling it with waste and clutter. Gregor is excluded in seclusion, Gregor’s transformation is the family’s transformation: Outside his room, he is hunted by the father with apples and a cane: ‘No matter how willing he was to turn his head reverently, his father just stomped his feet even harder.’

Gregor’s state resembles the crime victim, the refugee, Jesus’ last months. The caring Grete betrays him, like Judas (Gregor has planned to pay for the conservatoire she wishes to attend), exclaiming Gregor as a thing, an animal that ‘must be gotten rid of’. The meat-eating lodgers perform as the three stupid rather than wise men, and the cleaning woman’s testimony concerning Gregor’s resurrection is never permitted to be enunciated to the uninterested family.

All since Gregor, according to the family-society, has invaded them: ‘this animal plagues us.’ Gregor is guilty of no longer being able to support the family, of being deemed disgusting to the family, of not fitting into the family order, of being the scapegoat. Gregor is imposed with the responsibility for his marginalization, and is made into dirt, and subsequently a corpse (that resurrects). Gregor ‘must die’ but is ’alive until dawn’. When Gregor has died, the family moves to a smaller apartment and looks forward to Grete’s debut on the marriage market, where she, with her ‘voluptuous’ body, may obtain ‘a canny man’. The absurd system makes a new round.

Before the human family has been transformed into persecutors, Gregor ponders: ‘But how would things go if now all tranquillity, all prosperity, all contentment should come to an awful end?‘ The prophetic body bears witness to what is going to happen in the coming fascist ideology and morphology; what will happen to the one who is ascribed the categories constructed as worthless and, step-by-step, politically is transformed into an insect, betrayed by humanity. The method of creating fear and contempt for weakness, the stigmatization of subordinated minorities: Say that they are like X, say that they are X, interpret them as X; say that they are the ones we habitually annihilate or must annihilate.

‘Nobody seems to have had so much in common with so many as this lonely author who less than others knew whether he had something in common even with himself,’ Karl Vennberg introduces the translation of Kafka’s short story in 1964. Assuredly, The Metamorphosis features, prophesises, and reminds us of our basic ontological mistake: To be transformed into an animal we must presume that we are not animals, however, we cannot become that which we already are. We cannot become animals since we already belong to the group (everyone to the exact same degree).

The approaching human calamity will get a planetary dimension. Even in the universal space, the annihilation is followed by far-reaching consequences. Forestry’s pillaging and extinguishing of insects – creatures with mind-bodies capable of navigating home by the moon and the stars – entail lack of pollination, less colours, limited crops, lack of food, curtailed future. Thus, The Metamorphosis conveys the utmost common existential refugee question: Where is my home and how do I get there?*

To be with the animal in its body, acknowledging the animal kinship that resides in each and everyone’s body, is an exercise in empathy and sympathy. A tentative transformation that may disarm and dislodge both the fascist threat and the threat from the Anthropocene. Refusal to eat the offered combination of contempt for animals and contempt for oneself is the starvation artist’s anti-fascist resistance. Gregor’s human insect protest appears immortal when it, instead of distancing itself from the first and last victims, desperately and laughingly mirrors the situation and magnifies the minimization.

 

* In The Lives of Animals, J.M. Coetzee writes that Red Peter in Kafka’s Report to an Academy asks himself this question in human-managed captivity.

Published in AAM 20170921, translated from the Swedish

©Arimneste Anima Museum #6

Dissolving love bars

 

 

Romeo and Juliet (class), Othello and Desdemona in Othello (exterior), Fred and Laurence in Xavier Nolan’s Laurence anyways (gender), Chiron and Kevin in Tarell Lavin McCraney and Barry Jenkins’ Oscar winning poetic childhood story Moonlight (sexuality).

Consider all loving relationships that were hindered due to society’s classifying in either conforming or diverging from the stated pattern. Relationships of love which were stopped but defied and survived and moved mountains. Two jazz lovers with a sense of humour meet at a ball in London. The year is 1947, one of them has been a volunteer during the war and is now a clerk at a lawyer’s firm, the other is a law student at the university. After a few weeks of dating, they decide to get married.

It may sound somewhat trivial. Two people encounter, find a common vibe, fall in love for life. Happens all the time. However, Ruth Williams is white and Seretse Khama is black; moreover, he is the successor of the British protectorate Bechuanaland, today Botswana. The couple’s love turns into an intercontinental political subject of highest concern; both the British colonial rule and the families try to avert the liaison, even though there are no legal obstacles either in Bechuanaland or in Great Britain.

But the racism of the period is deeply entrenched in the economic and political conditions of power. South Africa’s prime minister Malan, followed by the Nazi sympathizer Strijdom, instates apartheid and bans marriages between black and white people; upon which Bechuanaland, neighbour in the north, becomes a haven for ANC notable activists Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and the author Bessie Head. A mixed prince couple harbouring democratic ambitions and settling down in Bechuanaland is unthinkable to the white minority government of South Africa.

And Great Britain prioritizes its own economic interests – the British mining companies’ activities in South Africa – and obeys the South African demands.

On the 10th of March the film director Amma Asante’s [Belle] excellent A United Kingdom premieres. The film is based on Susan Williams Colour Bar, the Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation, a book that documents every diplomatic turn and every protest campaign in the battle concerning the existence of the Khama couple.

Large sections of the people in Bechuanaland backed the Khama couple by boycotting  British taxes, and by refusing to cooperate; support organizations in Great Britain cultivated opinion and assisted mass media with argument and facts; racists holding bureaucratic key posts in the British imperial rule were replaced by more enlightened people.

At the same time, students returned from elite universities in the west and created African independence movements that challenged the British colonial system. Supported by a women’s revolution, an overlooked and decisive event told about in the book but rather skipped over in the film, Botswana became a democracy including women in 1996 with Oxford-educated Seretse Khama as president.

It must be noted that there was a female candidate to the position, Oratile Sekgoma, whom the British refused to cooperate with. A woman in the highest office of the nation “was out of the question”, according to the British. Perhaps it was easy to forget who resided in the seat of honour back home.

Undoubtedly, the love between Ruth and Seretse contributed into shaking the British empire. However, for many years they fought in vain against the economic and political power plays. A private situation construction worker Richard Loving and home worker Mildred Loving in the USA of the 1960’s most probably would have identified with. In Jeff Nichols empathizing film Loving, following Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story (2011), shown at the Gothenburg Film Festival in February, the couple Loving, she categorized as black, he as white, has a formal certificate to prove their marriage.

To no avail. The police arrests and extradites the newly wed from the state of Virginia. Either they get divorced and move back or they stay wedded and are forbidden to return home. The discrimination laws of Virginia destroy the future of the couple Loving but racism cannot destroy their love. To both the Lovings and Khamas the choice to give up did not exist, their love gave them no choice. Even Richard Loving was affected by racism and was critiqued and heckled by both white and black people. Ruth Khama equally, especially in Bechuanaland, where, among other things, the white colonists shut her out from social life and denied her to eat at hotel restaurants.

The couple Khama and the couple Loving  were interviewed, in their respective time, and separately, by Life Magazine as part of the struggle for the legalization of mixed marriages. Many sympathizing people gave their support – more in the case of the wealthy couple Khama than in the considerably less privileged case of the couple Loving.

How wonderful then that Mildred Loving’s effort for the right to love turns out to be decisive. Mildred’s external environment monitoring of protest marches on television gives her the idea to write to Robert F. Kennedy, who furthers the issue to a law firm willing to take on the case without billing. The case is tried with success in the Supreme Court, which constitutionally abolishes the ban on interracial marriages, accordingly in the sixteen American states in addition to Virginia that still had racial laws.

The couple Khama opened the eyes of the world to loving relationships regardless of skin colour. The case of the couple Loving became the tipping point that made loving legal in the whole of the US. And eventually with an even wider significance: In 2015, in Obergefell vs Hodges, the verdict in Loving vs Virginia was used to criminalize the discrimination of gay marriages in the US.1 Earlier that year, a resolution acknowledging equal marriage rights including same sex couples was adopted by the European Parliament. A reform that was instituted in Sweden 2009, and recently in Finland (1st of March).

Marriage, or not marriage. Living together, or not living together. Loving relationships, or not loving relationships. The choice ought to be voluntary and equal to all. Every year, the 12th of June, Loving Day is celebrated in the USA in remembrance of Mildred’s and Richard’s victory in the Supreme Court 1967. The celebrators are most often of divergent sex, but an increasing number of freely sexed people have started to party before Pride.

Since everyone’s right to be who they are, or want to be, and everyone’s right to love whomever they want to love, dissolves many borders. Considering the dubious attitude of the new American president towards human rights, awareness of this kind is more urgent than ever.

 

Originally published in AAM 4th of March 2017, translated from the Swedish

  • Susan Williams, Colour Bar, the Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation, Penguin/Random House, 2006
  •  Not. 1. The film The Case Against 8, 2014, tells about the legalisation of same sex marriages in California.
  •  Picture from the movie, actors: David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike

©Arimneste Anima Museum #6

Sophocles’ Antigone

 

 

Two brothers have committed fratricide (the act of killing one’s brother). One of them is buried stately [Eteocles]. The other one is deserted to become food for vultures and starved dogs [Polyneices]. A sister of the two brothers [Antigone] refuses to obey, and secretly buries her abandoned brother. To defy king Creon’s decision equals death sentence, but what happens after death is as important as what happens before. Without an accurate burial ceremony, no dignified place in the underworld.

Sophocles’ play from around 442 BC is usually considered to be a drama about the religiousness of Antigone and the significance of an appropriate funeral. And about the risk of acting so uncompromisingly that one causes devastation. Historian Mary Beard mentions this interpretation in her book Women and Power from 2018. Antigone stirs things up, she seizes power illegally. She is disloyal to the collective, the regent Creon, the city of Thebe and its laws. Antigone creates a mess. Look what happens when one defies power!

Many have, like Beard, taken issue with such a reading. Whose wilfulness and arrogance are this drama about? Creon’s or Antigone’s? And, is not the foremost theme in the play sibling hatred, sibling love, and the sense of justice? Both brothers Eteocles and Polyneices killed, and died, obviously they ought to have tantamount burial ceremonies. Antigone is a righteous rebel who objects to Creon’s decree that takes away the dignity of Polyneices. Furthermore, the choir recounts that the people of Thebe is on her side, as is Haimon (her betrothed; the king’s son) and Tiresias (the prophet). Equally, no one is affected by the action of Antigone – rather, she is the saviour of the situation.

In her book Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf depicts Antigone as the educated man’s unfairly poor sister. To Woolf, Sophocles’ tragedy is an example of how a literary work could have become propaganda but evades such a fate due to the complexity of the text. At the end of the play, we unexpectedly sympathize with the person who ordered the death penalty, king Creon. He has been transformed by catharsis and now realizes that his autocratic ruling has led to catastrophic consequences. But ought he regret something more than his hubris?

In Antigone there are not only starving dogs, there is also a catch. However, to grasp this, one must start by reading two other plays; Sophocles’ Oedipus and Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebe. The brothers of Antigone have agreed to take turns and reign one year at a time; Eteocles begins. When it is time for Polyneices to take over, Eteocles breaches the contract and refuses to step down. Polyneices mobilizes and departs for Thebe to make war with Eteocles. The brothers meet in duel and, as we know, the brothers are killed by each other.

The play Seven Against Thebe enlarges the context of Antigone’s actions – as well as Creon’s overreaction. The play also sheds light upon the conflict between Creon and Antigone. Why is it of such an import to Creon that Polyneices is not given a dignified burial ceremony? And why is it so important that Antigone is punished with the greatest penalty because she attempted to bury her brother? Why is Creon so relentless?

When the brothers died, one of them was king by agreement (Polyneices), and the other was still king, by his own opinion (Eteocles). One of the homicides was an attack to fulfil a contract, and the other was a defence to continue breaching a contract. Thus, the one who was buried as a king, was not the king. And the one who was left unburied, was in fact the king. When Antigone defends Polyneices by insisting on a dignified funeral, yes, a funeral of a king, she is, thus, defending the king. Or, put in another way, she is abiding by the law, while Creon is breaching the law.

Interpreted in this way, Antigone revolves around standing by, until death, the act of arranging a regent’s funeral. But, more overlooked, also around who is and may become a statesman. The brothers’ agreement to take yearly turns in reigning is an actual loosening up of the monarchy, and Antigone is honouring the brother who was adhering to the new order. Her lines – and Creon’s – shows that she is conscious of her challenging of the power (the autocratic rule) and that her actions is a capability test verifying that she has the traits to shoulder a regent’s position. It is Antigone who is next in line to the throne after her brothers, not their uncle Creon. Did perhaps Antigone and Polyneices have in mind a scenario of a wider democratic struggle?

In the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre (Dramaten) staging of Antigone in 2017, the boy, who attends to the prophet the blind manwoman Tiresias, is played by a dog (non-starving). The dog is the uttermost witness, the visible and invisible actor, the one who is hidden away despite their significant contribution. It is the prophet and the dog who make the audience wince and hold their breath. Even when Antigone is lowered down to Hades, accompanied by Led Zeppelin music, she cannot rival the prophet’s and the dog’s timeless and wise personas.

Tiresias and the dog are a hyperbole, a kind of drag-act that reminds us of the ones who are visible yet become invisible. Women, older people, non-binary, functionally marginalized, migrants, workers, children, dogs, other non-humans go broadly unnoticed in the grandiose narratives of posterity. The prophet and the dog make-visible those excluded in the loosening of the autocratic rule that was the first formal European democracy. Antigone acts out a regent’s early and desperate revolt to democratize the scope of decision-making and law-making. She has the people, the choir, the prophets, and the audience with her. At last – but too late – perhaps even Creon.

 

©Arimneste Anima Museum #4

Published in AAM 25th of December 2017, translated from the Swedish

Antigone / [Sofokles]. Alkestis ; Medea ; Hippolytos / [Euripides] fyra grekiska dramer i övers. av Hjalmar Gullberg, PAN/Norstedts 1967

Women and Power – a manifesto by Mary Beard, Liveright 2017

Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf, Hogarth Press 1938

Antigone transl. into the Swedish by Marie Lundquist; directed by Eirik Stubø Dramaten 2017

Nanine Vallain

 

 

a story of representation

Which is the image that tells the story of the French Revolution? Evidently, it is that famous popular painting with the bare breasted woman leading the people on to rebellion. A painting that expresses the haste and verve of the period. Presumably also possible as a pin up poster.

A painting created almost forty years after the outbreak of the revolution, and not by someone who took part in the events. So, is there an image painted by a person who did take part? But ought not such a work have been discovered and disseminated by critically-minded historians and writers? I search in books and on the internet, doubtful to call into question something so acknowledged, established, and acclaimed as the image of the French Revolution.

Contrary to expectation, a picture pops up that meets my requirements, under the word liberté; La Liberté, Freedom. The artist is Jeanne-Louise “Nanine” Vallain (1767-1815), pupil of one of the period’s most celebrated painters, the neo-classicist Jacques-Louis David. Has the painting survived – does it exist in reality? Yes, says the copyright bureau, the work is exhibited at the Musée de la Révolution française in the town of Vizille in the south east of France.

Wonderful! Except for the fact that I have neither the time nor the finances to visit there. In any case, not presently. So, I print out the two images in colour and put them beside each other; the popular speedy victorious painting by Eugène Delacroix from 1830 and the onerously beautiful painting by Nanine Vallain from 1793. Why are they so different to each other even though they bear the same title, comment on the same time period, and picture the same allegory? Why is Nanine’s work residing in the shadow in literature and media? How can it be that a painting by a woman, created at the time of the perhaps most renowned historical event, is still largely unknown?

“Please help fill in the facts for this biographical entry”. It is difficult to find biographical facts about the artist. I detect a sentence here and there in French and British art encyclopaedias. Aside from that, near nothing. So, I return to the image, the masterpiece that was left in the cellar of art history for so long. Perhaps due to a happenstance, perhaps because some influential friend of Delacroix thought that one (1) masterpiece of the French Revolution was enough. The exact reason is of lesser importance.

The painting is of importance. I sleep with it. It spins around in my head. The colours – the light blue and emerald sky, the blue blouse, the red cap, the stick, the pyramid, the urn in the background with the date of the storming of the Bastille and the Royal palace, the Human Rights Declaration in rolls, the broken chains on the ground at her feet: She, Liberté, barefooted, muscled, collected, assertive. Sitting. The composition is magnificent.

Forsaken and magnificent. I see before me all the colleagues of today in the category of “women” slowly but surely fade away from the collective consciousness of the future. A relay in which half of the runners and half of the front runners each is given a flamboyant bouquet of flowers. Only to be shown off the track into an existence of nullity. While the colleagues in the category of “men”, just as slowly and surely, fill the emptied space. (Presumably to the extent of around eighty-five percent, the situation today in Swedish school books in history, according to surveys by The Swedish Television and the Swedish daily paper Dagens Nyheter.)

However, exactly in that space, with a dramatic volt from nowhere, it happens. The seamstresses, washerwomen, market sellers, fishermen’s wives, miners, agricultural labourers, maids, waitresses, actresses, prostitutes, writers, teachers, artists burst out of the gaping hole under the exit signs. The family slaves, the peasant slaves, the colonial slaves, the church slaves in the female category.

How surprised and darned they are at us feminists. We who have let them fall into oblivion. But they smile in such a cool manner. They wake me up from my sleep; they pull my ear. Why is the Declaration of Human Rights drooping in the right hand of Liberté? Why is the red cap placed on her pike, and not on her head? Why is she not charging ahead like the woman in Delacroix’ cherished and world-famous image?

Nanine Vallain’s master, Jacques-Louis David, the artist of the time, has numerous pupils, some from the category of women. He is a child prodigy. In his youth, he is invited to participate in the competitions of the Royal French Academy of Arts, however, when failing at his third attempt to win, he goes on a hunger strike. Now, as an adult, he is a dedicated revolutionary, one of the principal men, a friend of the lawyer Robespierre. Jacques-Louis has painted The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons in 1789 and has set the tone, especially for the young people of the Revolution. The Revolution must be prioritized, even in relation to one’s family and friends. The Revolution demands personal sacrifices. Objection and criticism are the same as treason. Unity is everything. You are for, or you are against. If you are against, you are dead. La Révolution ou la Mort.

Jacques-Louis David is the highest official responsible for the Republic’s artistic matters and propaganda – images and paintings and statues that aim to strengthen the people’s support of the young Republic. Hitherto the prime symbol of the people is the popular mastodon icon La Liberté. David replaces her with the classical antique figure Hercules, a gigantic machismo statue holding a miniature of Liberté in his hand. It is shocking. Liberté is the people, the nation, the Republic itself. It is she who must inspire and solace the young men who may die on the battlefields fighting against the monarchies that aim to reinstate feudal power. David gets rid of her, dwarfs her to a petite statuette. How is it possible?

David has voted for the execution of the king Louis XVI. He is a deputy in the National Convention, and together with Robespierre part of the highest national power in the Committee of Public Security. In the autumn of 1793, the National Convention issues an order proclaiming that presumed contra revolutionaries are to be arrested. Under a new law, the law about the suspicious, no concrete evidence is required. Anyone considered not to have acted for the advancement of the revolution may be arrested. The person who deviates from the general opinion is guilty. The person who is perceived to be critical of the regime may be sentenced to death.

Contra revolutionary! exclaims the play wright and literary activist Olympe de Gouges. She is the author of the first feminist manifesto of Europe, Declaration of Women’s Rights, a paraphrase of the Declaration of Human Rights (1789). All human beings, regardless of sex and colour, are naturally and equally included into humanity. Official posts must be open to everyone. Kings and queens should abdicate – not be executed. Children born outside of wedlock must be given equal rights. Divorce must be applicable also to women. The last-mentioned demands have been adopted by the National Assembly, and later the National Convention. If the French Empire does not abolish the slave trade, the Empire must be abolished, de Gouges proclaims. Upon which the colonists begin to conspire to get her arrested.

De Gouges’ posters, put up everywhere in Paris, condemn the terror politics of David and Robespierre. She advocates a popular referendum to decide the form of the national regime. She challenges the deeply rooted binary gender system that is used to hinder political rights. She declares: “I am neither woman nor man, I am both woman and man.” Just how bold de Gouges statement is, may be grasped by comparing it to the view of e.g. the art critique Coup de Pattes (Le Triumvirat des Ars 1783): “A woman who possesses all of a man’s talents to create significant art, is an impossible man, a monstrosity.”

Simultaneously the poor women of Paris are losing their patience. The supply of bread and basic goods is on the rise, but the situation is still very bad. Prices are impossible, and influence is close to zero. The children do not whimper over aching stomachs anymore, they have fallen silent. Marie-Antoinette, occupied with following a diet to fit into the latest fashionable chemise, does not, according to the women, understand her fellows and their plagues. We could have made a meagre soup out of her; the women shout when the queen is guillotined in the autumn of 1793. The king – executed almost a year earlier – he, by contrast, was not so difficult to steer. Some buuh! And vive le Roi! at the right instances and he obeyed. But now the pompous lawyers have killed him. Now they have taken away the only route to speedy decrees, opened garners, and lower prices.

The female category has both driven and supported the revolution. However, it does no longer go their way. The poor women yammer and fight, and report people randomly. On their own initiative they instate taxation juste, righteous prices, i.e. payable prices. In the autumn of 1793, the nation’s regime responds by inaugurating a new time order implicating a ten-day working week. A monthly calendar, picturing half naked young women at work, is used to launch the unpopular project. After campaigns in the press, where the category of women is criticized and blamed for not behaving “like women”, the National Convention resolve that women may not assemble in political organizations and discussion clubs. Women have no freedom of assembly. Women should stay at home and take care of their children and not engage in politics. A few days after the proclamation, the 2nd of November, Olympe de Gouges is sentenced to death. She is guillotined the subsequent day.

In 1792 Nanine Vallain has begun to work on the painting that eventually will ornament the wall of the prime assembly for revolutionary male politicians, the Jacobin Club. Is the painting an assignment or a donation? I can’t find the facts that would verify which; however, a French lexicon from the 19th century states that she joins the radical Commune Générale des Artes in protest of the Royal French Academy of Arts. To paint the picture of the revolution is great. Nanine Vallain does it masterly and in line with Jacques-Louis David’s spirit; truthful to the neoclassical ideals, stylistically pure.

But also in a headstrong way. Liberté reigns in front of an Egyptian pyramid, a symbol of unity and universalism. Or, is it perhaps a symbol of hierarchical feudal society? She is the eye-catcher. Straight-backed, dressed in working clothes, resting momentarily. This is a character of an immense strength. Down-to-earth, a living person, not foremost allegory. She may be anyone among the young women in the decisive Women’s march of 5th October 1789.

So, what is Nanine Vallain suggesting with her master piece? Does the painting tell the women of Paris to calm down? Is La Liberté a propagandist concession to Nanine’s master, art- and propaganda minister Jacques-Louis David, and to his statue Hercules? Ought the women deliver the red freedom cap to the category of men, and stop pushing their own political agenda? Interpreted in this way, the painting may be accepted without problem in the assembly room of the Jacobins. And the women can realize that they are not political agents. That they should give their support to the revolutionary men but cease to act of their own accord.

In the summer of 1794 the number of persons who are sentenced to death reaches its culmination. In addition to politicians, the executed consist of poor people and women. Sixteen nuns from a Catholic Carmelite Order – most of them young and without means and from the countryside – sing hymns when they, one after the other, are forced to enter the guillotine. A young woman is executed with her baby in her arms. The audience at Place de la Révolution and Place du Trône Renversé, including the guards, mumble and turn their heads away.

The assembly room of the Jacobins is gaping empty and few members remain. Nanine Vallain’s La Liberté is still hanging on the wall. The word brotherhood, in the credo Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood, has been taken down from the presidium. Most of the members have been guillotined or arrested. Not by their opponents – contra revolutionaries, aristocrats, or royalists – but by other club members in the National Convention and the Committee for General Security. The terror politics is coming to an end.

Nanine’s master Jacques-Louis David has stomach pains. At the exact right day, Jacques-Louis refrains from participating in the sessions at the National Convention, and by this evades the fate of his colleagues. Not long after, Jacques-Louis is arrested but elupes the guillotine. He has started to paint the reconciling The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799), in which Hersilia throws herself between the Roman king (her husband), and the king of the neighbouring country Sabine (her father). Jacques-Louis is already friends with Napoleon who will stage a military coup and withdraw the reforms of the French revolution considered sensational at the time; the general vote for men, the abolition of slavery, the equal right to divorce, the rights of children born outside of marriage. Within a few years he is emperor Napoleon’s appointed artist at the court.

What is Nanine doing? In the autumn of 1793, when women are forbidden to create their own clubs and are expelled from public politics, she marries and becomes Madame Piètre. It is a way to survive as an artist. Thus, she may continue to exhibit, but not as Nanine but as M. Piètre. Nanine has ceased to exist. The lexica at the library of the Swedish Royal Academy of Fine Arts show a career gap of several years. Is La Liberté a proof of an artist’s solidarity with the revolution even to the point of namelessness? An expression of dedication, willingness to make sacrifices, and obedience to the revolutionary male power?

Probably. However, I cannot help but seeing a subtle and very elegant protest. When I look at La Liberté rebelliously from beneath, I find answers to my questions about the details of the painting. Liberté appears as a real person, not just a symbol. The red cap – during classical Antiquity a gift to the freed slave – cannot be placed on her head. She belongs to the female category – the never liberated that was not expressively included in the United Nations Human Rights Declaration until almost two hundred years later, in 1981. The Declaration in the hand of Liberté droops because it is an unfulfilled promise.

A sensational but insufficient promise. A promise that did not include everybody and could not feed the many. An affirmation that did not prioritize the right of women to get justly paid for their work, so that they could feed themselves and their family, and gain strength to fight for the ideals of equality and citizen rights.

Nanine Vallain’s image La Liberté is an ambivalence; an artist’s way of expressing herself, getting the job done, yet evade censorship. It is a portrait of a feminist revolution taking a pause. Her hand is holding the Declaration both firmly and tenderly. Liberté has accepted the situation, but has not given in. She is banished, but still present. She bides her time. She is the last one to leave the premises.

 

©Arimneste Anima Museum #6
Published in Opulens Magazine, 8th of March 2017, translated from the Swedish

Soul sister

 

 

The Mad Hatter, mad from the mercury in the glue the workers had to endure in the British sweatshops of the 1840s, says to Alice in Wonderland when she laments the situation to him: ‘You have lost your muchness, Alice. You were much more muchier before.’ After having deliberated upon this, Alice decides in favour of her muchness. To make use of her freedom, and become a champion. By becoming a champion she is the one who kills the Beast, the war machine / the body prison / the patriarchy no one has mastered before.

Utopias can be the same as nowhere, can be the same as doom. Utopia is an unrealistic place and we are living in it to a large extent already. But let me start from the beginning. A wordless relation may be perceived as more profound than one filled with words. In Swedish the term used is ‘djur’, in latin animalia, or metazoa. In English the term is ‘animals’, originating from the latin animal, signifying with soul (anima).

In other words, those who breathe, those who have a soul. Those who have spaces of air to fill with consciousness. However – nota bene – no jealousy is justified here. ‘Animals’ is a term we ourselves are included in: man is also an animal.

Yet – among humans, the most common nonhuman animal is not a being who breathes. The most common nonhuman animal in human society is a being whose breathing has been extinguished. Extinguished consciousness. Extinguished body.

In Carolee Schneemann’s performance Meat Joy, exhibited at the First Festival of Free Expression at the American Center in Paris 1964, a group of almost naked people move around each other, and around meat parts of sausages, chicken, and fish. The group radiates energies of pleasure.

The artwork Meat Joy lets the bodily move. If not entirely free, then at least openly. The bodies blend in voluptuous embraces. Senses and flesh are united. Living bodies are united with dead bodies. The art work’s element of meat food product blends the living flesh with the extinguished rotting meat.

The artwork is a free expression of sexuality against a backdrop of war. Intimacy and eroticism are staged against the aggression in Vietnam and Cambodia where the soldiers’ sex lives are destroyed (that is if their bodies survive). Young people’s tenderness and playfulness are transformed into anger and madness in the stench of dead bodies.

Schneemann’s work may be interpreted as a fulfilling of the patriarchal existence. Since human (by tradition) is the same as man, and man (historically) is the same as killing or commanding to kill, beginning in the obtaining of dead flesh as food, the being who has killed, or has survived the killing, becomes more of a human, and to consume that which is killed is transformed into an ideal erotic act.

The kind of protein chosen (the extinguished body of another animal, that which we call meat), requires killing, requires callousness of spirit. The one who aims to kill must learn to harm and to extinguish the breathing of the other. This is how the everyday practice of aggression begins. As a repetitive feature turned into a food habit that ingrains culture and becomes a driving (necrophilia) force for dominance, and war.

A cultural force that contributes to civilization’s consumption of other species; in the aberration that the survival of other species is not intertwined with humanity’s own survival and that the nourishment and survival of mankind require the killing of others. In the aberration that the breathing of the human is not dependent upon the breathing of others, and that wordless consciousness does not count.

What have they done to the Earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences
And dragged her down

The Doors, ‘When the music’s over’ (Strange Days, 1967)

Jim Morrison’s ecofeminist despair is poetry’s depiction of and protestation against an attack war that resembles rape: The world is not to be harmed. The world is too indispensable to be exploited. And some paths are too beautiful to be mowed down. Some areas are too wonderful to be scrutinized. The gain is too small (or, too trivial, or harmful). The advantage is too small, and the price is too high.

But the materialized utopia of the exploiter is the same as the cutting down without repercussions. And deliberations are unnecessary since the Earth’s other beings are not regarded as someone’s sister.

In this kind of reality, meat from dead bodies becomes more valuable than other kinds of meat (meat from mushrooms, soya, fruit) since the bodies cost more energy and work (i.e. ravaging) to produce. Thus meat from killed animals is seen as more valuable because it requires more resources, thus requiring more from society’s economy than the equally valuable plant protein (produced without war).

In such an economic order, animals are forcefully inseminated and lawfully covered in barns and well locked up facilities. The producers of cow milk may launch milk from Swedish farms on the market as ‘come a little closer to nature’, and The Asthma- and Allergy Association may sponsor TV-commercials speaking of meat parts as ‘safer food’, only a few months after the global H1N1-epidemic (originating from animal industries).

In such a global public space, silence resides when the Environmental Programme of the UN, in a report on the World Environmental Day 8th of June 2010, says that the two most important problems the world faces are the usage of fossil fuels, and agriculture’s focus on animal production (meat and milk from animals).1

The country’s political parties close their eyes, and stage an unaware replica of the artwork Meat Joy: All of them, with the exception of the Left Party, gather to enjoy extinguished animal bodies at a Swedish hamburger chain’s advertising party, in Almedalen, the biggest political festival of the year. They bring the barbecue into the garden and pull off the plastic cover from the meat packages.

And the Baltic Sea and the Saaristomeri Sea are filled with mud and algae. At another place, where the Swedish consumption effects even more, the corals of the seabeds turn white. The earth molders. The freshwater reserves runs dry. The forest areas are reduced. Cultivated land areas are diminished. The oxygen content decreases. Peak Oil is followed by Peak Meat. The choice of protein, the choice to destruct animals and nature to obtain a certain type of food, pushes up the food prices at the world’s Southern continents. Simultaneously, the current family norm propagates mankind beyond the sustenance of the Earth (plus ninety million humans every year).

In a reality of impossibilities, utopia becomes unthinkable. In the endeavor for utopia, dystopia is created; the humans who contribute the least to the destruction (women and the young) are the ones who have to fight the hardest against getting rammed by the Beast’s ravings and temptations.

Hitherto humans in the category of women have attained liberation on the condition of not changing society’s direction. Not changing its glue and building components. If they, when they have reached the steering wheel, have wished to turn the ship, they have had to say farewell. In this way, we are, not the least by our mothers, brought up to become pillars and backbone in the prevailing machine: lured into shopping, cooking, and being very afraid.

The obstacle to a joint liberation of the trivially extinguished bodies (Bos Taurus, Galliformes, Sus scrofa domestica, Melengridiane, Struthio camelus, É quus caballus and other species) is the arrogance humans show other humans. When the superordinated at the steering wheel of the Beast not even look minimally to their own species (regardless of sex and gender) – the right of everybody to a decent living standard, food to sustain one’s body, sexual freedom, and a membership in a union – they will hardly care about the necrophilia food culture they have created.

So – time to choose one’s own muchness. The liberation of animal bodies may give also human bodies the freedom to enjoy their own living flesh. To materialize their own humaneness, the uniqueness of our own species, and each and everyone’s personality, is to take what we want.

Nobody wants the imprisonment and the standing of no chance. And – the essentially common: Nobody wants the forceful covering. The kidnapping of the offspring, the confinement, the cramming, the rottenness and the stench, the hurting, the horror in the farming facilities, the assembly line of slaughter.

As we perceive it, nobody who is conscious wants this either.

No being who breathes. No soul sister.

Before performing her deed to kill the war machine, Alice convinces herself:
‘Why, sometimes I have believed as much as six impossibilities before breakfast.’

The Hatter gives her his support:
‘It is an excellent habit.’

In a world that has gone mad, it is indeed an excellent habit.

 

©Arimneste Anima Museum #4

Published in Bang Magazine, #3 Summer Issue 2010, translated from the Swedish.

  1. About the UNEP Report.