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Alien Anthropology

Appetite for Destruction: the Aesthetics of War

As a species, we seem positively bound to cyclical, constructive inflation and reinvention of the artefacts, entities and cultural systems that quite naturally sediment in and as shared memory around such catastrophic historical episodes. The essence of history has been this headlong rush into cataclysmic violence, followed as denouement by much gentler growth and cultural decompression and dissipative seeding of ideas, experiences and the regenerative possibility of an aesthetics of melancholia.

The interminable, eternal return into internecine spectacle invokes translation, mediation and interpretation. This is the significance and role of art in such contexts. Being that cognition as much as cultural memory is so profoundly shaped and influenced by the psychological horror and human suffering of war, questions arise as to reflexive compulsions that might only ever self-validate our better angels by the presence of evil.

I followed the events of the Balkan war with apposite shock. Is there in the human being some inexplicable, plausibly unintelligible yet reflexive drive to incur painful experiences such that we might rebuild ourselves and our memories in constructive ways? Creativity is intimately entangled with destruction.

Afterthought: I can’t help but wonder if the current enthusiastic saber-rattling over Ukraine is less a consequence of geopolitical ambition, more a symptom of pathological imperatives towards suffering as the ground-state from which peace and creative self-reflection grows. We have all and for so long defined ourselves and our triumphs by, through and as the collective horrors of memory; we may be unable to enjoy peace without something terrible to compare it to. It is an infantile relationship with the world that structures reality by such certain difference and inevitable conflict but it is also the very furthest reaches of political imagination. While the world fails to acknowledge its endemic weakness in orientation towards conflict, it is destined to forever recreate it and war is the greatest weakness and dissembling vulnerability of all.

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