A Critique of Aesthetic Imagininations of Social Change

After reading Lederach’s article I found myself feeling how I often feel after hearing a haiku recitation- as if, in attempting to capture a sense of fullness in a scant conundrum of syllables, nothing had been said. Contrary to Lederach’s claim, a haiku approach to any effort of mediation in arenas of social change is inherently problematic for a variety of reasons. First, such an argument presupposes that opposing voices share a common aesthetic around which they can formulate a possibility for social change. If antagonists could conceive a collective sentiment for resolution, there would be no antagonism. The fundamental essence of antagonism is the inability to agree on prospects for synthetic progress. Secondly, a mediator, rather than serving to streamline a barrier of communication and understanding, more often than not, only serves to add to the cacophony of voices and miscommunication/misunderstanding that underscores and perpetuates conflict. A mediator is not a poet. A violent conflict is not a hodgepodge of images that only requires a creative intercessor capable of composing a visual amalgamation to find its resolution. To find, and speak to, the essence of things, one must assume an essentialist perspective. Any such essentialist approach to complex, multifaceted conflicts will never approach any true prospects for lasting, meaningful change. Mediators should help others speak for themselves, not speak for those others.

We live in a postmodern age where singular solutions have become incompatible with convoluted, compound problems. The dissonance of competing claims can no longer find common expression in any shared language or aesthetic; rather, these claims can only be balanced against each other to ensure the greatest possible common good for all. A poetic approach to mediating social change is an inherently dictatorial one. The mediator is no longer practical. What is needed more now than ever is a paradigm shift in our conceptions of representation. Figureheads cannot, and should not, speak for their constituents. The constituents must be empowered to speak for, and amongst, themselves in order to both make their claims heard and negotiate their enactment. The Occupy movements have, more than anything else, demonstrated these emergent elements of postmodern social evolution. There is no Occupy manifesto per se, nor is there any identifiable leader. Though there is a New York Times article entitled “A Manifesto for Wall Street Protestors”(http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/business/a-manifesto-for-wall-street-protesters.html), the demands outlined by said article demonstrate the most basic common conception of the problem, not any concrete, ideologically unified proposition for its solution. The only element of Lederach’s article that I agree with is that the core of conflicts must be uncovered to progress towards any solution; however, the prospect of any solution is not as harmonious or reducible as Lederach seems to believe. We are not going to solve our problems by condensing their imagined elements into a succinct poesy. What is required is a collage of independent images that retain both independence and unity, as tensely as the two can attempt to be balanced.

The role of mediators as defined by Lederach seemed opposed to the ‘facilitators’ of Occupy movements. Lederach seems to advocate for mediation that conveys the basic meaning for others, rather than allowing those others to mediate their own meanings. Facilitators, on the other hand, simply guide others in their vocalizations of their own meanings and desires. This is, itself, a performative process with its own codified signs. A brief summary, and short instances, of this performance can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odFygPMwbIM

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