FALL ARTS PREVIEW Culture shuffle play in a post-9/11 world [1]

[ Tue. May. 8. 2007 ]

Genres crumble, divisions fade in light of tragedy

By Julia Keller
Tribune cultural critic

...Contemporary culture is a blur, a haze, a hodgepodge, a constant shuffle play on the natural-born iPod known as the human consciousness. The old hierarchies -- high art, low art, enlightenment, junk -- are dead. The ancient demarcations of poem and story and painting are pointless.

Genres are dissolving. Boundaries are disintegrating. Old lines of stratification and division and roping-off of subject areas, gone. Next thing you know, they'll be taking the 9/11 commission's austere and straightforward exegesis of the defining national tragedy of our lifetimes and turning it into a comic book. ...

... Modern technology, then, may have been almost as urgent a target for the 9/11 terrorists as were the helpless humans they murdered. The audacity of the attacks may have arisen from a desire to splash the world with the ghastly imagery of technology run amok, of technology outsmarting itself to bring about chaos and death. Thus the arts -- still our chief means of engaging with ideas, even the heinous ideas of terrorists -- must grapple with technology's double-edged sword: Some of us see it as redemptive and positive, while others see it as threateningly negative.

John Brockman, founder of a Web site illuminating the interplay of science and culture (www.edge.org [4]), believes technological advances are always beneficial, despite the lethal misgivings that certain groups harbor. Science "figures out how things work and thus can make them work better," he wrote in an e-mail. "As an activity, as a state of mind, it is fundamentally optimistic."

And so here we stand, clutching a comic book in one hand and a copy of "Hamlet" in the other, listening to an aria through one headphone and a Dixie Chicks ballad through the other, looking out at a landscape that seems ancient and exhausted -- and bright and new. A world in which we are, every second, individuals and vital parts of communities as well.

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