Volume 3 - Issue 8 - What Is to Be Done: The Ways we Live Now

By Gareth Evans

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"Our best hopes lie in strengthening the conditions that allow the flourishing of a diversity of living things, a diversity of ideas, and a diversity of choices. Extinction is the thing that destroys those very conditions, so you join the epic battle with the demons that are devouring the world, and you do what you can. It’s all anyone can expect of you. You do everything you can". – Terry Glavin, from The Lost and Left Behind: Stories from the Age of Extinctions (Saqi) available from www.lrbshop.co.uk

So we come to the threshold of the years and, even if we don’t feel a particular attachment to the imposed, unanchored calendar of dates and grids, it’s hard not to make assessments, to consider the perennial questions raised by Paul Gauguin’s famous painting of 1897, ‘Where Have We Come From, What Are We? Where Are We Going?’ To these, in an age of vanishing seasonal differences, of endemic conflict, of systemic abuses and failing machineries, we might add, What Is To Be Done?

Lying somewhere between elegy and a call to action, it’s a question that seems ever more pressing, and one that migrates across all territories of the human at the present time. Hardly an original enquiry, its inevitable ongoing relevance speaks directly to both the issues it might consider, but also the means by which those issues could/should be addressed. If we cannot agree on what is to be done, how then can we enact it? Culture, communication fora, media of all kinds: never have these arenas, at once personal and collective, been more important, speaking as they must both for the myriad diversities of our species and in acknowledgement of shared and indivisible qualities, traits and challenges. Never has it been more necessary that they work favourably and contribute to the resolution of any number of impending crises.

All too often of course, whether in the squalid newsprint of giveaway tabloids or the visceral broadcast voyeurism of celebrity (self)abuse, these operations fail us, and not merely passively. They can obscure the lived and textured reality of things; they collude with the trivialising, the distractive, the corrupted and corrupting; they embed hostility. But that is not the whole story. The democratisations of the internet and digital technologies, despite the overwhelming volume and the proportionally vacuous / demeaning material they generate, have still allowed work of worth and importance to speak on a broad and international platform.

For every Olympic-prompted funding cut in state provision for the arts, an enthusiastic self-supported start up operation galvanises hope and enthusiasm. For each departmental closure, new networks of committed individuals rally resources and energies in crucial directions. The goal, as ever: to maintain the good, and to sow more seeds. Always the need to defend and advocate. Too much is too easily brought down. How much harder to build but equally, how essential to resist. Genuine resistance understands that, without history, without the preservation of the lineage, nothing made out of the present into and for the future can be truly radical.

And so, the means? It is about equal collaborations, about partnerships of mutual intent. The Green/Left publication Red Pepper will be devoting their February/March issue to the politics – in all senses – of film. Track it down redpepper.org. And visit filmaid.org – surely the work this unique organisation undertakes, organising screenings in refugee camps across Africa, is among the most remarkable manifestations of cinema’s singular ability to lay down paths towards better ways to be in the world.

So, in a winter of international discontent, the green shoots of the good continue to work, and show how we can make our place – vocational, social, geographical and at whatever scale – a terrain of active possibility. The site of what is to be done.

"I was coming to see that facts carry a traveller only so far: at last he must penetrate the land by a different means, for to know a place in any real and lasting way is sooner or later to dream it. That’s how we come to belong to it in the deepest sense." – William Least Heat-Moon, from PrairyErth (Picador).

This edition of Vertigo will be launched on the 13th February, 2008 at 6pm at London’s Curzon Soho cinema with the London premiere screening of John Gianvito’s internationally acclaimed new essay film Profit motive and the whispering wind