Monthly Archives: December 2012

A short note on indignation and indifference (Wilcock, Vallejo and Gramsci).


Writing a blog sometimes in which coordinated posts devoted to one issue seems to become harder and harder. I seem more and more to let thoughts flow and only find myself distressed by coordinated, rational posts. For most journalists the only article that would seem really to be worth writing would be entitled ‘Je m’accuse’. The Gaza events not long ago brought home this insanity – the different worlds, the discourses (even of indignation), the photos of dead children (the reality as well as the propagated reality). There was something obscene in speech and the production of images per se- something obscene in being a purely emotional participant (not taking away the equal obscenity of indifference). Fanaticism and indifference, participation and forgetting, sudden waves of indignation followed by forgetting. This is all seemingly inevitable – the fury gives way to something else… a kind of forgetting or turning elsewhere. The blindness of Vladimir Akimenkov that I wrote of in my previous post is the slow developing blindness of us all just as the incarceration of Pussy Riot was the incarceration of us all in many ways. In so many ways political journalism can’t cope with this gathering up of the obscene and the grotesque which swamps life and societies because of our generally schizophrenic attitude towards concern, compassion and indignation (accepting the old lie that we are merely the victims of circumstance and not equally reponsible due to our previous inaction).

To me the only responses in the last weeks were a re-reading of previous assaults on the purely verbal in the human being. An assault carried out by two poets – one an Argentinian who later wrote in Italian – Juan Rodolfo Wilcock (and who I have translated in these pages – though not his poetry)- he wrote a collection called ‘La parola morte’ in which he dissects the verbal in human beings and in one poem (number 8 in my collection) he launches a withering assault on humankind comparing it to animals and vegetables from which it should learn silence and other qualities (from pigs ‘angelicity’, from vampires purity, from jackals majesty and from beetroots the ability to stay silent). As well as Wilcock, there is the great Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo (I hope to write more about him later) who wrote in November 1937 just five months before his death a poem entitled ‘Un Hombre pasa con un pan al hombro… (A man walks with bread upon his shoulder)- he repeats the question – how can I speak, how can I write about the double, about psychoanalysis or Andre Breton etc when I see certain things (a tubercular man, a carpenter who falls from the roof and dies, someone cleaning their weapon). All these questions Vallejo puts before us and renders us mute before a contemplation that even a simple gesture by another can reveal the whole tragedy of the present world without all those words and images that somehow are merely a simulacrum of indignation. Maybe Kira Muratova in her ‘Asthenic Syndrome’ did something similar in the dog pound sequence, continuing with this assault in her more recent ‘Melody for a barrel organ’. Yet purely political journalism can rarely do this.

There are political texts that still resonate and move beyond our present-still too passive- indignation, one of which is Antonio Gramsci’s Odio gli indifferenti (I hate the indifferent). Here is the long concluding passage:

Indifference is actually the mainspring of history. But in a negative sense. What comes to pass, either the evil that afflicts everyone, or the possible good brought about by an act of general valour, is due not so much to the initiative of the active few, as to the indifference, the absenteeism of the many. What comes to pass does so not so much because a few people want it to happen, as because the mass of citizens abdicate their responsibility and let things be. They allow the knots to form that in time only a sword will be able to cut through; they let men rise to power whom in time only a mutiny will overthrow. The fatality that seems to dominate history is precisely the illusory appearance of this indifference, of this absenteeism. Events are hatched off-stage in the shadows; unchecked hands weave the fabric of collective life – and the masses know nothing. The destinies of an epoch are manipulated in the interests of narrow horizons, of the immediate ends of small groups of activists – and the mass of citizens know nothing. But eventually the events that are hatched come out into the open; the fabric woven in the shadows is completed, and then it seems that fatality overwhelms everything and everybody. It seems that history is nothing but an immense natural phenomenon, an eruption, an earthquake, and that we are all its victims, both those who wanted it to happen as well as those who did not, those who knew it would happen and those who did not, those who were active and those who were indifferent. And then it is the indifferent ones who get angry, who wish to dissociate themselves from the consequences, who want it made known that they did not want it so and hence bear no responsibility. And while some whine piteously, and others howl obscenely, few people, if any, ask themselves this question: had I done my duty as a man, had I sought to make my voice heard, to impose my will, would what came to pass have ever happened? But few people, if any, see their indifference as a fault – their scepticism, their failure to give moral and material support to those political and economic groups that were struggling either to avoid a particular evil or to promote a particular good. Instead such people prefer to speak of the failure of ideas, of the definitive collapse of programmes, and other like niceties. They continue in their indifference and their scepticism.

Perhaps the political police who searched one political activist in Russia recently confiscating not the activists copy of the Communist Party Manifesto but rather a collection of Gramsci´s writings on Art and Politics to check for extremism had an intuition of the subversiveness of Gramsci´s thought. Though, of course, I doubt it.

Antonio Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci