As a variant of Churchill’s statement on socialism, you could say that if you’re not involved at 20, you have no heart, but if you’re also involved at 40, you have no heart. ‘spirit. Involvement or commitment is an attitude that can concern all areas of human life. Not only activists working on behalf of endangered whales, but also artists, scavengers, scientists, educators, politicians, designers, housewives and women can be “involved”. Commitment is an intrinsically human quality: committing to something greater than oneself without direct personal interest. Incidentally, the person concerned may make a serious mistake and commit an attack or write illegible works. Commitment is not the same as being (morally) right.
Commitment is not a question of slogans. In public life, involvement and being right are often lumped together in one heap. Those who highlight their story through gestures or grandiose words can feel involved, but mostly speak for themselves. Today’s media culture is a linguistic arms race of grand declarations: collapse, chaos, ruin – the more dramatic the better, especially if a culprit can be identified. So you would say limit the involvement. There’s enough screaming these days.
It’s no surprise, then, that Arnon Grunberg pays little attention to the term “involvement” in his acceptance speech for the PC Hooft award. Implication leads, if he doesn’t say it so directly, to moralism, consensus, sentimentality, all unnecessary expressions. “The involvement will often be feigned” […] (and) is often nothing more than complicity. He speaks of the “jargon of indignation” which keeps the “quivering machine of lazy thought” running.
But isn’t it also a joke that does not do justice to the commitment that exists in many people, including artists? Grunberg also directly links the involvement to state art. But it is exactly the opposite, a commitment imposed by the State, from which it is rightly necessary to stay away. The implication comes precisely from the individual, unless one assumes that every citizen has been brainwashed by – one’s choice – the government, big business or certain Martians.
Art, like science, opens windows to other worlds, in our times often dystopian, rarely utopian, but always windows through which new light shines on what you did not see before. Or not so sharp. What you don’t want from art is a literal, indignant plea for windmills or against NATO. You want to be surprised, even shocked, at what until then has been your limited conception. Whether the artists are for or against NATO makes no difference in any sense, as long as they make us think. Engaged art does not dictate what we should think, but undermines our self-evidence. The best of art takes you out of the indifferent laziness of everyday life. Art stimulates the involvement that we must nurture. Can we please have a little more talk show artistry and a little less outrage and conceit?
Involvement is the leaven of society. It brings empathy and energy between citizens. Over the course of a lifetime, commitment usually takes on more realistic forms. The twenty years of Greta Thunberg’s generation are unique in their connectivity, their connection with others elsewhere. I’m curious how in 2040, without losing their taste for mortgages, washing machines full of dirty diapers and electric bicycles, they converted their slogans into new language and actions.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on May 30, 2022
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