This picture was taken in Philadelphia, during an episode of the Coincidental Hour at The Vat, 2013.
There are five men in this photo: me, three other men “engaged” with me, and one man watching. If applying the World Health Organization’s definition of violence, which states that it is “the intentional use of physical force or power against oneself, another person…which either results in or has likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm”, I believe this was indeed an act of violence. Yet, as at least one of the faces indicate, this was also an act of entertainment; there was some amusement indeed. As far as I can know, everyone in this photo (and perhaps everyone else in the room not pictured), enjoyed this moment, in one way or another.
This is some good Christian imagery here.
Morality does it’s best to keep us safe, but only does so through a ruthless system of simplification. The moral mind proudly serves actions, judgments and consequences with clear boundaries of right vs wrong, good vs evil. Violence, quickly processed through traditional moral thought undoubtedly in the category labelled, “wrong”. With its sharp blade that slices off the imperfect edges of our complicated existence, morality in itself is violence.
While Nietzsche attempted to unhinge the codifying Christian morality in Beyond Good and Evil, he wrote, “One should open one’s eyes and take a new look at cruelty”. But can there be such a thing as “positive cruelty” or “healthy violence”? Is it possible for violence to empower without victimizing? If one does as Nietzsche, and looks at the roots of tragedy (those bloody, violent Greek tragedies) where catharsis through depictions of violence were a community service, one might be inclined to say yes. But even the definitions of catharsis (purging, cleansing) and what it was supposed to do for a viewer, is not very clear. And that’s fine by me. It shouldn’t be clear. This is beyond morality. Just as I am skeptical that various acts of charity, philanthropy or generosity are all “good”, I equally doubt that all acts violence and cruelty have no productive value.
In actions like this one pictured, I let myself – and hopefully others – feel the rush of complication and the energy of transgression, yet do so with only enough guilt to heighten the tension. It’s all relative, of course. Some leave offended, others leave without questioning enough. But that’s always the case, the best I can do is try to put the concepts in play/on display and hope that we all have fun then think about it, make a mess then clean it up, be violent and take care of each other.