Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sympathetic Magic

Walking around McMaster University today, I came across something that I've never seen before. There were colored-chalk tattoos across the sidewalks opposing racism, sexism, homophobia, and so forth. This in itself is very common on university campuses. In some sense, I think it's odd- scrawling these slogans in the dead of night suggests that the public sphere is more hostile than it really is. It's playing Sophie Scholl in a culture that is, if not totally welcoming, certainly not threatening towards open discussion of these issues, right? Playing the White Rose Society seems like yearning for a totalitarianism to oppose. There's something weirdly hopeless about the non-referential chalk scribbles- the ones that make a point with no hope of discussion of that point. These people don't actually think that they can't defend anti-racism in a face-to-face discussion, do they?

On the other hand, there's an element of sympathetic magic to it- the idea that scrawling the words End Racism will have an unseen, corresponding influence on the environment- like the cave paintings of Lascaux, it seeks to provoke unknown future effects through suggestion and symbols. Like Lascaux, they're scrawled in the dark, in relative isolation.

However, the chalk tattoos sometimes advertise some sort of public meeting. Lately, there have been a few anti-war protests- the theatrical of politics deployed against military force, the theatrical of valor!- at Mall University, indicating some sort of public life is developing there. I find them fascinating to watch, although I'm not a marcher by nature. Marches and teach-ins are far preferable to chalk in the service of chalk.

Anyway, a few things were different about the McMaster graffiti- the first was its vagueness. They often went through the trinity- anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia- and then offered 'peace' as the cure for all of these ills. Things like 'Peace ends sexism'. I haven't a clue what sort of peace they have in mind, although Canada is still in Afghanistan. But what has that to do with homophobia?

Now, what I've absolutely never seen before was this- the McMaster chalk writings were all in the service of a Facebook group! The group was planning to create peace via Facebook, another sort of sympathetic magic really. What an odd hollowing out of the public sphere has gone on, when people's political work consists of empty clicks in their lonely rooms- all of social life is approximating sympathetic magic. Who needs totalitarianism when 'le resistance' is willing to voluntarily go underground? How pathetic! The Internet is great fun for killing time. I am quite skeptical about its value in terms of our culture and society.

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