Babylonian Passion

by Israel Centeno    /  October 9, 2012  / No comments

“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye” –Videodrome (1983)

Brothers Watching TV

Photo: Colleen Proppe. Creative Commons

Nietzsche predicted that an excess of historical consciousness would smother Western civilization, and Oscar Wilde—or, at least one of his characters—claimed that abundant knowledge and lack of understanding desensitizes man.

  1. Night Watch, a column<br />
by Israel Centeno
  2. From his lonely watch post Albert Camus asked who among us has not experienced exile yet still managed to preserve a spark of fire in their soul. “We’re all alone,” Natalia Sedova cried in exile on hearing of her husband Leon Trotsky’s affair with Frida Kahlo. In his novel Night Watch, Stephen Koch follows the incestuous love affair of David and Harriet, wealthy siblings watching the world from their solitary exile. Koch’s writing, Camus’s theories, and Trotsky’s affair all come back to exile and lead me to reflect on the human condition. From my own vantage point, my Night Watch, I will reflect on my questions of exile, writing, and the human condition.
  3. Israel Centeno
  4. Israel Centeno was born in 1958 in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently lives in Pittsburgh as a Writer-in-Residence with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He writes both novels and short stories, and also works as an editor and professor of literature. He has published nine books in Venezuela and three in Spain.

We live in this world and we cannot create another one except through the arts.

Mankind follows history every step of the way through social networks and the eyes of the news channels. Without wanting to be, we are a politically active part of a globalized public opinion, suffocated by the simultaneity of “news.” How can we comprehend what’s going on?

The men, women, and children of the Arab Spring in Libya are, on one hand, embroidering the flag of the United States and, on the other, they’re lynching the ambassador of the allied nation. The news consumer, eyes glazed and belly full of popcorn, watches one of Assad’s bombings in Syria.

Our surprise is robotic: We are neither shocked nor moved.

In the same second that you, my dear friend, tap the keys on your anodyne computer to submit a meme while intolerance pays your salary, you feel a twinge of guilt. You open another webpage, you try to change the channel, but more news appears, the same as always: Tens of thousands of people being murdered, tortured or persecuted across the length and breadth of our blue planet. Africans are dying while trying to cross the Mediterranean. New groups of nationalists in different cities throughout the developed world, now in crisis, are beating the immigrants, and the skinheads are once more baring their teeth. Thousands of children expose their skeletal bodies to the sun, sitting in excrement and surrounded by flies in an area of southern Africa, constantly being photographed and filmed. It’s good to film them. Things happen for a reason: To keep us awake one Friday; to make us feel uncomfortable when we’re fragile; to find the blame necessary to free us from bigger obligations.

The purpose of Mea Culpa* is to smoke out theories of social redemption or to provide a sensitive topic of conversation with other viewers: Night-time bombings in Syria or Caracas, missiles speeding hundreds of kilometers to hit their target with surgical precision. We have stopped considering ourselves part of the issue, stopped thinking about things and stopped searching for answers, even though the issue is frustrating and complicated. We look at everyone else and then at ourselves with a touch of post-modern cynicism. We will always be able to take part via social networks and “Like” a discussion between the angry, the apathetic, or the political, who still have no answers. It would be fitting if our illusion of being close yet disconnected in the virtual circus was shattered and reality came flooding in, demanding a proposal from us.

But for the time being, put some more popcorn in the microwave!

*Mea Culpa is a catholic expression of remorse that means “through my own fault.”

Translation: Kelly V. Harrison

About the Author

Israel Centeno was born in 1958 in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently lives in Pittsburgh as a Writer-in-Residence with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He writes both novels and short stories, and also works as an editor and professor of literature. He has published nine books in Venezuela and three in Spain.

View all articles by Israel Centeno

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