Stephanie Burgis
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Politics, art, etc.
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This morning I read Karen’s brilliant entry about the new legality of confessions brought about by torture, and I was shivering with helpless rage by the time I finished. I don’t talk much about politics here, partly because I really do want this to be a welcoming space for everybody, not just people who happen to vote the same way I do. But surely torture has to be a bipartisan issue? It’s been centuries, now, since people first realized and wrote that evidence produced by torture is no evidence at all.

Non-citizens--like Patrick, if we were living in the U.S.--have lost the right to habeus corpus. (See Ben Rosenbaum's summary of the implications.) And the fact that even American citizens who have never left the country can now be arrested as enemy combatants and kept for an indefinite period without trial, for generalized, nonspecific reasons (“support for the enemy” - how exactly is that going to be defined? Without a trial, well, who knows?) ... that’s just nightmarish. (Quick note: I don't think there's any ethical difference between doing this to American or foreign citizens. It's outrageous no matter whom it happens to. But the fact that society has moved to this point where we can legally accept that it might even be done to citizens of our own country - well, the sheer blatancy of it feels incredibly shocking.)

This afternoon, after work, instead of going directly to a café to write, I went to the Leeds City Art Gallery and was pleasantly surprised to find a visiting exhibition of ten drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. One of my favorite things about England (and Sweden, now) is that art galleries are free. Walking through the exhibition felt like getting an infusion of wonder, something to balance against all the frustration and anger I was feeling. Da Vinci’s drawings are at the same time more accessible than his finished paintings or sculptures - they’re unabashedly rough, they look like something you might actually find in a really well-illustrated children’s book - and more immediate. He tried several different versions of the same picture. He sketched human anatomy with incredible precision and detail, to practice for the large-scale paintings and sculptures.

One drawing, called “The Deluge”, looks at first like it’s just one big incomprehensible chalk smear. Then you look closer and realize it’s made up of a thousand precise little details all whirled together to portray a flood destroying a landscape with terrifying force. I went back to that drawing over and over again, caught by its power and its relevance to the way I had been feeling, the way I’d been thinking of the world. Apparently, Da Vinci was obsessed with images of destruction. He drew that picture for himself, not for any audience. It resonated with me for a long time afterwards...and the amazing thing is that it made me feel better, seeing that incredible image of uncontrollable destruction. This is the alchemy of art - that when you put all your skill into vividly portraying your terrors, and other people who share those terrors see it and experience it - then there is a real sense of comfort that comes out of it. A sense that all of us are human together, no matter how divided we might seem. A sense of wonder.

The exhibition is up until the end of November, and I will definitely be going back again.

In the meantime, for other kinds of comfort, I’m re-reading Caroline Stevermer & Patricia Wrede’s The Grand Tour, which is just wonderful. I found it at the SF-Bokhandeln in Stockholm, which is by far the coolest science fiction/fantasy bookstore I’ve ever been to, and also the one with the best selection (and that’s just in the English language section!). I wandered through it thinking, ooh, there’s that book I read about in Locus but could never find, oh wow, look at that... We went back there almost every day of the trip just because it made me happy to be surrounded by so much great fiction. I read The Grand Tour for the first time on the airplane trips back, less than two weeks ago. I’m already re-reading it and enjoying it even more the second time, which really says something. Well, how could I has Regency-era travel through wonderful European cities, and one of the main characters loves opera and tiaras!

Comfort is good when the world feels so scary. Comfort and, of course, action. I’ve already signed petitions. But I wish I knew what else to do.

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