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Christian Teresi on Violence in Art

“I think about films and films that depict violence and don’t participate in the violence they depict. And there are films that depict violence and do participate in the violence they depict. It’s something I’ve really been thinking about over the last decade or so. I just saw a film I had to walk away from because I felt it was so violent to the viewer that it inflicted violence on them. Whereas a film like Boys Don’t Cry was about violence to this person, but the film wasn’t violent to us. I read about it. The directors and the actors really worked hard not to do that.

“Like when you watch a film that depicts a rape, and it’s horrifying and you can’t stop thinking about it for months, and we’re supposed to leave thinking rape is terrible, and that somehow its been done to us. I don’t think that is necessary at all. We have an imagination, and we can empathize without undergoing a violent act. So I’m very interested in ways art can move you and touch you but not afflict you. Look at Shakespeare. We read King Lear and you’re like, oh, my god, don’t do this, don’t do it. Cordelia’s over here and Lear’s in the storm, and you have to just stop reading and cry and put your head down, but it doesn’t feel as though it’s being done to us. It’s something we recognize. We too can be as obstinate and blind as Lear. We can see what’s happening. We participate, but we’re not being asked to carry it for Shakespeare.”

From An Interview with Marie Howe by Christian Teresi, The Writer’s Chronicle (May/Summer 2010).

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