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one worldCan art incite peace in a world of violence?

Adonis, the poet and outspoken Paris-based Syrian exile, thinks art has that potential. In an interview at the New York Review of Books blog he explains:

The East and the West are economic and military concepts, and were created by colonialism. We can say geographically that there are East and West. Economics and colonialism took advantage of that.

But in art there is no East and West. You see it in the paintings of Paul Klee and how he was inspired by Tunisia and Eastern Arabia. You see it in the paintings of Delacroix and how he was inspired by Morocco. When you read Rimbaud, you see that the best thing about Rimbaud is that he is not a Westerner; although he was born in the West, he was completely against the West. When you read Abu Nawas, or Abu Al-Ma’arri, you do not say that they are Easterners or Westerners. The creative ones are from one world, regardless of what country they come from or where they went. They live together beyond geography, beyond languages and nationalism, and they belong to the creative world of humanity. In this sense there is neither East nor West. Whitman is just like Abu Tammam for me. He is a part of me, and I am a part of him.

It would be nice to think so.

The dangers of romanticism and worries about cultural appropriation notwithstanding, creativity always seeks to erase boundaries, especially the artificial ones the make sense only if violence and theft is your thing.

A world without art would be a world in which no one would be curious about shadows or impatient with limits—a world in which authority would be all to comfortable.

I think Adonis is essentially right.

Art is a confederacy of lepers and pariahs, affecting little except for its crucial role as testimony to the possibility of non-violence.

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