Solnit on Walmart;
The Two Uses of Symbolism
Rebecca Solnit wrote an interesting essay
about Wal-Mart, which is posted at Tom Dispatch
(also posted on The Nation
). To put the essay into perspective, it is helpful to know a little bit
about Ms. Solnit:
Rebecca Solnit is a writer, art critic, museum exhibition curator, and political activist. She won wide acclaim and recognition for her 1994 book, Savage Dreams : A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West (Vintage). Centering on counter-histories of Yosemite National Park and the landscape of Nevada's nuclear test sites, Savage Dreams is a destabilizing and demystifying intervention into the tragic and romantic mythopoetics of place in the American West. Her 1997 A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland (Verso) is a travel narrative which navigates through ideas about remembering and forgetting, identity and landscape, and patterns of movement, from colonialism to tourism and nomadism. Her recently published Wanderlust, Solnit writes, is a history of "walking as a cultural activity, from the peripatetic philosophers of ancient Greece to the contemporary paleontological arguments about bipedal evolution, from an aesthetic pleasure in eighteenth-century England to the growth of politically active walking clubs at the turn of the century and the birth of the outdoor industry and climbing gyms, as well as histories of the rise and fall of urban walking as a pleasure, pedestrian uprisings, and the gender politics of public space."
The important point is that she is a museum curator and art critic. So why would she write about Wal-Mart? And why should we care? After all, the Blogosphere is littered with essays about Wal-Mart; the fact that there is much dissent about their practices hardly needs amplification. The reason she writes about it, is that she is concerned about the actions of Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Ms. Walton is opening an art museum: Crystal Bridges
. Ms. Solnit sees an opportunity to make use of that phenomenon as a metaphor for some incisive social commentary.
Ms. Solnit does give some stats on Wal-Mart wages, and such, but if that is all she did, it would not be noteworthy. Her perspective as a curator enables her to see the irony of an enormous corporation celebrating great works of individuality and creativity; while at the same time, that same corporation thrives on the stifling of individuality, selling millions of uninspiring, identical items. Ms. Solnit develops this idea with artistic richness and insight, making use of her knowledge of the specific works of art being acquired by the museum, and the artist and his subjects:
So now a portrait of antislavery and wilderness advocates belongs to a woman whose profits came from degrading working conditions in the U.S. and abroad and from ravaging the North American landscape.
One of the advantages of an education in the Humanities is that it provide one with the skills needed to find meaning in symbolic expressions. It also provides the skills needed for a more subtle, but powerful process: the adaptation of symbols originally created to express one idea, then using them to express other ideas.
posted by : Joseph j7uy5