This week's episode of Studio 360 was a pretty good one. The focus was on art that places the artist in one form of danger or another. A major example made was Eva Hess; her unusual sculptures would not have been possible without the synthetic materials that came of age in the 50's and 60's. Her near-constant exposure to the chemicals eventually ended her life. Trumpeter Matthew Steinfeld contributed his own story of a damaged lip caused by playing his instrument to aggressively over a number of years. A few references to performance artists, particularly those like the guest Elizabeth Streb, who purposefully put their bodies into situations that could possibly cause harm. Say jumping through a plate glass window, or living in a gallery with live coyotes a la Joseph Beuys.
What I'm wondering is what exactly could constitute "dangerous" writing. On a pure physical level, I imagine a very industrious writer could get some sort of repeptive stress injury, either from typing or writing by hand (I'm currently eyeballing the puffy callous on the knuckle of my middle finger made by many a pencil).
While this would probably apply, I guess I'm actually thinking of "dangerous" in another way. Writers from the past who challenge our morals and basic ways of thinking are often dubbed "dangerous writers". In the somewhat distant past, the Marquis de Sade certain fits the bill, while Kathy Acker and Harold Jaffe are probably the most widely known modern-day equivalents. At least in the U.S. And, of course, who can forget Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. As far as dangers go, it's hard to top a fatwa called out on you by one of the world's religious leaders.
But what drives them, exactly? Why write on topics they must know will confound, anger and perhaps even drive your fellow man to vehement violence against you just for the words you write? de Sade was thrown in prison for his words, and Rushdie sent into temporary exile. I'm sure the above were all told at one point in their respective careers to tone it down and behave before something really bad happened. But they persisted anyway. I have respect for people, for artists, like that. Perhaps it's the lack of sleep or the pounding headache, but I'm having a hard time deciding if I would have the strength to do the same.
More tomorrow, by way of Jodi Picoult.