As a variation of the Churchill statement on socialism, one can say that if you are not involved as a 20-year-old, you have no heart, but if you are as involved as a 40-year-old, you have no mind. Involvement or commitment is an attitude that can relate to all areas of human life. Not only activists working on behalf of disappearing whales, but also artists, garbage collectors, scientists, educators, politicians, designers, housewives and women can be ‘involved’. Commitment is an inherent human quality: committing yourself to something greater than yourself without direct self-interest. The person in question may also make a serious mistake and commit an attack or write illegible works. Commitment is not the same as having (moral) right.
Commitment is not a matter of slogans. In public life, involvement and having quite often swept into one pile. Those who bring their story to the limelight with big gestures or words may feel involved, but above all, speak for themselves. Today’s media culture is a linguistic arms race of big announcements: collapse, chaos, ruin – the more dramatic the better, especially if a perpetrator can be identified. So one would say that involvement needs to be curbed. Enough is being shouted these days.
It therefore comes as no surprise that Arnon Grunberg is not very aware of the concept of ‘involvement’ in his speech of thanks for the PC Hooft Award. Involvement, if he does not say it so directly, leads to moralism, consensus, sentimentalism, all useless expressions. “Involvement will often be pretended” […] (and) is often little more than complicity. “He speaks of the” jargon of indignation, “which sets in motion” the smoldering machine of lazy thinking. ”
But is it not also a quarrel that does not do justice to the commitment that exists among many people, including artists? Grunberg also associates direct involvement with state art. But it is exactly the opposite, commitment imposed by the state, that we must rightly refrain from. Involvement comes precisely from the individual, unless we assume that every citizen has been brainwashed by – at his own choice – the government, large companies or some Martians.
Art, like science, opens windows to other worlds, in our time often dystopian, rarely utopian, but always windows, through which a new light shines on what one did not see before. Or not so sharp. What one does not want from art is a literal and indignant prayer for wind turbines or against NATO. You want to be surprised, even shocked, at what until then was your limited conception. Whether the artists are for or against NATO makes no difference to some extent as long as they make us think. Committed art does not dictate what we should think, but undermines our self-evidence. The very best art lifts you out of the indifferent laziness of everyday life. Art stimulates the commitment that we should nurture. May we please have a little more art in talk shows and a little less indignation and vanity?
Involvement is the yeast of society. It provides empathy and energy between the citizens. Over the course of a lifetime, engagement usually takes on more realistic forms. The twenties of Greta Thunberg’s generation are unique in theirs connection, their connection with other places. I’m curious how in 2040, hopefully without losing the urge for mortgages, washing machines filled with dirty diapers and e-bikes, they have translated their slogans into new language and actions.
A version of this article was also published in the newspaper on May 30, 2022