The Good Is To Be Done Because It Is Good, Not Because It Goes Somewhere

The Washington Post headlined the passing of Daniel Berrigan (Daniel J. Berrigan, pacifist priest who led antiwar protests, dies at 94, Colman McCarthy, 4-30-16). Politics from the past involving figures not noted today. The cliché is that history is written by the winners, those who are successful. After the various comings and goings of success in the last twenty years, from the first Clinton presidency Dot Com economic hysteria through the Bush years financial meltdown to “What do we do with the Basket Building?” and today’s “it’s not the economy, stupid!” presidential politics, Analysis can’t help but wonder how, or what kind of history can or will be written. Within that context it was refreshing to read the obituary. An obituary refreshing? Several days prior, PBS Newshour ran a segment entitled “Artist Theaster Gates turns Chicago’s empty spaces into incubators for culture” (4-26-16). The end of the interview brought the following exchange:

“JEFFREY BROWN: His newest project, undertaken in his position as director of arts and publics life at the nearby University of Chicago, extends the idea to an entire city block, a burgeoning art block in the Washington Park neighborhood. It includes an arts incubator for cultural groups and classes in woodworking and more for young people.

THEASTER GATES: As you finish high school and go to college, come back for the summer, go back to college, come back after you graduate, that it’s really that relationship that will make these buildings work over time.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s also a cafe and a bookstore where musicians regularly perform. On the drawing table, a large performance space for plays and concerts. And what’s the idea behind it, an anchor or an engine to grow, or how do you see it?

THEASTER GATES: So, maybe words like engines and anchors are good words. But I think first it needed to just be a place where culture could happen, that before we had to think about it as an economic generator or a cultural anchor, it’s just like, can I have a place to rehearse my play?

JEFFREY BROWN: Simple? Yes.

THEASTER GATES: Yes, absolutely. Can we have a place to make our music? Can our kids learn art here?” Gates final words in the interview:

“THEASTER GATES: What I love about art is that the power of the symbolic work has so much potential to do more than the thing on the ground. And so I think about ripples. I think about affect. I think about symbolism. But I don’t think that there are limits on what’s possible. Not only do poor people have a right to beautiful things, but people have the right not to be poor anymore. And I think that that feels like it’s worth making art about and fighting for.” (from the transcript)

Analysis finds this outlook, this reasoning to resonate with what Daniel Berrigan has to say at the conclusion of McCarthy’s obit: “In a 2008 interview in the Nation magazine, Father Berrigan echoed a line of Mother Teresa’s that spiritual people should be more concerned about being faithful than being successful.

“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere,” he said. “I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. . . . I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanely and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.””

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