Sex, Lies and God:
Poetry on the Decalogue
Sha'ar International Poetry Festival 2010
This year we celebrate the 10th year anniversary of the Sha'ar International Poetry Festival. Sha’aris both the Hebrew word for “gate” and the Arabic word for “poetry”, and in this spirit the SIPF has taken upon itself to open poetry gates to thought, beauty and human dialogue. For a decade the SIPF has served as an opportunity for various dialogues: a dialogue between writers and readers, a dialogue between languages, cultures and religions, and a dialogue between poetry and other arts: music, theatre, performance art, dance and video art. The Sha’ar experience is this agora of dialogues, as well as an artistic venture focusing on new poetry in Israel, on Hebrew-Arabic cultural exchange, and on cross-art commissioning.
This year, even before the SIPF opens its gates to the audience, it will hold a three days international poetry performance workshop, collaboratively organised by Literature Across Frontiers and Helicon as part of the Word Express project under the auspices of the EU and the British Council. Three young Hebrew and Arabic poets from Israel and three young international poets will meet for a poetic dialogue, and later on present it on the festival stage.
Wishing to exchange views in this international agora and to learn from the insight of poetry, throughout these years we have invited overseas poets to share this poetic search with us. Poets from five continents have come to read their poems and to listen to others at these poetry gates. We take again the opportunity of this international gathering to make the voices of poets heard, as a counterbalance to the politics of fear.
We believe artists and poets touch the hearts of many in society, creating from the raw material of thought and feeling the very essence from which we create our tomorrow. It is their work that often gives validity and meaning to our reality of today, shares its insights with us and calls us into action.
We believe in getting together, and in dialogue, for the simple reason that we have no other sane way to deal with disagreements. We say no to hatred, fear and indifference, for we still believe in the power of human spirit and in our striving towards a better future of tolerance, pluralism, understanding and peace.
This year, the SIPF takes the 10 Commandments as its theme, and invites us all to explore the various ethical aspects of society, culture, and our own lives. Through poetry and other arts we will try to expose some 'golden calves', self imposed commandments and ethical traps, but also aspirations, visions and better understandings of human relationships.
The first three imperatives of the Decalogue refer to God, faith and worship, whereas the rest form a universal code of ethics. Nevertheless religions have been a chief factor in human code of ethics, although not always in the best way. Here, in our war-stricken region, religions and politics have often been dangerously mixed.
Adultery, dishonesty or faith can be part of a private "Sex, Lies and God" drama, but murder, theft or coveting your neighbour's property can be just the same when applied to social groups, nations, or the humanity as a whole. Learning how to live together is especially crucial for us humans, and yet throughout history conflict has hardly been the exception. To say the least, human history is a far from pleasing testimony to ethical behaviour. In fact, one may observe political history as a long chain of actions in which individuals and groups have been trying with varying degrees of success to suppress other individuals and groups. As a species, exploitation and enslavement seem to have been one of our main goals for centuries, and even now globalization and the capitalistic survival of the fittest seem to be doing the same old thing through economical strategies. Socio-political structures, from families to empires, seem to have worked along the same lines for ages: power rather than reason seems to have ruled history
One could conclude we can't do anything about it, and even discussing it is rather futile. But how can anyone aspiring to a free and better world agree with such a responsibility-evading conclusion? Assuming responsibility is the basic ethical action, without which there is no action but only reaction, no vision but only daydreaming. Denying one's right to his own responsibility and vision is the main agent of mental slavery and despair. Denying our right to responsibility and self reliability is denying human dignity and integrity.
Responsibility seems to operate concentrically. Our first ring of responsibility encompasses just ourselves individually, securing our own physical survival and taking care of our health and well being. Obviously enough, in our second life ring, responsibility includes taking care of our children and families, and in an additional ring – our friends and colleagues. But does responsibility end with these inner rings? Can one ignore his responsibilities for the community or humankind and hope to achieve the maximal good for himself only?
Individual good and the common good are not contradictory, and in fact they are inseparable. At the end of the day we ARE interdependent, and to achieve our survival objective we need to extend the range of our responsibilities further. The next rings of responsibility have to do with striving for the maximal good of our associates, city, and whole society. Still further, individual responsibility would need to encompass humanity at large, and finally all life forms and physical existence as such.
The maximal good we can hope for would simply mean an action that takes responsibility for more people or for more life rings, and harms none or the least possible. With this golden rule it seems we won't go wrong if we say that the maximal good is at the same time that which is successful in terms of survival; not the survival of the fittest, but the interdependent survival of the maximum life possible.
However, this simple rule of the maximal good isn't really news. It has been propounded by all great philosophies and religious teachings, and yet we fail to apply it once and for all in our individual endeavours and our social structures. Starvation, war, overpopulation and pollution are not the effects of our lack of technology or resources, but of our lack of responsibility.
How, then, can we gain more responsibility? – Well, it's free for the taking: simply by choosing to take more and more of it, by enlarging more and more our concern for more and more life rings. This can be applied to every action we have to decide upon, and it's always a present time choice: widening one's responsibility could be thought of as a goal rather than a fulfilling a set of designated duties.
At the end of the day it is the human desire to do good and our potential for responsibility that seem to be our quest: not slavery but freedom - not law but ethics. This is the key with which we can open the treasure house of our common riches, the very human qualities that poetry and art strive to enhance: human love, wisdom, imagination, creativity and beauty, all of which are riches that are made abundant when shared.