“We need to know what’s going on,” writes Olivia Laing in her new collection of essays, Strange Weather: Art in an Emergency, “but how much detail is useful, and what do you do once you’ve got it?”
To deal with this question, Laing brings up Eve Sedgwick’s idea of “paranoid” reading vs. “reparative“ reading.
“Anyone who’s spent time on the internet in the past few years will recognise how it feels to be caught up in paranoid reading,” Laing writes. The paranoid reader is all about “gathering information,” addicted to the idea that the “next click, the next link” that will bring clarity. But clarity never comes, because you can never, ever know enough to avoid danger and disaster.
Though paranoid readings can be enlightening and grimly revelatory, they also have a tendency to loop towards dead ends, tautology, recursion, to provide comprehensive evidence for hopelessness and dread, to prove what we already feared we knew. While helpful at explaining the state we’re in, they’re not so useful at envisaging ways out.
An “altogether different approach” is “reparative” reading, reading that “isn’t so much concerned with avoiding danger as with creativity and survival.”
A useful analogy for what [Sedgwick] calls ‘reparative reading’ is to be fundamentally more invested in finding nourishment than identifying poison. This doesn’t mean being naive or undeceived, unaware of crisis or undamaged by oppression. What it does mean is being driven to find or invent something new and sustaining out of inimical environments.
I would like to adopt that line as a mission statement: “To be fundamentally more invested in finding nourishment rather than identify poison.”
Because you can identify all the poison you want, but if you don’t find nourishment, you’ll starve to death.
Later in the book’s introduction, Laing says, “I’m going out as a scout, hunting for resources and ideas that might be liberating or sustaining now, and in the future.”