Fight Fear

Sylvette Babin

Fight Fear
By Sylvette Babin

Never until now has fear been such an intriguing subject of research. A natural reaction that was once triggered by the presence of a stranger or when facing danger, fear has considerably changed through civilization. Brand new fears have surfaced. Existential angst and modern phobias, fear of the Other and of difference, psychoses and paranoia—all are more or less grounded anxieties and terrors that are nevertheless more devastating than the ancient defence reflex. Today fear has become a tool for manipulation and propaganda, and an excellent means of social control. By exploiting social fears such as xenophobia and the fear of terrorism, those in power have at their disposal all the necessary pretexts to use defensive or offensive strategies that often serve economic rather than common interests. In the name of public security, considerable amounts of money are invested in armament and the deployment of “preventive” forces. Incidentally, the Canadian Forces have developed this year an important and costly recruiting campaign. In ads on T.V. and the web, one can read, “Fight fear. Fight with the Canadian Forces.” Somewhat of a media stunt, the slogan is efficient and can adapt to any situation. No need to question the relevance and foundation of an armed conflict; the “enemy” that needs to be defeated—fear—is inside each and every one of us. Who would dispute its existence? Who would question the army’s participation in any conflict when fear is the new enemy we all hope to defeat?

Fortunately, other individuals, less prone to use arms or engage in combat, have found fabulous antidotes to fear. For example, there is art and, through it, poetry and humour. It is noticeable in Nedko Solakov’s work Fear, presented this year at the Documenta in Kassel. This series of 99 drawings illustrates various fears felt or observed by the artist, accompanied by captions that are both funny and bitingly cynical and lucid. This caustic humour is also present in the anagram Run from Fear, Fun from Rear, a neon sign by Bruce Nauman, recently on view at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Although the meaning of the work is open-ended, I find that suggesting pleasure rather than flight in overcoming fear is a far more interesting solution, and I would irreverently propose that the Armed Forces adopt it as their new motto.

Writers were quite stimulated by the theme of fear, and so we have decided to make it the subject of two consecutive issues. This first issue examines the phenomenon of conspiracy theories, the fear of the Other—or the fear of not being recognized by the Other—and offers analyses of works, actions and places dealing with fear and terror. Moreover, with this 61st issue of esse we are introducing our new bilingual format. After twenty-three years, our publication having increased international presence, we felt we should accommodate English-speaking readers. Welcome!

[Translated from the French by Colette Tougas]

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