James Gustav Speth on five decades of US government knowledge of climate change and promotion of the fossil fuel industry, a legal challenge to power from children growing up in the shadow of catastrophe, and his book They Knew: The US Federal Government's Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis from MIT Press.
Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
Over twenty years ago, I started a project I’m still working on, documenting the life and work of an artist, Resh Shaprudhi, who used iconography around the god from the purana literature of what is now Hinduism, the god called Ganesh, or Ganapathi, or Vinayaka, or any number of other names, to explore the nature of oppression. Part of Resh Shaprudhi’s mythos is how and why Ganesh enters the events of the European genocide of WWII, often known as the Holocaust, and how through Ganesh’s intervention, the God of the Jews and the gods of the Hindus agree to bestow moksha upon the impoverished and oppressed. Moksha is the release of the soul from the cycle of metempsychosis, or reincarnation. It’s considered a good thing, to be released from that cycle.
If you’re not familiar with Ganesh, he’s the chunky god with the head of an elephant. He’s really easy to pick out of a crowd. A big part Resh Shaprudhi’s work involved syncretically assembling images, language, and symbols from Hinduism, Judaism, and the European genocide in World War II. So a lot of the art created by Shaprudhi involves Ganesh appearing in scenes of Nazi labor and death camps.
Coincidentally, about a decade-and-a-half after I started working on the Resh Shaprudhi project, an Australian play was touring the world called, “Ganesh Versus the Third Reich,” created by Back to Back theater company. The conceit was this: a theater company is in the process of putting together a stage play about Ganesh coming to Earth to recapture the swastika from the Nazis, who’d misappropriated it. I’m not sure if I was ever in a position to see this work. 2013, the year it toured, was also the year I was in India on the set of a movie, and after the shoot traveling through India, Thailand, and Laos.
Recently I decided to go back into the project, and encountered some clippings on the Back to Back play. I was barely familiar with the company’s esthetic, which is political, experimental, and purposely provocative. The theater company to which I claim membership, Theater Oobleck, boasted a similar esthetic back then. It may still, I don’t know. I know we considered art to be less interesting if it didn’t in some way transgress the everyday.
Back to Back is a company the majority of whose membership are disabled,... read more