On art, using memories – and the right that ALL people have to their privacy

I am currently threading on a closed Facebook poetry group about the subject of memories, unpleasant people and the right the latter have to their privacy.

All human beings have an inalienable right to privacy.  Nation-states like the UK and the US are paying precious little attention to these rights in the space of state security; yet, in other aspects of societal endeavour, the legislatures of Western – now more and more illiberal – democracy tighten the screws on honesty.

My dilemma is the following: as a lapsed Catholic, I have almost never gone to confession: when I did, it never worked for me.  As an artist, however, I have always been confessional.  I was practically a one-person reality show before reality shows even existed.  And confessing one’s feelings, memories, these days one’s auto-ethnography, involves the privacies of at least two parties: the teller on the one hand, and he or she whom the teller tells about on the other.  It also invokes the participation, sometimes confused and ultimately perturbed, of the told: of the listener and reader and viewer.

I place before you the following ideas, then: 

  1. Does art have a greater or lesser right to exist in accordance with its perceived quality or value – independently of the privacies it invades?
  2. Does a wider communication have the same independent rights?
  3. Should the inalienable rights to privacy of everyone – which, incidentally, are not being currently observed by our state security agencies – always trump the rights to uncover, reveal and communicate unpleasant events and actions by horrible citizens in the past?  If not, where – and more importantly how – do we draw the line?
  4. Finally, can our memories ever belong to ourselves?  And when I say belong, I mean: including others as they always will do, to what extent can we use them to create, converse and devise discourse about our lives?

Comments, as always, really welcome here.

Any debate will truly help me to work out whether I can ever return to writing poetry in the future, after the damage my writing of it recently uncovered from my past – as well as clearly, in its conception, implementation and distribution, it eventually did to others.


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