I haven’t yet resolved my reaction toward Renzo Martens’s Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, but curator Dieter Roelstraete’s “On Leaving the Building: Thoughts of the Outside” perhaps gets me closer.

Roelstraete’s rightly points out the film’s incendiary allegation toward its desired audience–us folks in the gallery–being that of “the twinned charge of implication and complicity, according to which we are all more or less implicated in the drama so chillingly ‘documented’ on screen, and according to which each of us is necessarily complicit in this drama’s historical unfolding” (03). As the sardonic title of the film suggests, Martens’s response (or the main character of the film embodied by Martens) is to throw up his hands and celebrate as a smarty-pants antidote to the unavoidable and acknowledged-as-such depressing nature of the situation (which is the exploitation of certain parts of the world and certain people for the benefit of certain other people in other parts of the world).

What Martens does accomplish is to thoroughly complicate the notion of criticism. My own struggle with how to process or understand this film is one example. Roelstraete puts it this way: “Under the conditions outlined by Enjoy Poverty‘s disturbing claims, the very idea of criticism appears both anachronisitc and disingenuous, as it is built on an assumption of the possibility of distancing–critical distance–that can no longer be realized in the ruthless world of global capital Martens so cold-bloodedly portrays” (03).

And yet, instead of celebration, would shame not be a more appropriate reaction? Revolution is, by its very nature, almost impossible to imagine within any given paradigm. I do not know how to change the world. My singular attempts to not participate in the exploitation of the natural resources will not make a difference to the functioning of the global economy and all the hideous machines that drive it. But I’m not sure how not making a noticeable impact equates to not trying at all. Or, in this case, my implication and complicity is absolved neither by celebration nor shame, but why not steep in the awful reality of it? Certainly it is closer to the truth.


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