Beata Sirowy in Ephemera:
In his recent book, Why only art can save us, Santiago Zabala makes an important contribution to the socially engaged art discourse, building upon phenomenology and critical theory. It is a text about demands by art, to use Michael Kelly’s formulation , i.e. art’s call for action on behalf of the weak, discarded and forgotten – the remains of Being on the margins of contemporary democracies.
The title of the book is a paraphrase of Heidegger’s famous statement ‘only a God can still save us’, indicating a path beyond the world overpowered by technology, where everything is calculable, nature is treated as a standing reserve, and we aim to exploit and control the world. As Zabala argues, Heidegger’s declaration should not be read in a literal sense, but rather as alluding to a forgotten realm of Being in our technological reality. Aiming to dominate and categorize the world, we replaced Being (existence) with enumerable beings (objects), bringing about ‘the endlessly self-expanding emptiness and devastation’ , related to the primacy of things over human relationships and nature.
In which sense the realm of Being offers us a salvation? A return to Being is a return to a non-reductionist perception of the world and human existence, a leap beyond instrumental rationality. Art can assist us in this process, awakening the sense of emergency – an awareness that our dominating way of framing the world is not the only option.