The Distraction of Nationalism

This fall the Olympics will bring us the spectacle “of the human body at the height of health, beauty, discipline, power, and grace,” writes Rebecca Solnit for Orion (article not available online). In her elegant essay, “Looking Away from Beauty,” Solnit points to the frail connection those bodies have to the nations they represent–“as though this feat of balance really had something to do with Austria, that burst of power really represented Japan.”

Of utmost importance, Solnit writes, is to consider the way those pristine bodies, those symbols of national pride, exist in conflict with bodies less revered, less public:

It serves the nations of the world to support the exquisitely trained Olympian bodies, and it often serves their more urgent political and economic agendas to subject other bodies to torture, mutilation, and violent death, as well as to look away from quieter deaths from deprivation and pollution. . . . The celebrated athletic bodies exist in some sort of tension with the bodies that are being treated as worthless and disposable. . . . But the associations between the two are crucial to our sense of compassion, and of what it means to be part of a global community.

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