David Bruin’s “How to Survive Civilization”—hearkening back to Walter Benjamin’s observation that “modern art teaches us to survive civilization if need be”—searches for the seeds of survival strewn amid scenes of suffering on the contemporary stage. Examining works by Reza Abdoh, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Ann Liv Young, and Robert Woodruff, Bruin combines Benjamin, Aristotle, and the art criticism of Hal Foster, using theory to illuminate how the depiction of abjection, what Aristotle called “the scene of suffering,” prepares the spectator for end-times and civilizational catastrophe— whether figured as epidemic, as environmental collapse, or as the end of meaning.

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