“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”
Famously, this was written by German poet/playwright Bertolt Brecht during the crisis of Stalin’s purges and Hitler’s rise to power in the first half of the last century. Those were dark times, indeed. Is it hyperbolic to invoke this aphorism on the eve of 2017? I think not. Whatever one had hoped for from the 2016 US political season or the Brexit vote or PM Trudeau in Canada who just approved two oil pipelines, there can be no doubt we are facing unprecedented challenges as a society and as a species. The facts are thus: hate crimes are up and so is the global temperature. Clearly, these syndromes are far larger than the individual so it can seem overwhelming to know what to do on a daily basis. How to live. If to write and if so, what.
I’d love to tell you that I have the answer (as if there’s just one). What I have are more questions. Or is it that my assertions are more truly ambivalent? I have often wrestled with the endeavor of literary writing in a time of such urgency. Today is no different except in the scope or intensity of my ambivalence. That is to say, I am all the more convinced that writing is woefully inadequate and that for those of us who do it, we must.
Whether you view art as part of a resistance as Cathy Hong smartly argues, or you believe as Leslie Scalapino did that it can “go along with” rather than explicitly be a political act, our making can indeed have its part to play. While that seems dangerously close to an answer, it isn’t an easy one. I am not at all easy with the notion of art playing a part is what I mean. Even – perhaps especially – in service of _________, art can be an exploitative process. Adorno has been remembered for his declaration that making poetry after Auschwitz was barbaric. A little further exploration uncovers the context of this statement, which he himself later complicated. When taking into account the full essay within which that thought was proffered, we might read his dictum more in line with Audre Lorde’s you can’t dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools.
We need to be, I think, particularly attuned to the ways in which we make. Dare I say the means of production? I’m not sure business as usual (which is part of Hong’s argument) will do us much good even if the content is, for lack of a better term, revolutionary. However, this is, after all, a time of tremendous transition, and acts of expediency as well as process are to be expected. We can decry Facebook on Facebook. One of these days, perhaps the many cracks we are making with our ball-peen hammers will do the trick.
I myself wrestle with discerning what is unproductive shame that would have me silent from what is right-sized self-criticism of an isolating individualism. To wait until my production is “pure” in motive and enactment will keep me from contributing my two bits. Maybe you, too. So I will continue to advocate for using the work itself to investigate its and my own complicity. To testify. Witness. Observe. Muddle. Meddle. Reflect. Agitate. Meditate. Recollect. Predict. Co-create.
I pivot here to two pieces I’ve written that published this week. One is creative nonfiction called Emerging Markets for the ever amazing Entropy Magazine. In this, I take to the street to meet Other and discover something in the reflection. Well, more than that is considered, but that’s a decent stab at it. I am buoyed by Entropy’s work and find its publishers to be extremely generous in their support of just causes and right writing. The second is Talking about Woman: A Review of La Femme de Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe for 3:AM Magazine. I write about The Second Sex, female pleasure, sexism in politics, and the again timely subject of feminism. Melville House has reissued the work in their Neversink series. Bourdouxhe pulled this book from its original publishers in 1937 for their Nazi sympathies. I worked with ace editor Tristan Foster, and his suggestions made the review better. 3:AM is known for its acumen, smarts, and wit. The pub’s motto? “Whatever it is, we’re against it.”
I wonder what writers in the next century will make of our efforts in these times. Or should I say if.