|Poetry Doesn't Protect You Anymore
||[Jul. 7th, 2009|01:21 am]
The Dumbing Down Of America (and the world in general) may be running even with it's rightward slide, and no coincidence. Poor Al Gore, seemingly doomed to torrents of conservative rotten tomatoes for genteely observing our assaults on not only our planet but Reason itself, has suffered not only the theft of his presidency but even political weight for demonstrating that any earnest and consistent leader (such as also, say, Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul) is beyond the pale of any hope of attaining the presidency. Meanwhile, our cultural and political spheres continue to be no less significantly intertwined, to remain supportive of our supra-enterprise; war in perpetua. Arguably, it is perhaps a one-way dynamic else Al's liberal cultural weight would translate back politically...
Come now our greatest rightward slider and flipflopper of the moment, President Barack Obama, with a brilliance for diametric spin that beggars even the sheerest possibility of common sense or the viability of self-evident truths ever returning. If George Bush witlessly exacerbated and taxed our outrage overload, Barack Obama, with his party's [continuing] overt complicity, viciously mocks our very intelligence. He does so to such degree as to mock intelligence itself, and in so doing undermines any ultimate credibility to his considerable own -seemingly knowingly and willingly. There may be those whom would argue that is his brilliance; a visionary genius who, ostensibly, necessarily presumes the straits we are in to be so dire and our needs so incontrovertibly intertwined (oil and it's pipelines, foreign relations, economic underpinnings, etc.), that to con and lull the Corporacracy and the greater powers that be of the American world into some retreat from the tacit threat of utter self-destruction -or at least some cessation of full wide open throttle charge into it -must be truly appeased (far beyond the merely Chamberlainesque) and given nearly free rein -while contradictorily giving 'Hope' to those desperately opposed to such appeasement. True, it is hard to argue against any -any at all -[presumed] degree of direness at this moment of history. True, it would seem better to err on the side of caution under such seemingly necessary presumption. However, to presumptuously lay the currencies of Civilization and faith in common sense and human intelligence and creativity on such a sacrificial altar -even while patently using such to full degree in their own subjugation and degradation and sacrifice -is as patently self-defeating and at best 'buys' us a few years of such throttling back -these few consequential and pivotal years we cannot afford to spend in any way but Progressively. Obama ultimately amounts to far worse, a reprise of Reaganism, smile and all. Obama ultimately amounts to far worse than Bush for the locking in of the Democratic Party onto the right and the [completely discredited] Republican party further off any sane claim to any degree of the spectrum of thought at all -with no room at all on any Left left for the Libertarian party or who have you. With Barack Obama came doublespeak into full flower. The old simple sly disingenuity of the past Republican party is now the base norm for all. Salvation, like sanity, is off the table, for Obama's concessions are the most destructive for all their depth, for all their centrality, for all their mendacity. There may well come a time when he will defend himself, and say he never claimed to have any or all the answers -as I believe he has already so foreshadowed.
At this point, America is mostly unhappy, yet still largely complacent, about any seeming loss of intellectual vigor in it's mainstream body. Certainly, there is great concern for the assault on science and it's communities and their importance. There is, however, the changing definition of what mainstream means on any given day in these times, much like journalistic objectivity. Conformity supports what passivity enables.... 'Westernization' too (Google up 'Afghan Star'...) takes it's toll upon the international dialogs on our national questions. We know of the changes to Christianity itself that the pirates have wrought. We know too of our own daily complicity in the piracy (as we pump our sons and daughters blood into our gastanks) and talk endlessly of ways to extricate ourselves or our consciences at least. It does not soothe though, and many are simply left holding their tongues along with their breath. It is left to the Fringe to remark on the rising craziness, the increasing general ennervation, the exponentially converging lines of perspective to the Rapture or Singularity or TimeWaveZero or 2012 presidential campaign or what have you, of some nebulous but no less discerned approaching moment of untenability, of frank ignition. The mainstream, such as it is, largely understands the leveling effect of it's cultural commodities and of the necessarily mediocre (see Kevin Kelly on television's necessary mediocrity), and most of the public is actually soothed by this, ergo their complacency with the comeuppance of the eggheads. If anything, I would assert that Howard Zinn's approach to Progressive views of history are more palatable than Noam Chomsky's, but where really do they differ? Is Zinn's no less an indictment? Or more entertaining, more commoditizable, more 'American'? If this is ever a time for questioning conventions, it is also a time we are hewing ever more to conventionalism itself and thinking outside of the box is not just disdained but shunned in roaring silence.
The Arts. Go to Google news or Reuters and try select that department -it's not there, or at least not upfront. Look for it under 'Entertainment'. Who are our predominant painters, poets, playwrights, authors? Yes, the economic collapse changed all that and journalism too, in any commercial way on the national level. This is what we pay for the commercialization, the commoditization, of our culture in the first place. Old news, yes, but again, the reality is changed by this internet, and there are indeed a great many writers and artists online, doing their thing. They're simply not covered, and again, this is a place without borders. Look at what the Russian people do in Livejournal; there are far more Russian artists than American ones for all I can see. Are they more cultured? Some have said so, as a result of the old Soviet-era repressions which left them hewing strongly to the classics. -As we are beginning to do ourselves, ever referring more and more to our past masters, and so too as age-old debates have taken on regained contemporariness. George Orwell and H.G. Wells' dialog has regained pertinence. New World Order, 1984, etc. indeed. These are the books being referenced and at times reprinted.
If ever a time called for 'protest' songs, is this not it? What market? What point? Save it for the cinema? Or the documentarians? Or online? Or is this an unprecedented time, too dangerous and unready for primetime save for appointed pointpeople, artists in their right, like Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, And Keith Olbermann? Are we this removed from roots music, folk music, that 'protest songs' are now an anachronism? Or we are this 'post-modernist' that we are too hip for such Kumbaya-esque communing? Or are we simply too politically engrossed to venture away from politics long enough to regain our humanity, confidence, or perspective? Or... all of the above..?
And what of poetry?
There once was the good 'ol U. S. of A.,
And now no one really can say
If it's still as terrific
Or become just too horrific
To put into poetry today...
|Loitering in the Wrong Places|
The book, with its halting, unbeautiful, disjointed lines, proves her awareness of the difficulty of writing poetry about war, trade, immigration, Hurricane Katrina, and George Bush. These are intensely politicized issues, claimed by a blunt, politicized language.
In 1915, during the first World War, Britain was battening down the hatches, tightening its borders, and sternly discouraging travel by canceling trains and plastering placards inside the cars of those that remained on their routes -"Unnecessary traveling uses coal required to heat your homes." Rationing was strictly observed, movement curtailed, but England's greater loss, as Paul Fussell notes in his study of early twentieth century travel writing, Abroad, was "a loss of amplitude, a decay of imaginative and intellectual possibility... The very theater of thought and feeling contracted; the horizons closed in." Literature, then, was not in the forefront of the minds of the populace. Still, Augustine Birrell, England's Chief Secretary for Ireland, was riled enough by its pesky persistence to proclaim that he, for one, "would forbid the use, during the war, of poetry."
The statement feels remarkably familiar today, in another wartime era. Poetry stands, as usual, on the outer margin of the national discussion. The public sentiment may be that poetry doesn't matter, but, of course, in its not mattering lies its freedom to hop trains, to transcend borders, to speak from behind enemy lines. Poetry's trickery is interpreted in two simultaneous ways: one, it is difficult, and two, it is unreliable, questioning the way things are -and therefore it is possibly dangerous.
In her thirteenth book, Rising, Falling, Hovering, published in the final months of the Bush Administration, C. D. Wright commits just such an offense as her title suggests -she loiters in all the wrong places. The book, with its halting, unbeautiful, disjointed lines, proves her awareness of the difficulty of writing poetry about war, trade, immigration, Hurricane Katrina, and George Bush. These are intensely politicized issues, claimed by a blunt, politicized language. And so a book on these subjects is a constant tugging between poetry and prose statement, between lyric and document. She levels accusations at herself for her own project: "Poetry/ Doesn't/ Protect/ You/ Anymore," making clear the increasing psychological weight of the decision simply to write poems when one is aware of the magnitude of the problems surrounding her in the world.
"Nothing is good save the new... If anything of moment results -so much the better. And so much the more likely will it be that no one will want to see it."
-William Carlos Williams