Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Alien Intelligence

To find the truth is not the only moral imperative of the writer. What one does with that truth is incredibly pertinent.” – Deborah Fisher

I’ve had some time to digest Deborah Fisher’s excellent post regarding Eric Larsen’s book, A Nation Gone Blind. The intellectual work of exposing lies is her focus and that of the author. A perilous world is acknowledged but to despair is not the answer. As Larson states in repsonse, “Despair is silent. Despair is doomed”. He heralds as inspiration the inherent optimism of the 18th century English satirists, though they teetered on the edge of sanity and yes, despair. Looking at things simply or directly can do that to a person.

I’m now inclined to think upon Lionel Trilling’s introduction to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.
A politics which is presumed to be available to everyone is a relatively new thing in the world. We do not yet know very much about it. Nor have most of us been especially eager to learn. In a politics presumed to be available to everyone, ideas and ideals play a great part. And those of us who set store by ideas and ideals have never been quite able to learn that just because they do have power nowadays, there is a direct connection between their power and another kind of power, the old, unabashed, cynical power of force. We are always being surprised by this.

These thoughts of course date back to 1952 but I think largely they are still holding true as we witness an unraveling around us, if we witness anything at all.

These are perilous times. Language has become so politicized and polarizing, so savage and intoxicating that with each misuse, across all spectrums of media, education, and politics we seem ever more diminished. “Newspeak” is our political language, our legalese, and our executioner. We once again face leader-worship, religious zealousness, disinformation tactics, patriotism and an infantile love of war. So what is the job of the artist, the citizen?

We can understand our political and social life simply by looking around us. The job is not to be intellectual but to be INTELLIGENT – to our best talents. We need to seek a passion for the literal actuality of life, not an abstraction of individualism or the current enterprise built upon irony, lies, and the selfish capital of fashion.

I’m increasingly concerned with the notion of survival – my beliefs, my preferences and my prejudices and what these mean for an artist. Who is the moral personality behind the work? Do I have the ability to be virtuous in the face an ideology of debasement or what Larsen calls simplification? Can I understand beauty and justice?

I close with this from Trilling:
If only life were not so tangible, so concrete, so made up of facts that are at variance with each other; if only the things that people said were good were really good; if only the things that were pretty good were entirely good; if only politic were not a matter of power – then we should be happy to put our minds to politics , then we should consent to think! …but Orwell never believed that the political life could be an intellectual idyl.

image: Gilbert Garcin

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