Tuesday, February 24, 2015

other americas under the sensationalism, commercialism, academicism

A great Czech-born writer, Milan Kundera, spoke about the oppressiveness of living without many political and personal freedoms. Going to Paris when he did and from where he did, I imagine he felt far more free and able to simply breathe. The life under a totalitarian regime that he has written about so well seems very alien to us in the West. However, one may well ask how it is that a great poet in a country with almost no freedom can be celebrated, beloved, and read while great poets in the United States are ignored, forgotten, and buried.

Could it be that having too many sensational cultural magnets for the attention of the people, having too much money sucked into the vacuums of corporate monoliths, and having too many great geniuses hidden in academic enclaves is worse for art than having people deprived of free thought, independent artists, and authentic culture? Even in our greatest cities, the audiences for poetry and prose events are almost always minuscule.

There was an episode of The Simpsons once where Homer said something about art being imprisoned in museums so that no one would ever have to look at it. Maybe academia serves a similar function for American writers, i.e. we hide away our writers from society and the greater public so that no one will ever have to pay attention to them. Otherwise, they might start to make us think about what kind of a society we are actually living in. That would throw a wrench into our economy of blind and mindless consumption and unhealthy overdoses of sensational "culture" in every eye-popping direction.

But despite these inauspicious circumstances, we still have great writers struggling to be heard. We have a kaleidoscopic-noise-machine-industrial-sized-crassness-blasting-increasingly-money-powered-mindless-movie-making-steroid-pumping-youth-and-sex-exploiting-colors-killing culture.

And then we have artists, who have to work two, three, four, five jobs at once to just stay alive and, sometimes, do what they were born to do. I am thinking of American artists who don't blend into any of our "mainstreams" of entertainment, the artists who speak from and to many other Americas. Many of our artists only can produce new work when they are given grants from foundations and state sponsors. Even these little piddling streams of money are problematic, too.

In the long run of history, though, I believe that the truly successful works of art will still be discovered, recovered, loved and respected. If for no other reason than the fact that it will be impossible to care about most of the junk our culture shoves over on us, someday the real distinguished things will emerge again.