Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quote of the Day

If we look at writers through the ages we see that they have always been political. Greek poets were political, they championed democracy or defended oligarchs and tyrants according to their sentiment. Pindar was political as were Aeschylus and Euripides, Plato and Aristotle, Catullus and Cicero, Virgil and Horace. Dante was engrossed in politics as were most of the artists of the Renaissance. Nobody told Byron he would be a better writer if he did not attempt the Vision of Judgment or Wordsworth not to bother with Toussaint l'Ouverture; Swift was not considered to have cheapened himself by The Drapier Letters or The Conduct of the Allies, nor Dryden to have let down poetry by Absalom and Achitophel. To deny politics to a writer is to deny him part of his humanity. But even from a list of political writers we can deduce that there are periods in the history of a country when writers are more political, or more writers are political than at others. They are not the periods of greatest political tension, they are those in which authors can do most, can be listened to, can be important, can influence people, and get their own way. Thus Roman poets ceased to be political after the Empire because they were powerless. A writer during the age of Augustus could not play the part of Catullus or Cicero. Writers flourish in a state of political flux, on the eve of the crisis, rather than in the crisis itself; it is before a war or a revolution that they are listened to and come into their own and it was because they were disillusioned at their impotence during the war that so many became indifferent to political issues after the peace.

It is clear that we are living now in a transition period as suited to political writing as were the days of Ship Money or the reign of Queen Anne. Writers can still change history by their pleading, and one who is not political neglects the vital intellectual issues of his time and disdains his material. He is not powerless, like the Symbolists of 1870, the aesthetes of the eighties and nineties, the beer-and-chivalry addicts of the nineteen hundreds or the demobilized Georgian poet on his chicken farm. He is not a victim of his time but a person who can alter it, though if he does not,he may soon find himself victimized. By ignoring the present he condones the future. He has to be political to integrate himself and he must go on being political to protect himself. To-day the forces of life and progress are ranging on one side, those of reaction and death on the other. We are having to choose between democracy and fascism, and fascism is the enemy of art. It is not a question of relative freedom; there are no artists in Fascist countries....Stagnation, fear, violence, and opportunism the characteristics of capitalism preparing for the fray, are no background for a writer and there is a seediness, an ebb of life, a philosophy of taking rather than giving, a bitterness and brutality about right-wing writers now which was absent in those of other days, in seventeenth-century Churchmen or eighteenth-century Tories...
--Cyril Connolly, The Enemies of Promise (1938)

Addendum: The top news stories in the US today? On the domestic front: the US Congress, in its ongoing savaging of the US Constitution, is preparing to hand over absolute power to the plutocrats running the Bush Administration, under the guise of fixing the mess those same plutocrats created (and note, please, that the mainstream media is studiously avoiding asking economists their opinions on the proposed "fix"). On the international front: the US is expanding the "Bush Doctrine" to include Pakistan as the next front for its endless, destructive war fronting its endless, destructive corruption. All this via a "secret" presidential order, made without reference to Congress. In short: a really, really Bad Situation just got really, really dangerous. Is no one really concerned about this? For it certainly looks to the casual eye that as far as the US public goes, it's all just Business As Usual.

More on Connolly's book on the writing life: soon.

ETA: Tom tells me that finally the News Hour (formerly Mc-Neill-Lehrer) has had three economists on. One of them, he said, was even more scathing in his denunciation of the "bail-out" than Paul Krugman.


Josh said...

Halfway through the second paragraph, something clicked and I recognized Connolly's style. It's inimitable.

Dunno where you get your info about "the public" --the media is certainly reporting "taxpayer" discontent with King Henry the Paulson's request, and bloggers are mentioning that they hear people in the street complaining, and a lot of previously quiet people are writing and calling their congresscritters. Reich has been on teevee as well as Krugman. Not a lot of discussion of Pakistan or Somalia, granted.

On the dismaying side, too, is the MSNBC transcript of Friday's Rachel Maddow show: the transcriber has written, "this is like 1929 under Hubert Guber." Which means you can get a job at MSNBC not knowing who was in charge in 1929.

Timmi Duchamp said...

Yeah, public outrage certainly did make itself felt over the course of the day. (I was a few hours behind the curve. But I read the news mostly in the morning & never watch it on television or hear it on the radio.) I hope it makes a difference. Call me cynical, but when it comes to Congress, lobbyists usually prevail over citizens. I'm hoping the outrage will make a difference. But I wouldn't put it past the people who want this to go through to find a way to spin it. (Bet they're kicking themselves for thinking that no one would but insiders would even notice & not figuring out how to do that straight off.)

Cat Rambo said...

McCain's now saying that he'll only participate in Friday's debate if the Wall Street bailout goes through.

I believe the next step after that is holding his breath till he's blue and kicking his heels on the floor.

Timmi Duchamp said...

I can't help but reflect that McCain & his advisers must be anxious about his appearing in a debate at all right now, especially with Obama as his opponent. What's McCain going to say if he gets asked about the role of certain of his advisers in bringing about the mess in the first place? Any excuse to get out the debates must be welcome to them-- & they probably think this'll kill two birds with one stone. & make him look "strong" & "presidential" for his cowardice.