Monday, February 28th, 2011

"Work and learn in evil days, in insulted days, in days of debt and depression and calamity. Fight best in the shade of the cloud of arrows." -Emerson

I find myself whistling more these days.
Being a good-natured fellow this may not seem unusual, although I suspect it's an outward sign of a vague uneasiness, like whistling past a graveyard. How else do you behave when there is only one game in town, and you suspect that game is fixed?
If, as the Desiderata tells us: "..the universe is unfolding as it should", then I find some measure of comfort in David Mamet's statement of cultural decline from his essay, Decay: Some Thoughts for Actors:

..but what grows must, at some point, cease growing. And following a period of maturity, must decay and die. When the organism; the tree, the play, society has achieved its purposes, it is not "bad luck" but common sense that all aspects of the society promote war, waste, doubt, anxiety- those things which hasten decay.

The question for every confused and sensitive soul then becomes: "How do we do good work in declining times?"

Emerson said, it's the poet's job to "repair the decays of things." Although he was speaking about the need for writers to restore words to their original meanings, the command can also be understood as an injunction to assimilate, preserve, and protect that which we know to be valuable. We can choose not to keep silent before the throne of mediocrity and, a culture with little or no decorum, and a comparable lack of personal responsibility, what we choose not to do may be how we will be best known. (1.)

Mamet again:

In the short view, life goes on, and there is a reason we are here; there is a reason our civilization grew, and there is a reason it is going to die. And those reasons are as unavailable to us as the reasons we were born and are going to die.

So what are we to do?

It is no accident that more good (poetry) arises out of crises and dilemmas than out of triumphs. We are less likely to confront self and world when we're satisfied with self and world. We're less likely to have that edge that leads to discovery. (2.)

We must use the times we are living in. We must observe and report. In the end, it's really all we can do. For,

..Nature will be reported; is self-registering. The planet, the pebble, goes attended by it's shadow. The rolling rock leaves it's scratches on the mountain. So men are born to write. (3.)

For those attempting to do good work in declining times, the task won't be getting any easier.

Most of you who decide to stay in the (theater) will become part of the maelstrom of commercials, television, the quest for fame and recognition. In this time of decay, those things which society will reward with fame and recognition are bad acting, bad writing, choices which inhibit thought, reflection, and release; and these things will be called art.

You will garner a good bit of suffering in your attempts to perform a task which you will be told doesn't even exist. Please try to keep in mind that the people who tell you that, who tell you you are dull and talentless and non-commercial, are only doing their job to hasten decay; and in your obstinacy and dedication, you are doing your job,

..self-possessed, resolute, acting without any thought of results, open to success or
failure. (4.)


..happy is he who looks only into his work to know if it will succeed, never into the times or the public opinion; and who writes from the love of imparting certain thoughts and not from the necessity of sale- who writes always to the unknown friend. (5.)

And in so doing, offer, antidote to the bludgeoning loud voices of mass culture, insisting on the still, small voice, the personal voice, thus striking a claim for what used to be called the individual soul. (6.)

(1.) Stephen Dunn: "Walking Light"
(2.) Ibid
(3.) Emerson: "Nature"
(4.) The Bhagavad Gita
(5.) Emerson: "The Poet"
(6.) Ibid (1.)

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