Thursday, November 24, 2016

The new crisis, same as the old crisis

For fifteen years (at least up to the point Boston University banned my faculty web site and administrators threatened to bankrupt me with legal actions and destroy my reputation with official university postings against me if I didn't remove it from the university server) I have received at least as many responses to my internet postings from foreign students and former students as from Americans. The lion’s share have come from students in China, India, France, Italy, and Russia. Within hours of the previous postings about the U.S. elections going up I received the following note from Vinay Nair, a thoughtful young man from India. —R.C.

Date: 13 November 2016
Subject: The new crisis, same as the old crisis

Dear Ray

First off, I can't tell you how glad I am to find you resurface on the Internet. It had been more than a year since your last post, and I was getting a little twitchy that the BU administration might have gotten their mitts on your blog as well. Or worse. But you are back, and it's a great relief, even though it took Mr Trump to move you to post. 

It's a great relief because you see, in spite of your many valid criticisms of the Internet, I found you here many years ago, and without hyperbole, it changed my life forever. I forgive the Internet everything else because of this. Even Facebook. I was an undergraduate student of English those days, stuck in a University where great written works of art were dissected politically, economically, sociologically, deconstruction-ally and then discarded as if they changed nothing. But they change everything. The first time I read Lawrence, my soul soared with possibility. The first time I watched Cassavetes, it was an assault on my senses and I was left bewildered. But if one is in touch with some truth within themselves, one claws back and one fights with the author, the poet, the filmmaker and then one lets themselves change. Gandhi is said to have said that first they ignore you, then they fight you, and then you win. But this can only be true in politics. In art, first you try to ignore it, then you fight it, and then you lose, resoundingly. And how glorious it is to lose, to shed your skin and to arrive at the ledge, excited to take another leap into the unknown. The only time criticism has managed to do this for me is when I have read you. Often your best teachers are those you don't meet.

And that's why Donald Trump doesn't matter. Yes, he will probably roll back freedoms that have long been taken for granted. Yes, he will make hate a valid form of public expression again. Yes, we may look back in a hundred years and think this was the point where we pushed the planet to finally kill us off. But none of these impressions will be true. Trump is merely a symptom of a greater but more subtle crisis in our globalised world. As Michael McClure said, the function of art itself is to maintain a state of crisis, and true artists don't need a political crisis. They are in touch with the crisis within all of us. The crisis of how to live and how to love, crises as old as human beings themselves. And they will keep working, because creating is a joy, the attempt to understand is a joy and being gregarious with the history of art is a joy.

Even for those people who do not live in war torn countries, such as me and you (yet), a crisis is always around the corner. This year I am going to be leaving my job in the environmental sector (not innocent by any stretch) and go headlong back into art, to write. to create and to acknowledge the crisis within me.

My email may be a little scattered and merely a rehash of what you say, but I have been meaning to write to you for years. I want to tell you that no matter how futile politicians and administrators may make you feel, you have already fulfilled some function for being on earth, and that is to awaken in others an appreciation of how delicate and ever eluding truth is, but how maddening and joyful and worthwhile it is to pursue it nevertheless.

With love and admiration (and a little regret that I could never attend your class),

Prof. Carney’s response to Vinay Nair is printed on the next blog page.