Friday, February 22, 2008

for instance?

For instance? Well, for instance, what it means to be a man. In a city. In a century. In transition. In a mass. Transformed by science. Under organised power. Subject to tremendous controls. In a condition caused by mechanization. After the late failure of radical hopes. In a society that was no community and devalued the person. Owing to the multiplied power of numbers which made the self negligible. Which spent military billions against foreign enemies but would not pay for order at home. Which permitted savagery and barbarism in its own great cities. At the same time, the pressure of human millions who have discovered what concerted efforts and thoughts can do. As megatons of water shape organisms on the ocean floor. As tides polish stones. As winds hollow cliffs. The beautiful supermachinery opening a new life for innumerable mankind. Would you deny them the right to exist? Would you ask them to labor and go hungry while you yourself enjoyed the old-fashioned Values? You - you yourself are a child of this mass and a brother to all the rest. Or else an ingrate, dilettante, idiot. There, Herzog, thought Herzog, since you ask for the instance, is the way it runs.

Saul Bellow, Herzog, 1964


Some of you may wonder why I, as a strong woman and as a black person, I might choose to quote this racially unsophisticated neo-conservatist, but the truth is, that Bellow as a novelist was a stylistic tour de force of brilliant intensity ... before he deteriorated into his deep paranoia later in his life.

Bellows' novels investigate the disorienting nature of modern civilization, the "many flaws in modern civilization, and its ability to foster madness, materialism and misleading knowledge" and the subsequent isolation and spiritual dissociation that envelops its citizens. I think anyone living in our modern world of studios and sublets and apartment complexes and middling malls, of franchise love and solo 1am sushi bars ... of bio electro magnetico metallico gadgets that get slimmer and thinner and skinnier and whiter all the time and hold more and cost less all the time all the time ... my sleeker, my bleaker, my my my ... so that anyone today can hear and see that he writes some kind of truth. And that is powerful. Perhaps because our alienation and otherness is what gives us our commonness. And I quote Bellows because he believed that despite (or because of) our human frailty, we have the power to overcome that very weakness (that lets in all the ugliness) by increasing our awareness of it.

And I'll be damned if I am not sitting here or wandering there or thinking inside or reading along, or writing about ... if not but for the sole purpose of increasing my awareness of the world in which I happen.