Monday, August 27, 2007

Kundera again. There is Nothing that Can Make Us Clean

Milan Kundera's January 8, New Yorker piece continues to work on me...

Mary, in a Comment to the ICORN post, expressed surprise that writers were subjected to persecution...

Here in the belly of the beast, I wrote, protected by the scales, not of justice, but of the corporate serpents and the puppets who serve them: digesting the chime of their victims, we think ourselves safe from such dangers. In Egypt, in Thailand, in China, in Putin's Russia--but not here, we say, filling our gas tanks with the blood of the victims.

Artists and writers challenge power, not by becoming "political," taking up causes--but by breaking down the borders, refusing the several temptations of parochial blindness, the provincialism of the weak and marginal, and the provincialism of the powerful... I'm thinking of Kundera's New Yorker piece, Die Weltliteratur--he calls it "the provincialism of small nations," and "the provincialism of large nations." I can't resist a long quote. Kundera is citing a poll here, answering the question: "What are the books that have made France what it is?"

"Victor Hugo's 'Les Miserables' came in first...

Les Miserables?

... in eleventh place is de Gaulle's war memoirs..."

And what of the eighteenth-and the nineteenth-century novel, France's glory? "the Red and the Black" stands twenty-second; "The Human Comedy" only thirty-fourth (Is that possible? "The Human Comedy," without which European literature is inconceivable!); "Dangerous Liaisons" fifieth; poor "Bouvard and Pecuchet" come trailing in last, like a couple of breathless dunces. And some masterworks do not appear at all among the hundred elect: "The Charterhouse of Parma"; Sentimental Education"...
And what about the twentieth century? Proust's "In Search of Lost Time," seventh place...


We do not see what is before our eyes, the small nations because they are in awe of the powerful, the large nations, because they are so drunk with their own importance they have given up the effort of critical thought.

To refuse the blindfolds of provincialism--this is writers and artists can do, a refusal more threatening by far than half-digested political polemic disguised as "art" or poetry or ...

It's not easy, living in the Belly of the Beast...not if you refuse to look away, to close your eyes.

We are bathed in blood and oil... there is nothing that can make us clean.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment