I'm having something of an Adorno moment this morning. How can we write poetry, fiction, plays, musicals, symphonies, etc. in a world where a husband and wife carry out a military assault on his office Christmas party in San Berdoo, where people are executed for the crime of attending a rock concert or the even greater crime of drawing cartoons? In a time of insanity, what is the place of art? Is any expression other than a howl of pain or outrage somehow immoral, unethical, imbecilic, escapist? Is artistic creation anything other than an admission of impotence in the face of a world that horrifies us? Is art anything more than a narcissistic escape into representation and imagination, a fearful flight from reality?
Days like these (and these days are becoming a weekly occurrence in America), I want to throw up my hands in disgust and despair and rename the country 'Active Shooter Situation' (the acronym fits) or 'the U.S. of N. R. A.' Mass murder has become so common in these Whitmanic states that our responses to it have hardened into ritualistic repetition. Every week we mouth the same tired lines, offer the same empty prayers and impotent clichés of condolence, watch the same reporters report the same stories over and over, only the faces changing, only the faces... We look upon the victims we did not know and weep shallow, sentimental tears that should burn our faces... We should put our eyes out like Oedipus before we defile the memory of the dead with our false, self-cleansing grief... We acknowledge for a moment that we live inside a madness and then a day later we continue living inside that madness, calling it the only sanity we can know. And we go on and on inside the madness, continue blindly playing the terrible, absurdist play our world has become (Endgame or No Exit as rewritten by Cormac McCarthy and directed by Quentin Tarantino).
This is the sickening kabuki of American atrocity, the no play of the nothingness we are:
Act One: An asshole or two walk into the local semi-auto gunshop and buy a bunch of weapons that no sane nation would make available to civilians.
Act Two: Said sphincter gets really pissed-off and turns to his holy handgun for solace and support in his time of troubles.
Act Three: The angry anus, disguised as a dick, drives to a public place and indiscriminately ejaculates metal drops of death.
Act Four: Wolf Blitzer announces the 'Breaking News' and simulates sanity by pretending to be shocked at events that have now become tediously routine.
Act Five: Politicians offer shaking heads and formulaic words and hands clenched in powerless prayer.
Act Six: We see the faces of the innocent dead and avoid thinking of how quickly they will be overwritten in our memories by the next week's display of the next group of faces of the innocent dead.
Act Seven: Return to Act One and repeat the play until you choke to death on your own vomit.
So what is to be done? What can we do to change this world in which we can no longer live, this place where closing our eyes and going about our daily lives is an act of near-criminal negligence?
Franz Kafka, the only true prophet of our world, wrote in his Blue Octavo Notebooks, "In a world of lies the lie is not removed from the world by means of its opposite, but only by means of a world of truth." This thought is like the tiny doorway into Alice's garden; it offers a narrow exit from the position of Adornoesque ethical despair. In a world overtaken by death, a place increasingly resembling a Yeatsian apocalypse where the worst vomit forth their Trumped-up intensity and the best keep quiet lest they risk the bully's fist, the most needful thing, the most desperately necessary activity, is the construction, slowly and brick by brick, of a world of life.
And this is where art, stomping on cothurni and clad in the tattered rags of centuries, enters stage left to steal the show. For art is life's way of punching back at death. And art is a very dirty fighter. Art doesn't respect the rules. Art punches below death's belt, gouges out his eyes, picks the sorry motherfucker up by the ankles and slams him headfirst into a concrete floor. Art will pick up the nearest lead pipe and go all Louisville Slugger on death's all-powerful ass. Art is our secret weapon and our best defense. It's two fisted middle fingers raised in a colossal 'fuck you' to death. It is the thing we must do, the beautiful curse, the hunger that eats at us until we feed it. We not only can create art after such events; we must. Despair is not a crushing weight; it's the air we breathe, the substance of our lives. Take it in and transform it. Get busy.