We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, they Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can’t recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn’t immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial. You know the anwful singsong of the blasé. Seeeen it. I’ve literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can’t anymore. I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we wan to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script. It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters. And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don’t have genuine souls.
I’ve previously blogged about the dangers of romanticizing the United States Civil War. Sinclair Lewis’s voice in It Can’t Happen Here, Doremus Jessup, in Chapter 13 considers the dangers posed by people who believe they have The Solution and questions the value his 1930s contemporaries place on the Civil War:
Slavery had been a cancer, and in that day was known no remedy save bloody cutting. There had been no X-rays of wisdom and tolerance. Yet to sentimentalize this cutting, to justify and rejoice in it, was an altogether evil thing, a national superstition that was later to lead to other Unavoidable Wars–wars to free Cubans, to free Filipinos who didn’t want our brand of freedom, to End All Wars.
Let us, thought Doremus, not throb again to the bugles of the Civil War, nor find diverting the gallantry of Sherman’s dashing Yankee boys in burning the houses of lone women, nor particularly admire the calmness of General Lee as he watched thousands writhe in the mud.
I was fortunate to join and get to know about Rachida Lamrabet and Pap Khouma, two “Afropean” writers—as Dominc Thomas calls African writers living in Europe—at a panel in Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center. Rachida left the Rif region in Morocco at the age of two to live with her family…
In memory of Octavia E. Butler (June 22, 1947 – Feb. 24, 2006), science fiction writer who addressed issues of race, sexuality, gender, religion, class, and the environment in her award-winning books. Listen to her interview from the Democracy Now! archives: “Octavia Butler on Race, Global Warming, and Religion” http://bit.ly/VFNCEb What books or essays by Butler have you used in the classroom? Photo: Octavia Butler signing Fledgling at a talk hosted by Teaching for Change and Busboys and Poets in Oct., 2005. Books by Butler: http://bit.ly/15cF0Yq