Saturday, June 28, 2014

Art, Politics, Life

"There is nothing for a man but genius or despair."
William Carlos Williams

Leaving aside the imponderable quantity of my talent, I've long felt that what has held me back as an artist is my interest in life. A work of art should make us feel like Rilke before that archaic torso of Apollo. "You must change your life," it says. Well, I've simply been too committed to working out my issues through living to produce a significant work of art.

That's not nearly as a adventurous as it sounds. My rule has been to keep my experiments within the realm of the possible for the common man (I am a man, so I've only tried to live as men might). I've tried to keep things ordinary. I've held an academic post. I've held an administrative post. I've started my own business. I've married and had children. I've worked in my community. I've taken up jogging. All perfectly ordinary stuff.

I have eschewed any aesthetic that implies that the only way to live is to become an artist. Or a scholar for that matter. Artists and intellectuals cannot be taken seriously if their proposals only work for people who give up their productive labors to cultivate their "ideas". Ideas are only interesting in so far as they go into action. I don't mean that it's ridiculous to be an artist or scholar. It is ridiculous, however, to produce a work of art or scholarship whose true meaning is not "You must change your life" but "You must abandon your life".

The same goes for politics. My political career has been held back by my insistence on enjoying the freedoms I actually have. I cannot take a social movement seriously if it seems to commit me to a lifetime of social activism. I can't take a politician seriously who thinks that what he or she is doing is more important than what my bus driver or wine merchant is doing. I believe that we must first live, i.e., first change our own lives, and then express our broader base of discontent.

All that said, I do believe I have a work of art in me. Perhaps also a political project. I think I am making progress.

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