Sunday, June 14, 2015

Write in "times of dread", says Toni Morrison

My dear family, friends, colleagues, students and well-wishers,

One year into the reign of the "Modi Sarkar", I am reminded of a piece "No Place for Self-Pity, No Place for Fear" that Toni Morrison wrote for the 150th anniversary issue of The Nation. She recounts:

"Christmas, the day after, in 2004, following the presidential re-election of George W. Bush. I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless.

"Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine—and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”

I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed."


Here she notes:

"Dictators and tyrants routinely begin their reigns and sustain their power with the deliberate and calculated destruction of art: the censorship and book-burning of unpoliced prose, the harassment and detention of painters, journalists, poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists.

"This is the first step of a despot whose instinctive acts of malevolence are not simply mindless or evil; they are also perceptive. Such despots know very well that their strategy of repression will allow the real tools of oppressive power to flourish.

"Their plan is simple:

1. Select a useful enemy—an “Other”—to convert rage into conflict, even war.

2. Limit or erase the imagination that art provides, as well as the critical thinking of scholars and journalists.

3. Distract with toys, dreams of loot, and themes of superior religion or defiant national pride that enshrine past hurts and humiliations."


During these "times of dread", what I have called "the dark days ahead", we can each make our own list of how each of these steps were executed by the "Modi Sarkar" during their first year in power.

And "This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”

Your support is my strength.

Peace and love - Joe.
Pune, India; 14 June 2015.

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