March 6, 2006

My Life is About Finding Time to Dream

This isn’t a plug for American Express, but M. Night Shyamalan’s, Life is About Finding Time to Dream: , captures the dilemma of every artist/writer—whether the market or critics deem them “uncommercial,” “good” or “bad”. It’s about finding time to create. (Everyone should make some time for re-creation and introspection, but that's another blog)

Walt Whitman
wrote, “I loafe and invite my soul,” in “Song of Myself”. It’s trying to find that balance in one’s work while not pandering to purely commercial interests—to tell the story of one’s time/space even when things have not changed as Derek Walcott lamented in Another Life, “How many would prefer to this poem/ to see you drunken in a gutter / to catch in the corner of their workrooms/ the uncertified odour of your death?” and “Who want a new art, / and their artists dying in the old way."

The position is precarious for artists of African descent who are aware of the backbreaking work of our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters even while we carve out time to “dream”—which to most people doesn’t seem like work at all: “It’s so natural. Anyone can do that!”

So, on the one hand, we have the collective history of Africans being lazy, etc., and on the other hand, we have the noise in our heads (especially those of us from middle-class Caribbean backgrounds): “With all that schooling and book learning, and look what the boy take it and go do—say him is now writer! And what him say him writing? Poem! And not even good poem with a little music, so him could even make some money. Poem that get print in some place and him not even getting any money for it! Is a shame!”

And that word, “shame” has been used to keep so many of us in line. And sometimes it wasn’t done out of hate. It was done out of fear and sometimes, love. A plantation can not be sustained by mavericks or anyone who questioned the status quo: "You're here to work, not think, damn it!"

Mavericks in a dominated class were either killed or beaten into submission. Our parents, especially our mothers, loved us, and they didn’t want to see us get beaten or killed, and so they said, “Do, boy, do. Anything but a writer. Anything but a artist. You going kill you poor mother if you do this thing!”

Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

And to those who say, “That was a long time ago!”, they forget that until a behavior or belief is brought out into the open and challenged (which is what artists and thinkers do), then any poisonous idea that is in the culture will continue to have a corrosive effect on the body, soul, and mind of an oppressed people.*

And if you think we are still not oppressed by poisonous ideas, look at the state of African health across the globe and remember what brother Plato said, "Neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul. . . . You begin by curing the soul [or mind]." Or as Bob Marley (paraphrasing the words of Marcus Garvey) said, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds!” And remember African art or anything derived from the African experience isn’t worth anything until some non-African says it’s worth something. And I’m not talking kente cloth—that’s now almost a mask for supposed African authenticity. Kente and dreadlocks could mean the same thing now—one is fashionable while spitting on artists.

And we are still doing this to ourselves.

Is a shame!

*This is a truism that's worth re-stating in these conservative times in America: the status quo favors those in charge. Those who want to be in charge and those who think they are in charge vote or consent to the status quo (this is not a call to anarchy), and keep everyone one else in check by either seductive/selfish ideas like Objectivism—which has been called social Darwinism because it’s a “dog eat dog world”.

Sure it’s a “dog eat dog world” which is great when you’re born as a pit bull in a world of Chihuahuas. You make the rules: “Only dogs this high will get meat and milk bones. Everyone else eats crumbs”.

And if you are a particularly tenacious Chihuahua, then expect to meet in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, the full force of pit bull rule.

But why should a Chihuahua try to be a pit bull? “This is a one dog world, brother. Either you’re a pit bull or you’re dead. So, what’s it gonna be, punk?”

Which is why, perhaps, so many (sometimes poor/white) Americans who claim to be Republicans vote against their class interests and vow to abolish the social contract which includes institutions such as the Department of Education: “Some day, some day, we’ll have it all and we won’t pay all those taxes so that those free loafers (in some cases, read minorities) and artists (who will never do a hard day’s work) to live off our hard earned money”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmm. This conversation on Objectivism seems a little familiar to me...