|After the Election. Ink on archival panel card, 5" x 7." |
© 2017 Mary Boxley Bullington, all rights reserved.
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And if you are going to be in or near Roanoke this fall,
be sure and attend her open studio!
I'm not paying the least attention to whose ideas are best in my singular, possibly eccentric mind and in this post, partly because I don't think writers have any business dictating to others, partly because I choose to trust you to have some well-formed ideas, and partly because what I am interested in here is the decline in our ability to see others as human beings worthy of respect and interesting in their own right. This is, naturally, of a matter of intimate concern to me as a novelist and poet.
I’ve been thinking about the loud controversies of late and the various ways we Americans have changed the meaning of our identity as human beings. An American man or woman shopping at the mall is human—that’s a given, right? A consumer is important; is human. A voter is human, but these days it is only if he or she believes the same things we do and trusts in the same proper steps to transform the country (rather than some other, surely evil steps) and so votes for “our” party. The ideal of respect (sadly, not always fulfilled over the centuries) for one another is in pronounced abeyance. That’s natural, of course, because the ideas that the image of God shines through all mortal flesh is dead in what is essentially a post-Christian society.
In the states, we are all well aware (though we often don’t give a hoot because we are grossly, madly addicted to mall-going and such) that we are interchangeable moving parts in the complicated, well-oiled machine of the economic shopping machine. In great part, we mean in this country because we shop. I shop, therefore I am. Likewise, we are tiny parts in the voting apparatus, continually pestered to think according to correct party lines. If we are too young to shop or vote or too ill or decrepit, we just don’t matter much to the system—we’re not quite human, and others decide what to do about us.
But this is wholly wrong, isn’t it? We have forgotten what it is to be human if we believe that either consuming or voting correctly grounds us and makes us human, much less fully human (another large question!) But that akilter definition of the human is the strong impression one gets from vocal campus outbursts and the standard media and the blizzard of advertising tumbling around us….
As a writer with a dislike of malls and distrust of politicians, I have a distaste for these trends and tendencies. No wonder ideals of goodness, truth, and beauty have been shunted off to a corner. No wonder many post-post-modernist practitioners of what's called (or used to be called) fine arts resist all three. And what of story in the current milieu? To believe that only one sort of thinking and action is acceptable (a thing that a thousand thousand memes tell us, though they do not agree on what sort it is) is the death of the novel. An insistence on conformity kills story. Examples of writers apologizing for their words are on the increase. Novels have been cancelled by publishers for violating correctness. Groupthink? Maybe we'll get some good satire.
To attempt to enforce a set of proper ideas—even if and when they happen to look like pretty good ideas—onto all people is simply the death of narrative. Novels and narrative poems need varied, surprising sorts of human beings to propel them, and the writer needs to respect and fully know the peculiar depths of each one of them, no matter what characters believe, how they vote, or whether they "shop till they drop" or tilt against the system with all their tiny might. A novelist needs to love a whole world of people. She needs to be large, to contain multitudes, to be myriad-minded.