Thursday, March 29, 2012

Even the Best Voices Have to Mumble Through

A very sad day for language and stories, losing Adrienne Rich, Earl Scruggs, and Harry Crews all on the same day. Rich was one of my mother's favorite poets and eventually, one of mine:


This apartment full of books could crack open
to the thick jaws, the bulging eyes
of monsters, easily: Once open the books, you have to face
the underside of everything you’ve loved—
the rack and pincers held in readiness, the gag
even the best voices have to mumble through,
the silence burying unwanted children—
women, deviants, witnesses—in desert sand.
Kenneth tells me he’s been arranging his books
so he can look at Blake and Kafka while he types;
yes; and we still have to reckon with Swift
loathing the woman’s flesh while praising her mind,
Goethe’s dread of the Mothers, Claudel vilifying Gide,
and the ghosts—their hands, clasped for centuries—
of artists dying in childbirth, wise-women charred at the stake,
centuries of books unwritten piled behind these shelves;
and we still have to stare into the absence
of men who would not, women who could not, speak
to our life—this still unexcavated hole
called civilization, this act of translation, this half-world.

-from The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich (W.W. Norton, 1978)


When Trayvon Martin was killed, he was wearing a hoodie and somehow, this hoodie has become one of the focal points of the growing and necessary conversation about this young man’s death, the justice he deserves, and the racial climate in this country that makes a grown man with a gun perceive a 17 year old holding Skittles as a threat because of his skin color. I will admit to having not known that a hoodie was some kind of universal symbol for criminality. I teach on a college campus and I see probably five hundred hoodies a day on young men and women from all walks of life. In my world, a hoodie is a useful piece of clothing. That is a privilege, too, I suppose. When it comes to discussing Trayvon Martin and race, it is important to remember that the hoodie is beside the point. Discussing the hoodie is the same as discussing what a woman was wearing if she was raped. What was George Zimmerman wearing when he shot Trayvon Martin? Did his outfit contribute to his paranoia and vigilantism? Discussing the hoodie is as ridiculous as trying to come up with an answer to that question.

-Roxanne Gay at The Rumpus



I'm all for efforts like these. But why so much emphasis on what goes into our mouths, and so little on what goes into our minds? What about having fun while exerting greater control over what goes into your brain? Why hasn't a hip alliance emerged that's concerned about what happens to our intellectual health, our country, and, yes, our happiness when we consume empty-calorie entertainment? The Slow Food manifesto lauds "quieter pleasures" as a means of opposing "the universal folly of Fast Life"—yet there's little that seems more foolish, loudly unpleasant, and universal than the screens that blare in every corner of America (at the airport, at the gym, in the elevator, in our hands). "Fast" entertainment, consumed mindlessly as we slump on the couch or do our morning commute, pickles our brains—and our souls.



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