George Saunders, Junot Diaz, Amy Tan and others weigh in on next week’s election.
If literary culture can be said to include the stories people tell one another about America, this blurring of private and public narratives – and the hullaballoo over this election – is not a new thing. “It is difficult to describe the place political concerns occupy in the life of an American,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1840. “To have a hand in the government of society, and to talk about it, is the most important business, and so to speak, the only pleasure an American knows.”
Well, that and sweet, delicious pudding. (With apologies to Carolyn, to whom I promise I am not a Kozy Shack shill.)
In the article, Diaz takes the Champion viewpoint about our prospects-at-best:
“The horrific violence of our current economic system, which kills more people daily than our wars,” says Díaz, who won a Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, “will not change one jot under an Obama administration. Right now these elections are all about who plays the music at the party. Doesn’t change the fact that there’s a massacre going on. No US election is going to change that. And any writer worth a damn might be in the party but what he’s really listening to, bearing witness to, in small ways, in elliptical ways or flat-out head on, is the violence and terror and inhumanity that reign beyond the party’s walls.”
If not an election, then what? I don’t want to get all starry-eyed about the chances of sweeping reform and change should Obama win, but at the same time, I don’t want to bury my head in the sands of pessimism, because if enough people do that, then nothing will change. We all need to change our thinking about politics, about responsibility, about citizenship. Wendell Berry:
Minick: I was re-reading “A Native Hill,” and this one sentence struck me. You’re talking about coming back, and you write, “Here, now that I’m both native and citizen, there’s no immunity to what is wrong.” The “citizen” part jumped out at me on this reading. What is the connection between “native” and “citizen”?
Berry: That essay “A Native Hill” is an early one, written a long time ago, partly in the exhilaration of rediscovering my own part of the world, of seeing it with the change of vision that came with the feeling that I was going to live here, that I was here for life. It was an exhilaration sobered by the understanding that we had made historical blunders here that would have to be corrected. To live here responsibly meant that you had to accept responsibility for those blunders and errors and find, if you could, suitable remedies and corrections. So the word “citizen” occurs in that sentence because of its implication of responsibility. You can be a native without consciously assuming responsibility. A citizen consciously assumes responsibilities that belong to the place, responding to the problems of the place.
This process doesn’t end on Tuesday. If we want change, Tuesday is only the beginning. Again, Mr. Berry:
OR A NATION TO BE, in the truest sense, patriotic, its citizens must love their land with a knowing, intelligent, sustaining, and protective love. They must not, for any price, destroy its health, its beauty, or its productivity. And they must not allow their patriotism to be degraded to a mere loyalty to symbols or any present set of officials.