Friday, August 17, 2012

On the unpower of words

In the East poets are sometimes thrown in prison – a sort of compliment, since it suggests the author has done something at least as real as theft or rape or revolution. Here poets are allowed to publish anything at all – a sort of punishment in effect, prison without walls, without echoes, without palpable existence – shadow-realm of print, or of abstract thought-world without risk or eros. ... America has freedom of speech because all words are considered equally vapid.   
           — Hakim Bey

[not really inspired by current events, but resonant with this little episode.]

4 comments:

David Evans said...

This explains why, at the height of the Cold War, poets were queuing up to enter the Soviet Union where they would be appreciated.
/snark

mtraven said...

Right, because there are only two possible ways to live, one of which is now extinct. It's the End of History!

mtraven said...

Then there was Anna Akhmatova:

"Her work was condemned and censored by Stalinist authorities and she is notable for choosing not to emigrate, and remaining in Russia, acting as witness to the atrocities around her."

And of course this re-emphasizes the original point -- the USSR cared enough about poets to murder and suppress them, in the US it is quite enough to ignore them.

fsascott said...

"And of course this re-emphasizes the original point -- the USSR cared enough about poets to murder and suppress them, in the US it is quite enough to ignore them."

The intelligentsia (a word of Russian origin) have always felt underappreciated in the U.S., and their sense of grievance at what they believe to be their unrewarded merit is one reason why so many of them have sympathized (and continue to sympathize) with Marxism, a political and economic system devised by a fellow intellectual. Marxism appeals to the amour-propre of the intelligentsia, as well as to their envy of the rich and powerful, whom they regard as mediocre hacks in comparison to themselves.

Being taken seriously by the powers-that-be cuts both ways. In the Soviet Union, it could lead either to the Politburo or to the gulag - if not to both in sequence. If intellectuals were as wise as they are learned, they might see that the benefits of being ignored more often than not outweigh its disadvantages.