There are so many things in the nooze lately that seem terribly important. The election has taken a back seat to financial matters, at least now that the world has caught up to what many of us have seen coming for a year or more. We passed the anniversary of 9/11 without much sign of an end in Iraq or progress in Afghanistan. What is an informed, intelligent person to make of this whirl of current events?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
This may sound irresponsible or perhaps even stupid. Conventional wisdom tells us that a good citizen stays on top of these things and forms opinions that guide their responsibility to make a good choice in the voting booth. Unfortunately, “conventional wisdom” is an oxymoron. Someone who is truly wise knows when it’s all just noise and nothing more than so much water stored up in a dam finally flowing downhill of its own accord. You don’t predict events by watching the water run, you understand what must happen by seeing the water stored behind the machinations of humans.
As events have started to flow in the way they must, the best thing that we can do is ask ourselves how our nation gets as disjointed as it does. Why is it that people who call themselves free depend so much on systems they can not or will not understand? How has our cultural divide gotten as deep as it has over Sarah Palin? How do we fight wars around the globe where one social class bears so much of the burden by joining the military?
That’s where I get to Literary Theory. This may not make sense at first, but those of us who take the long view are less concerned with events than the culture that allowed those events to happen. My own Literary Theory begins and ends with what I consider a universal truth about all effective writing, which includes literature; fundamentally, it is about the relationship between the writer and the reader. This takes on a social importance when you look at the spaces between people and how writing can fill them.
A nation of 300 million people reasonably has a lot of spaces between people from one coast to another. These spaces include social classes, races, regions, genders, religions, professions, and any other way we can be divided up. The current events that seem so important come from the tremendous amount of space between us all, spaces that result from so many boulders stacked up as if to make a wall but without a mortar to hold them together. In the first rainstorm, they fall. Water built up behind them simply pours through.
Writing that is based on those spaces between people is something that fills those spaces up. A good newspaper story can tell its readers about people in their same town with a very different outlook on life that needs to at least be understood. A good novel creates a mythological construct that allows the reader to understand complicated choices easily. Writing, as an art form, is nothing less than the mortar that fills the spaces between people and makes them stronger. That is what a culture is all about, and a common culture is not possible among people who do not understand each other.
Many people watching the flood of nooze right now are looking for a way out. They want someone to do something about the terrible damage that has already been done. That’s understandable, but we have to take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The only way we can do that is by understanding each other better and not accepting the terrible spaces between us as givens.
Writing, and other forms of communication, are how we do that. Good writing is about the relationship between the writer and the reader, but ultimately it fills the spaces between people. If what has been happening in this nation lately is bewildering, then we should simply be bewildered for a moment. There’s no point in making sense of the senseless. It’s better to make sense of what we have, and what this and every nation is made up of is people. By doing that, we may just make it less likely that the senseless will happen again.