Starting a new book by Rebecca Solnit, Whose Story is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters (Haymarket Books, 2019) it opens with some beautiful writing summarizing current events and social movements and political moments of the past decade. In pages 1-9, I am struck by the following metaphors:
- Building a structure;
- Collective projects;
- most important are the most subtle.
- A million tiny steps;
- Delegitimization of the past and
- Hope for a better future.
- New clarity about how injustice works … Makes it recgonizable when it recurs, and that recognizability strips away the
- Disguises of and
- Excuses for the old ways.
- Culture matters.
- It’s the substructure of beliefs that
- Shape politics, that change begins on the
- Margins and in the
- Shadows and
- Grows toward the center.
- It’s the pervasiveness that matters most.
- We live inside ideas:
- Windowless prisons.
There are so many fabulous sentences in “Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks”:
The title essay of this anthology is about the struggle of new stories to be born, against the forces that prefer to shut them out or shout us down, against people who work hard at not hearing and not seeing. (7)
This is a time in which the power of words to introduce and justify and explain ideas matters, and that power is tangible in the changes at work. Forgetting is a problem; words matter, partly as a means to help us remember. When the cathedrals you build are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and that the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made, constructed by people who analyzed and argued and shifted our assumptions. (4)
Remembering that people made these ideas, as surely as people made the buildings we live in and hte roads we travel on, helps us remember that, first change is possible, and second, it’s our good luck to live in the wake of this change rather than asserting our superiority to those who came before the new structures, and maybe even acknowledge that we have not arrived at a state of perfect enlightens, because there is more change to come, more that we do not year recognize that will be revealed. I have learned so much. I have so much to learn. (5)
Despite the backlashes — or because they are backlashes — I remain hopeful about this project of building new cathedrals for new constituencies (9).
You can see change itself happening, if you watch carefully and keep track of what was versus what is. (3)
Amnesia means that people forget hte stunning scope of change in recent decades. That change is itself hopeful, as evidence that people considered marginal or powerless — scholars, activists, people speaking for and from within oppressed groups — have changed the world. (6).
The opposite is falling into the nightmare that is also such a powerful force in this time, the nightmare of white supremacy and patriarchy, and the justification of violence to defend them….. I call it a nightmare because it is delucional in its fears and its fantasies a of grandeur and its intention of making decades of changes evaporate, of showing new ideas back into the oblivion from which they emerged and returning to a past that never existed. (8-9)
We live inside ideas. Some are shelters, some are observatories, some are windowless prisons. We are leaving behind some and entering others. (3)
We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within — or, rather, many overlapping structures. (1)
The consequences of these transformations are perhaps most important where they are most subtle. (1)