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)
I borrowed “Citizen: An American Lyric,” Claudia Rankine’s 2014 collection of poetry from the library weeks ago. It is full of social commentary written in formats that are part poetry and part prose elsewhere. It is currently overdue, so I grabbed it today to read a few more lines and a few more pages before I return it this afternoon. Fittingly, I read it in the midst of #ThisIsaCoup blasts into our global cyberscape thanks to the failed romance and mounting grievances between Greece and the European Troika. There is so much to read in these 24 hours since a “agreekment” (sic) has been announced through the fourth estate. But, Rankine’s words on page 75 strike me as apropos to the political and economic storm and man-made disaster happening over days, weeks, months and years in Europe:
what faces you, the storm, this day’s sigh as the day shifts
its leaves, the wind a prompt against the calm you can’t
Blue ceiling calling a body into the midst of azure, oceanic,
as ocean blushes the blues it can’t absorb, reflecting back
the day frays, night, not night, this fright passes through
the eye crashing into you, is this you?
Yes, it’s me, clear the way, then hold me clear of this that
faces, the storm carrying me through dawn
not knowing whether to climb down or up into its eye —
day, hearing a breath shiver, whose are you?
Guard rail, spotlight, safety lock, airbag, fire lane, slip guard,
night watch, far into this day are teh days this day was
meant to take out of its way. An obstacle
to surrender, dusk in dawn, held open, then closing,
then opening, a red-tailed hawk, dusk at dawn, taking
over blue, surveying movement, against the calm, red sky
whose are you?
Navigating these storms will require many skilled deckhands working towards a shared goal. It will require that many egos get put on ice or are told to pipe down because their attitudes prevent the key participants from figuring out the terms of negotiation and the chemistry to play well together. That’s why we have the adage of “all hands on deck.” Not doing so, will result in a European Quagmire that will result in the collapse of the European Union — too many opinions, too many differing wishes, and too many demands.
As Thomas Piketty and others stated in an open letter to Chancellor Merkel last week:
In the 1950s, Europe was founded on the forgiveness of past debts, notably Germany’s, which generated a massive contribution to post-war economic growth and peace. Today we need to restructure and reduce Greek debt, give the economy breathing room to recover, and allow Greece to pay off a reduced burden of debt over a long period of time. Now is the time for a humane rethink of the punitive and failed program of austerity of recent years and to agree to a major reduction of Greece’s debts in conjunction with much needed reforms in Greece.
There have been some incredible pieces of historical documents written and distributed in the last month. Three that jump to the forefront of my mind are:
reading “The Game of Life and How to Play It,” originally written by Florence Scovel Shinn in 1925. A few excerpts are:
“to play successfully the game of life, we must train the imaging faculty.”
“the imagination has been called ‘The Scissors of The Mind,’ and is ever cutting, cutting, day by day, the pictures man sees out there, and sooner or later meets his own creations in his outer world.” (4)
“Owing to the vibratory power of words, whatever man voices, he begins to attract…. The metaphysician knows that all disease has a mental correspondence, and in order to heal the body one must first ‘heal the soul.'”
“A person knowing the power of the word, becomes very careful of his conversation. He has only to watch the reaction of his words to know that they do ‘not return void.’ Through his spoken word, man is continually making laws for himself.” (21)
old-fashioned chat: an hour of five hundred to a thousand destructive words, the principal topics being loss, lack, failure, and sickness.
new-fashioned chat: talk of what we want, to heal, bless and prosper.
subconscious: is simply power, like steam or electricity. does what it is directed to do. with no power of induction.
conscious: the mortal or carnal mind.
superconscious: the god mind within each human. The realm of perfect ideas.
There is a perfect picture of this in the superconscious mind. It is usually flashes across the conscious as an unattainable ideal — ‘something too good to be true.’ in reality it is human’s true destiny (or destination) flashed to him from the Infinite Intelligence which is within one’s self.” (5)