“I can never lose it,” sputters the inhuman voice that makes up with that one line all of the lyrics to Brand New’s untitled track on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, “I can never lose it.” And with that thought we are off on another train of thought. Remember my way of taking things out of context and creating a background of my own?
So what can we never lose? I made the connection here between the odd sort of optimism that one gets with the Flobots’ Fight with Tools, specifically a line in the song “We Are Winning” (see the half-full glass?) that states “resistance is victory/defeat is not an option,” the kind of lines that bring to mind one hand clapping. But Fight with Tools is a great album, the sort that I leave in my car stereo for weeks on end, even though the same compact disc player keeps spitting it back out almost every time I drive somewhere, telling me to check the CD. So what can we never lose? In this case, success, apparently. But what is success?
The Flobots’ sort of “we are the insurgency” talk is the kind that I totally support and praise, because we aren’t living in anything that you can even squint at and pretend you are looking at a utopia. I’ve begun to say in my mind that I’m not proud to be an American, because I didn’t do anything to be an American, I was born into it. And what I mean to say is that I’m happy to be in the position I’m in, but you don’t come by pride from doing nothing. And on top of that, I fully applaud the themes of America, but not the way that it has upheld those themes and values throughout time (and I’m not referring to every American value here…).
The problem with all of this rambling is that it amounts to nothing. I don’t mean to mock the band’s intentions (actually a whole lot of bands’ intentions, a whole lot of artists’ intentions), but what do we actually amount to in this line of work? It’s like whatever the percentage of bloggers who consider themselves “journalists,” which I can only grow immune to by exaggerating my awfulness. Vonnegut would agree with this sort of questioning. He lived through the answer: the quote, as I find it on Wikipedia, is:
“During the Vietnam War, every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.”
That’s a block-quote, above, in this Word file where I’m composing this piece, but I’m doubting that’ll transition to the blog, which is why I’m noting it here. I know that it should be indented a half-inch or something like that. I mean, I’ve been to college, even if I’m not through with it yet.
Following that digression, let’s get back to the point; Father Kurt here plays the exact opposite artistic field to the above noted optimism. And this is what you expect from perhaps the most well-known and (I would say) one of the most talented Pessimists, with a capital “P,” because that’s what he was more than an artist, really. I mean to say that I don’t know if he viewed himself as an artist. I mean to say that I don’t know what I mean to say.
[It’s probably apparent, by this time, that I return to the same set of characters frequently, which it’s maybe a good idea to apologize for. You’re probably going to have to get used to Vonnegut’s name. Bret Easton Ellis’s in a few days, if I follow the schedule I have set for myself. King, Kundera (maybe, because I’m reading Life is Elsewhere), Borges (because I’m reading Aleph and Other Stories and am still stunned by Ficciones), maybe some more names. I’m not displaying my knowledge of a select few. This is simply a way of mine, limited by “knowledge” of a select few.]
So Kurt, right, let’s get back to him. In A Man without a Country—which I think I’ve already recently alluded to (shame, shame)—he talks about how you shouldn’t pursue a career in the arts. You should create art for your own good. And reading this, I was thrown off a bit, like you will be by Vonnegut: is he joking? (A question that he makes light of where else but in AMwaC) Maybe I’m right, then, in saying something about Vonnegut’s view of himself as an “artist.” Should I say “artiste” or would I be making light of someone?
And how many stations do we plan to have on this train of thought? How many stops do I still have left? You may wish to take note of the fact that the conductor is not in full control of this vehicle, it is moving, as humbly as can be said, on its own. I’m running with as little physical exertion as I can here or rather, a King-ism, I’m unearthing an artifact.
But that boring little pause, this train has taken a twist on the tracks; I do have a point here, so I’ll muscle it back. I’ve presented two sides to a coin when it comes to the artist’s presence in the world and how it affects our future (as well as what our future will be like, regardless of art). The position of the American poet in politics is set away for further discussion, a sequel of sorts to be presented when the present writer is more awake and more willing to create a response to an article by David Biespiel in the May issue of Poetry. Right now I’m working with a coin, as I’ve said, I’m simply flipping and watching it twist in the air.
Upton Sinclair is parodied relentlessly in Chris Bachelder’s U.S.! as a writer who maybe Stephen King would say couldn’t “write worth a darn,” but he’s also presented as this social activist who has the gumption to fight for his cause over any number of lifetimes (you’re going to have to read the book to understand that one). And one of the questions you ask yourself as an artist is what you are trying to do, what you want to be able to create, and leave behind. Not saying that anything I’m making will outlive me in any real sense (although with the internet some of my writing will physically be around after I’m gone, I’m sure), I’m stating the sort of questions that delve into that big stopper of the interview: Where do you get your ideas? Not where, in this case, but Why? and Why do you choose specific ideas to follow through on?
So what do you call whatever it is that I’ve been talking about here? The subject, well, when it comes to the subject, I hope “I can never lose it.” I hope that’s true. This auteur sometimes fears the opposite. You find yourself and then you have to find how you are going to express that person. I think I’m stuck between those steps at the moment.