Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Defense Against the Dark Clouds

A post shared by Jesse Miksic (@miksimum) on


It's hard to think about anything except politics these days.

I'm not the first to notice this. It's a known issue, especially within the media-elite bubble of anxiety and outrage. Checking Twitter and Google News and WhatTheFuckJustHappened... these things eat up more of my cognitive real estate than I ever thought I could spare for something so unproductive.

There are other effects, though. One of the most pronounced: I've felt pressured, nigh compelled, to question my creative priorities. I've suddenly grown skeptical of my more fanciful pursuits, like writing fiction (a long-term project) and experimenting in visual art. This is a time for serious reflection and education, right? ... a time when I need to be sharp and intelligible and writing powerful polemics that contribute to the political discourse? No cool drawings or notes on character backgrounds these days! My country needs me to write thinkpieces!

This might be depressing as hell, except for the fact that, the more I think about it, the more I sense that those pursuits of the imagination are not only necessary... they may be more important for than ever, at least for my own ego-integrity. They may, in fact, be one of my only defenses against the dark clouds of the zeitgeist.

I've read a lot of think pieces lately. A LOT. I've never been so responsive to targeted pitches from Medium authors, and I'd never spent so much time reading The Guardian. I have my list (still very short) of essays that really struck me... like this one on Trump as disjunctive president, and this one on Identity-Affirming Society... but even with these nuggets of insight, I have to say, the perennial reading of think pieces has gone well beyond "processing," drifted down through "treading water," and is now turning into genuine masochistic navel-gazing.

The problem is, after a certain amount of ineffectual explaining, I start to sense the emptiness at the heart of this endeavor. Analyzing, investigating, diagnosing... it's always been therapeutic, but it's becoming clear that the syndrome isn't progressing.

I'm quite confident that this is because of the intentional, deeply entrenched ambiguity that's become a tactical framework of the current regime. It's so full of paradox and dissembly, so contemptuous of earnest representation and transparency, that it makes a plaything of the rational instinct. It invites those deconstructions, and then renders them useless, because its leverage is not reasonable or persuasive or principled.

On one hand, as Katherine Cross argues in the essay linked above, it's crucial that we (writers in their writing, and readers in our understanding) remain precise and rigorous about language, so we don't cede the discourse to the irrational forces. However, equally important: we can't be locked into a state of crisis by the regime's linguistic slippage. Even as we maintain our standards, we also have to wrestle with those ambiguities in an endless, infinite-game kind of way. Reality will never entirely submit to reason.

That's where I have to let go of the essayist instinct, and return to art and fiction. These are the sites where I can truly wrestle with ambiguity... where I can diffuse the reality in an image with a spontaneous splash of the formal, or where I can write a character to perform those paradoxical processes of dissolution and reconstruction. There is nothing more satisfying (at least to me) than crafting something that only makes sense in that special, non-verbal language that it constructs for itself.

I am not saying that my art, or anybody's art, will save the country or the world from Trumpism, or from drone strikes, or from structural racism.

What I am saying is that we are all going to need something... some way of thinking or seeing or surrendering... that lets us confront the irrationality bubbling under the surface of the Real. I see it as a sort of hardiness, a personal integrity -- a quality that outlasts the present absurdity, and makes room for the permanent paradoxes -- that's cultivated privately, intimately. In my case, it has to be through these creative gestures.

This is, after all, a monster that can't be debated down, or harassed and vandalized out of existence... it has to be survived, appropriated, and integrated into whatever fortress we eventually build on the debris of the present.

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