Documenting Ourselves to Death

NOTE: See opening note for previous posting. THIS IS UNEDITED.

Documenting Ourselves to Death
by R.B.(?)

Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:

– from W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939″

Phillip Rahv and Dwight Macdonald, George Orwell’s transatlantic co-thinkers, with the author of 1984, contributed a great sense of immediacy and solidarity for many with Partisan Review. One cannot know how much meaningful action its published pieces led to, but the publication should, nevertheless, be praised. For being well-intentioned, and the product of talented, highly experienced and daring, engaged citizens.

The same can be said for many efforts and accomplishments today in the realm of publishing. Ditto, respecting radical cinema and conferences arranged to discuss institutional change. But, these days, articles, books, films, summits, conferences, politically-centered songs and all of their first cousins concerned with making a difference are, for the most part, merely helping to document us to death. We are, in fact, documenting and entertaining ourselves to death. In lieu of taking meaningful action in solidarity. [Where is he going? "Oh, he's got to meet his publisher's new deadline." Where's she going? "Don't you know about that conference she's headlining?" Where are you going? "Please, surely you understand the demands associated with my career in cinema. I have to document the demonstration, don't I?"]

Oh, yes, of course, there are plenty of examples of enraged, engaged citizens taking to the streets and participating in other actions. The Occupy Movement is the most obvious, recent example to cite, perhaps. But such efforts* make up a minimal percentage of those securing and/or providing information on a regular basis. Meaning, there are a great number of concerned citizens getting news routinely from alternative media outlets, and a fairly big group discussing the latest scandal that’s come down the pike, etc. — at regular meetings, or in passing — but the figures for that demographic are relatively large when contrasted with the trifle few who are doing anything (that holds significant potential) on an ongoing basis. And that is what we must have, if we are serious about forcing institutional change.

*It is essential to also discuss which efforts are following obsolete paradigms for change too. ‘Shotgun sharing’ courtesy of high tech gadgets (with generic pleas) won’t do.

The potential for the desired, fresh momentum in solidarity, as I see it, is partly a function of people being able to connect with one another, to respond to what’s published, etc. To have a shot at suggesting to an author or others how the thrust of a piece — a plea for action — could be addressed. How a specific recommendation might be implemented. To stimulate the creativity in one and all. And so on. Not to be satisfied with creating in career comfort in some crepuscular corner, socializing and settling for fighting the good fight.

But what do we have? For starters, check out, if you will, the number of articles in alternative online postings which do not provide contact information. Why is it that an author on fire might not make easy access routine? Readers need to be nurtured, enthusiastic responses cared for, with direction given, or at least some natural, back and forth made possible. In some cases, as with high profile celebrities, public contributions are the beginning and end of their responsibility (in their eyes). But those individuals could easily set up channels for dealing with healthy feedback, grassroots excitement, energy. If career considerations and personal privacy and the like weren’t their primary priorities exclusively.

Francis Ford Coppola once told me (on the closed set of Peggy Sue Got Married), in response to a question about what was important for directors, that one had “to learn to husband one’s resources.” Yes, we all have to do that. And to lose any opportunity to engage with others who want to move in solidarity is to move in the opposite direction, to be wasteful in a way that we cannot afford at this juncture. Excuses about being inundated with high tech communications should not be invoked; there are multiple ways to screen unwanted missives, to get down with what’s worthy of one’s heartbeats.

In one of his letters to the Partisan Review, Orwell gave his office address and home telephone number and issued an open invitation to any readers of the magazine to come and call upon him. I am doing pretty much the same here. And I trust that others will follow suit. For we do not want to continue merely documenting ourselves to death in lieu of taking action in solidarity which will be meaningful and ongoing. And for that we must encourage contact above and beyond what’s going on at present.

It is of the utmost importance that signals sent out — alluded to in Auden’s poem — be honored. That they be picked up and returned by those in a position to receive and then retransmit them. And that optimal use be made of the original transmitter. We must share an “affirming flame.”