Art Is Marvelous

Am printing.  My stuff; the magazine for next week is DONE!  Printing is a long, slow process which can either be frustrating as hell (if, say, you realise halfway through 95 pages that the page numbers are on the wrong side), or it can be peaceful and meditative.  Have opted for the latter this evening, with Kate and Anna McGarrigle and orange tea.

Much as I despise technology, I love the things it allows me to do.  Couldn’t live without it.

Make me say that again, and I’ll hound you to your grave.

Was waiting for my daughter to come home last night (the people she babysits for don’t seem to understand that just ’cause they can stay up late, it doesn’t mean I can.  I’m old), and I turned on the TV because I was too tired to even read.  Lo and behold, there was God.  Right there on my screen.  Just like someone who is convinced a passage from the Bible will lead them through the hell that is life, I turned on the volume just in case the closed captioning missed something that my useless ears might catch.  The Wisdom of Ages.

Yann Martel makes a thousand good points but one of them really stuck with me.  He says art continues longer than history; we forget what happened but retain the essence through stories.

Yep.  That’s exactly it.  I’ve only been alive for 42-and-a-bit years; I haven’t experienced a whole lot (odd how that perspective has changed since I was 22 and had experienced it  all).  I can’t know everything that people have experienced since the beginning of time.

But I can read about it.  Many, many thanks to the Sumerians.

The experience is different, I know.  In my own defense – and that of every other non-Jew in the world – my ancestors aren’t Jewish, so I’ll never truly know what the Holocaust was like.  I’m lucky enough to be of a heritage that has rarely been persecuted.   I’m lucky enough to live in a time and place where there’s very little chance of every having to experience something like that.   No matter what history I read – regardless of how graphic it may be – I’ll never feel the horror that the people in the Holocaust felt.  However, when I finished Beatrice and Virgil, all I could think was, “Well, that was disturbing”.  It wasn’t just Games for Gustav (although that was pretty twisted), it was the idea that we will never get rid of the Holocaust.  It will be there forever in the taxidermists and the doctors and the writers and the actors and our children.  It’s now inherent to us.

I’m sorry that the book upset some people.  I hope they understand, though, that it also upset me while at the same time teaching me something I couldn’t learn any other way.  I’m fairly sure it upset Yann Martel while he was writing it.  You’ll have to take it from me: writing about a difficult subject is a lot harder than reading it.

I think the only thing people agree on when discussing the Holocaust is that we should never forget it.  As a rule, I think that applies to everything.  While governments may wish many things would just evaporate into the ether, it’s impossible to do so in our world.  Bribe all the people you want: artists will always be lurking around the corner looking for some unpopular aspect of humanity to explore.

We like the unpopular aspects best.  They’re the most interesting.

It doesn’t surprise me that people are trying to hush up Rohinton Mistry (what?  That book is 20 years old.  It’s too late, dudes) or imprison a Chinese “dissident” (love that word: awesome etymology).  It does frustrate me, though.  If we haven’t been able to make God kill our enemies or to make kids like eating vegetables, then why would we be able to get rid of art we don’t like.

I learned to like vegetables.  I learned to like the vegetables when I started growing and got hungry.  Maybe we should deprive some people of art until they get hungry enough, and then they’ll open their minds to accept the cabbage as well as the artichoke hearts.

Yann Martel’s next book is supposed to be about teachers.  Can’t wait.

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