23 September 2013

driving out the desire to question: excerpt of my thoughts on Maggie Nelson's The Art of Cruelty

Pg. 29:
“the mainstream thrust of anti-intellectualism, as it stands today, characterizes thinking itself as an elitist activity.”

I posted this on facebook. All my liberal friends liked it. 

I consider myself educated & intelligent (most of the time) & my reflex was to underline this & say “yeah!” & bemoan the influence of ignorance. But I think it might actually be more complicated than just that. Something about consumerism which drives out the desire to question… which Nelson elaborates on on the following page: “Instead it promotes something more like an idiocracy, in which low-grade pleasures (such as the capacity to buy cheap goods, pay low or no taxes, carry guns into Starbucks, and maintain the right not to help one another) displace all other forms of freedom, even those of the most transformative and profound variety.” (pg. 30)

In some ways it’s kind of funny, that sentence about the freedom to “carry guns into Starbucks”. At the same time it’s a pretty terrifying idea, that this is where we’ve come. I wouldn’t say it’s ignorance or stupidity really, I think it’s rather that a society which puts so much value on physical wealth is also a society which becomes increasingly detached from compassion & human connection. This is, I think, what Nelson is getting at. It’s also the role of art, & perhaps why we don’t value art or artists… they don’t have the same capacity for physical wealth. I’m asked all the time what I’m going to do to make money with my poetry degree… people are baffled & terrified when I tell them I don’t care. That I’m not getting it to make money off of (I’d be pretty dumb if I thought a poetry degree would make me rich). It’s interesting. It’s not enough that I want to learn & think or whatever… How will I make money doing that? Thinking is not enough, it has to come with wealth otherwise it’s not worth it.