Monday, February 21, 2011

Of barricades, and dreams

Things seem to be happening so fast of late -- governments falling, state houses under occupation -- that it can be hard to know what to make of it, let alone what to say about it in a space like this, which has by intention never been particularly directed towards politics or news. And this at a time when, according to an article in today's New York Times, blogging is itself apparently passé in any case, displaced in the attentions of the young (though not those in my age bracket, I note) by services such as Twitter and Tumblr. As one adopter of the latter explains:
"It's different from blogging because it's easier to use... With blogging you have to write, and this is just images. Some people write some phrases or some quotes, but that's it."
God forbid you should have to write! -- but then the practice of teasing one's thoughts out of the written word isn't for everyone, as much as I remain devoted to it. (In fairness, I also use Tumblr on occasion, as an adjunct or when I have images to share about which I have nothing momentous to say.) Mindful of short attention spans (including my own), I tend to keep these pieces short, except when they insist otherwise. But in a world of Tweets perhaps even three or four paragraphs are too much to expect someone to read.

In one sense I don't consider myself a "political person," in that I don't get a thrill out of the sport of politics the way some people do from basketball or football. And yet I follow political events with some degree of attentiveness and even passion, when they touch on things that I think matter to me as a citizen. Other than voting and shooting my mouth off, here and there, about this and that (most of which comes down to preaching to the choir), I'm not particularly "active" politically. (There is one exception which I won't go into but which some people very well might not even recognize as activism.) But I do believe that as a citizen I have a responsibility to be informed about public affairs, to attempt to make reasoned judgments about what I see taking place, and, to the extent that I'm able, to take at least some small steps towards advancing the prospects of the kind of society I want to be a part of. To dismiss politics altogether is, in effect, to renounce part of one's self, because politics, for all its well-known sordidness, is nothing more nor less than the practice of arranging how we as human beings manage our interactions with each other. Pace Margaret Thatcher, there is such a thing as society, and most of us have no choice but to live in it. How that society is organized isn't something that just happens; it's something that is negotiated by its members. Some are stronger and exercise great influence; others are weak and exert barely none at all. But we are all affected, and we are all, in one way or another, implicated.

Nevertheless, I don't write a political blog, because, for one thing, many other people already do so and I'm not at all convinced that, however much attention I might devote to it, I have much to contribute in that format that isn't already being said better and with more assurance than I could. Also, frankly, because politics is not a particularly restorative avocation. I have sought in this space, quite selfishly, to create a small opening for things that I believe in that give me joy and that I think would interest the like-minded, things that might otherwise be lost in the noise (and there's plenty of that). So this blog remains my indulgence; with minor exceptions, its only political aspect is perhaps to imagine the vague tentative contours of what might be a better world if we ever able to lay aside our bad faith and trust each other enough to work in common instead of clutching desperately onto our own little piece. Whether, in the midst of all the upheavals and revolutions, what I do is of the slightest significance, whether I am what Katya Princip in Malcolm Bradbury's Rates of Exchange called "a character in the world-historical sense" at all, I leave to others to judge.

Illustration: Delacroix, Freedom at the Barricades

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