Saturday, May 12, 2012

In Lissagaray's History

In Lissagary's History of the Commune there is an interesting passage describing the shootings that took place after the Commune had been suppressed. The authorities were shooting the ringleaders, and as they did not know who the ringleaders were, they were picking them out on the principle that those of better class would be the ringleaders. An officer walked down a line of prisoners, picking out likely-looking types. One man was shot because he was wearing a watch, another because he "had an intelligent face." I should not like to be shot for having an intelligent face, but I do agree that in almost any revolt the leaders tend to be people who could pronounce their aitches.

- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

* * *

I have been away. I have been working. I have been driving long stretches at the start and end of my work day, and while I try to fill that time with music loud enough to not hear my brakes squeal, I cannot fill that time with music loud enough to not think. I think about you, my fucked friend. I think about this page. I think I am still a fucked fucker. I think about all the work that remains and the disturbing tremor that moves my left hand without volition and I think, "Fuck it. Time to use all this powder I've been keeping dry."

Today, we shift our conversation. Today, we, you and I, start out from this turf, this sod, this ground littered and festooned with poetry and song and words and images and examples and exhortations and feet up the ass and prayers and keens and ablutions and talismans and faith and will and dreams and un-made plans to wrestle the angel of our higher self until he blesses us, until we wring from him the acts and deeds and doings that are ours to do. 

The time is now. It always has been.

* * *

In the book For the Time Being, Annie Dillard eviscerates the idea that we, of this time and place, are THE generation, THE people of destiny. She writes: Is it not late? A late time to be living? Are not our generations the crucial ones? For we have changed the world. Are not our heightened times the important ones? For we have nuclear bombs. Are we not especially significant because our century is? - our century and its unique Holocaust, its refugee populations, its serial totalitarian exterminations; our century and its antibiotics, silicon chips, men on the moon, and spliced genes? No, we are not and it is not. These times of ours are ordinary times, a slice of life like any other. Who can bear to hear this, or who will consider it?...  Why are we watching the news, reading the news, keeping up with the news? Only to enforce our fancy - probably a necessary lie - that these are crucial times, and we are in on them. Newly revealed, and we are in the know: crazy people, bunches of them. New diseases, shifts in power, floods! Can the news from dynastic Egypt have been any different?”

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

All is vanity. 

* * *

At the top of this post, in the passage from Orwell, there is a magnificent clue, a big-assed bread crumb on the trail of unfucking your life. Actually, there are several, but for now the one I want to look at is Lissagary's History of the Commune. Do you know it? I didn't until George recommended it. Seems back in 1871 the working class of Paris took control of the city for two months. It is cited as the first worker's government. Karl Marx was a big fan. The original Occupy movement. Do you know what these radicals did in their brief time? They decreed a separation of church and state, granted pensions to unmarried companions and children of National Guard troops killed in service, recognized the rights of business owners, forgave the debt of workers who pawned their tools in order to eat, and abolished interest on commercial debt. The rogues. An enterprise like that must be crushed, and it was. Estimates vary, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 to 50,000 French citizens (women and children included) were slaughtered in the process of restoring "stability."

Did you know such a thing happened in the City of Light? I didn't.

Who were they? What were their names? Why did they rise up? Why were they crushed? Why care at this far remove? Surely, those who loved the murdered are dead over and over. Surely, those who loved the murderers are as dead as Jacob Marley's doornail.  This is a historical footnote. A blip of extravagant bloodshed dimmed by time. Dead for wearing a watch. Dead for the sort of face deemed intelligent. Dead for money. Dead for an idea, but pushing up daisies nonetheless.

Our times are as profane as any other. The Parisian dead from the Spring of 1871 are the same as Cambodian dead of the 1970's (the Khmer Rouge started in Paris!). The large story never changes. It never changes, just new faces on old stories.

So all that remains is for you to be changed. All that remains is for you to change from a spectator, a consumer of others' actions, into a participant. You have to enter the stream. This is how you unfuck your life: you live it at the risk of dying from it.

Which is no risk at all, but a guarantee. And believe it or not, that's the best news possible. It frees you from ever worrying about it again.

* * *

Who are you, my friend? Who are you? What have you got to show for yourself? What did you do with your time? My pal, George Orwell, his given name was Eric Blair, wrote his motherfucking ass off because he was enraged by injustice - the old story that never changes - and he died at 47. He also fought against Franco, stood with the impoverished miners of Wigan Pier, and chronicled man's inhumanity with a powerful control of language and empathy thereby setting a stone of humanity against totalitarianism. In his day it was Fascism and Nazism and Stalinism. Do we not live in the same time only with new names: Conformity, Commercialism, Corporate-ism?

Do not be idle. There is nothing new under the sun. That which has been will be again. The stories never change, just the names of those willing to stand and give what they have to give: their work, their name, their sweat, their minds, their lives. This is not futile. This is the doorway to your greatness. Go. See how far you can get. Defy the inertia that attends every age.  And most important, forgive those who don't understand, who don't want you to go, who would crush you like a French workman in May of 1871. Forgive them. They know not what they do. 

But you do.

No doubt it is an exile who speaks, who knows no better plea for the vanquished than the simple and sincere recital of their history.

* * *

Pronounce your aitches loud and clear.

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