2050 is about the “power structures that shape our lives.” Understanding what we mean by “power structures” is key I think to understanding my work as a writer, as an artist. I have an agenda: my story and my analysis of the dominant culture emerge from a basic set of assumptions organized around the fundamental notion that our “nurture” is everything. So much so that nurture becomes nature, that nature and nurture are one. This means that we develop into the personalities that we are as a result of the material conditions of our existence–as children.
Reading and writing stories reminds us that, among other influences circulating in the child’s early years is the specter of power and its representation as adult-authority, as adult presence, as adult logic, as adult language, as adult relationship. In Lynda Barry’s illustrated world, adults are angry almost all of the time—scowled, pointed eye brows, ferocious mouths gaping. She represents the children and adolescents as more often then not bemused, befuddled, or as simply resigned to the storm of power reigning all around them.
It’s remarkable there is so little bitterness in the stories Barry tells about childhood, no unconscious need for revenge presents itself in her work. Her stories are simple acts of remembering simply yet sublimely done. Her power as an artist comes from her uncanny ability to find the tragic in the ordinary and the the ordinary in the tragic. She chronicles the human desire to forget—the past, the pain, the vulnerability, the powerlessness, of the child–and yet at the same time imbedded in her work is a hard law that, once recognized, liberates: true forgetting is impossible so trying to forget is fruitless. We may be able to temporarily avoid, but never to escape completely from the past.
The drama of culture and our lives as members of a society begin as a family drama—and the family drama is largely scripted by the wider culture. I think this is what Faulkner is getting at when he said, “There is no was.”
And then somebody else said, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” I think these are mutually reinforcing clichés.
There is no was, according to Faulkner because when the past remains unresolved—or unremembered—we are doomed to repeat it. It follows then that if we remembered the past we might liberate ourselves.
The question remains: exactly what past are we supposed to stop forgetting? Which history is most in need of remembering? And how will we know? Who can guide us?
Our very future as a society may rest on our ability to answer these questions.
As children we’re taught to do the right thing. Often we are perplexed with what is the right thing because the right thing is determined by someone else. Ultimately, we must decide for ourselves what is right–but often our judgment is clouded by the neurological trace of trauma and the confusion it leaves behind.
When practicing self-reflection, there is a moment when we come to realize that we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from the past—the cycle of suffering– and so become peace makers rather than destroyers or defilers. We see that we have the opportunity to help others, that compassion is life’s fullest expression.
Violence, on the other hand, frees no one. Compassion frees, violence binds. But our habits of suffering remain strong, our narcissism is real, our commitment to revenge runs deep, and the belief in the use of violence as a constructive act remains deeply imprinted in our way of life, however questionable a history violence has. Violence is nothing more or less than the mis-use of power between people. But some of us might question this assumption, but I ask you, is there good violence? A right use of violence?
Power rightly exercised is non-violent. This is not to say it is weak, or passive, or in-active or ineffective. It is just to say that power rightly exercised between peoples is non-violent. Violence is consistent with domination, dehumanization, traumatization, subjugation and death.
That those with power mis-use power routinely, even celebrate the mis-use of power and the “right” use of violence in no way justifies these actions as “right.” The fact that a violent relational practice is habitual, historical or generational in no way condones or makes more acceptable by use something that otherwise remains repugnant.
Literature and the arts has the power to remind us that our adult self-identity has been formed with great personal sacrifice as a child in the face of petty and chronic violence routinely experienced by children. Remembering our experience, and having compassion for our experience unblocks the mind. It resolves by accepting. Like a deep breath.
Story is at the heart of everything we do because stories help us remember. It’s also true that some stories help us forget. Literature reminds us, through fiction, about truth.
My work, in the end, speaks to the possibility of non-violent, compassionate change, but not just change for change sake, but rather, for the growth and development of the human community. Such work is the work of compassion. Without compassion and the recognition that in the fate of one lies the fate of all, we will be condemned to repeating the past and living in a world committed to the misuse of power and the disregard for human life.