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Room: A Novel

Room: A Novel

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The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies (VIDEO)

Posted on Apr 13, 2014

By Chris Hedges

(Page 5)

Culture, real culture, is radical and transformative. It is capable of expressing what lies deep within us. It gives words to our reality. It makes us feel as well as see. It allows us to empathize with those who are different or oppressed. It reveals what is happening around us. It honors mystery. “The role of the artist, then, precisely, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest,” James Baldwin wrote, “so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight which in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires us to embrace this sublime madness, to find in acts of rebellion the embers of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside of certain success. It is to at once grasp reality and then refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. It is, and I say this to people of all creeds or no creeds, to make an absurd leap of faith, to believe, despite all empirical evidence around us, that good always draws to it the good, that the fight for life always goes somewhere—we do not know where; the Buddhists call it karma—and in these acts we sustain our belief in a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.

The Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who spent most of his adult life in prison or in exile, knew something of despair. But he knew something too of resistance, of that rebellious spirit which must define us in times of terrible oppression and woe if we are to remain fully human. Any act of resistance is its own eternal triumph. Hikmet captured this in his poem “On Living.”


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Living is no laughing matter:
      you must live with great seriousness
            like a squirrel, for example—
  I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
          I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
      you must take it seriously,
      so much so and to such a degree
  that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                      your back to the wall,
  or else in a laboratory
      in your white coat and safety glasses,
      you can die for people—
  even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
  even though you know living
      is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
  that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
  and not for your children, either,
  but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
  because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
                from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
                  about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
            for the latest newscast . . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
      for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
      we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
      but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
      about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                  before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                        I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
      we must live as if we will never die.

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
          and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
        I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
        in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                      if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

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