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Art vs. the Authoritarian Mind

The second installment of my column at Lit Hub is now online. This one deals with the Nobel Prize–winning poet and essayist Czesław Miłosz and art’s role in interpreting and resisting the authoritarian mind.

In addition to other things, this marks the beginning of something I will be continuing to address with this column: the importance of continuing to make and promote art in these dark times. There’s a lot of malaise and hopelessness in the artistic community right now (I get it, I feel it too), but I think there’s a very, very strong case for why art is hugely important at a time like this; indeed, maybe more important than ever at times like this. So I begin making that case with this column.

One other thing I want to start talking about here: the value of ridiculing Trump and his goons. Yes, I know, what’s going on right now is terrible; it’s no laughing matter when anti-Semites are targeting Jews, when people of color and the LGBT community are the targets of hate crimes. I don’t think that sort of thing should be made light of at all. But we should ridicule Trump for the petty little man that he is. Part of the authoritarian power is the power of intimidation, the power of the reputation to cow resistance. Authoritarians bank on the people doing their work for them by psyching themselves out and losing the battle before it even starts. Eroding that fearsomeness very concretely erodes an authoritarian’s power, and art has traditionally been quite good at doing just that. So this is a part of its role in resistance.

A few recommended books that go along with this week’s column:

The Captive Mind by Czesław Miłosz (tr. Jane Zielonko)
Native Realm by Czesław Miłosz (tr. Catherine S. Leach)
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet by Rebecca Rischin
Europe Central by William T. Vollmann
Blueprint for Revolution by Srdja Popovic
A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit



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Thank you for the bracing columns and encouraging thoughts. I am constantly reminded of Berlin in 1932. What would I do? Do you realize that 11/9 was the anniversary of Kristallnacht and 11/9 is the reverse of 9/11?? Curious, non? Please keep writing and I look forward to supporting you and reading you.

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