January 2017
This issue's contents Current issue Index Search

Wind Is Changing

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Mighty forces will come to your aid.
Chinese fortune taped to my refrigerator

Bored, on a three hour train ride, I began a Google search on my phone for some lines of poetry I vaguely remembered, which I thought were T.S. Eliot, but which turned out to be Matthew Arnold: “Wandering between two worlds, one dead,/The other powerless to be born” (from “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse”).

This led to some lines of Gramsci, in two versions, a good and bad translation, the latter more vivid: “The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” What Gramsci actually wrote translates more accurately as: “This crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Jerome Roos, “The Days of Innocence Are Over”, Telesur TV September 5, 2014 http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Days-of-Innocence-Are-Over-Self-Organization-in-a-Time-of-Monsters-20140906-0025.html

This however gives me some slight comfort, that though I may be witnessing the death via entropy of the world in which I have lived, of the Enlightenment and tolerance and acceptance of diversity and of equality and democracy and the free speech rule-sets to which I have devoted so many years of love and study, that another good world may emerge from the shards; that the effort of writing The Ethical Spectacle is not wasted, because if nothing else, it serves as a letter to an intelligent twelve year old girl living five hundred or a thousand years from now. One of the signs I remember, with nostalgia and affection, from Occupy Wall Street demonstrations was the sincere “Another world is possible”. I will even quote to you John 12:24: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”.

To be completely clear, this is not an argument for passivity at all, but for zealous activism amidst the crumbling and crashing of edifices. It has been my honor these last few years to defend some beautiful Catholic Workers in criminal prosecutions, and I learned from them the following statement of Dorothy Day: "Don't worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth." ("May tomorrow be a Dorothy day").

On a far more petty note, I take a small and rather malicious comfort, from the thought that histories (if there are any) of our time written in the future (history being rightly, and almost exclusively the province of hopeful, diverse, tolerant Whigs) will not be kind to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Paul Ryan and the other architects of our misfortunes. Further, I would like each of them (and Kellianne Conway too, and so many others) to have at least one moment of clarity at the end, a vision of their own ignominy and oblivion.

That thought started me thinking about wind metaphors. At the end of One Hundred Years of Solitude, IMO the greatest twentieth century novel, “the city of mirrors (or mirages) [is] wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men”.Then I remembered the moment when everything begins to change in Lord of the Rings, when the pervasive evil of Mordor begins to crumble and fall to pieces, at Ghan-Buri-Ghan's cry, “Wind is changing!” As a result, I aspire very grandiosely to become a variation on Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, who “would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward”. In my version, I am facing forward, and radiating, as best I can, in Gramsci's phrase, an optimism, not of the intellect, but of the will.