Perhaps it is art's nature to heal — but during these meltdown days, when bailout money goes to the derivative vandals and this oh-so-vaunted system folds in on itself like bad origami, I would argue that any healing we are going to experience will not come from calls to bipartisanship (why can't Obama govern like he actually won the election?) or hope. I think healing — useful, purgative, truthful healing — will only come from rage, honest moral rage at the stupidities, lies, and fuckings-over of the princes in power.
And for good measure, as a target of this cleansing rage, I would add in our pretend culture. All of the material wealth we Americans have sucked out of the earth has only made us anxiety-ridden, greedy, blindered, perpetually unmoored, ignorantly arrogant — perfect citizens for the capitalist order but unfit for the blessings of life. We have hooked ourselves up to and on to values that, on the face of it, appear unimpeachable, such as the pursuit of individual freedom and the right to an unbridled imagination, but which isolate us from each other and give us only corporate fodder on which to feed a sense of self: how slim, how pretty, how rich, how busy, how well-clothed, how heavily accoutered. And since all of these shift on the whims of marketers and markets, no self feeding at these troughs can ever rest clear and calm, satisfied without the worm of appetite twisting in the gut. This capitalist dis-order — soon may it rot.
Rage apocalyptic. Rage drenched in scorn. Rage that flings the spit off the teeth at supersonic speeds. Rage that makes it impossible to forget and to sleep well at night.
How heals rage? By first reaming out the pipes, by blowing the stink off oneself (as a good friend of mine once said). By getting back to a flat-bottomed point where one can feel unduped and unused, where one can rest momentarily bleached out and exhausted, as the body and mind will feel when purged of poisons and alarms. This, at least, begins a true beginning, this is what forty fasting devil-stuffed days in the desert brings: preparation by erasure, by canceling the old eyes, letting silence rinse the mouth, flushing the knotted jargons from the ears, sloughing off our careful calluses, inviting the nerves to stop hallucinating on cue.
But when, at the end of this first beginning, the water washes away the desert grime, when simple cloth drapes a breathing-again skin, when verb waits without impatience to answer back — this is only the starting canvas, the anticipatory page, the choreographic twitch, the unchiseled stone. Nothing has been healed yet until the pen begins to name the bastards that made the desert necessary, until the chisel cracks through the blather that has polluted the air, until the brush laves color across the enforced greys that we are tricked into believing are our only choices, until the arm stabbing into the space draws the body behind it in defiance of lines. Then begins a rage artistic, not just to void everything null — not just to lay waste, as due as that might be — but also, by wasting everything double-tongued and false-hearted, to make people hunger for the desert so that when the earth steams in its new scoured emptiness, they can crack open their fired skins and anchor roots in a refreshed soil.
This rage is the only reason to make art, is the only thing that can inspire art that matters, that will outlast fashion and profit. This rage is not about art made to soothe the ego, elevate the ultra-personal, diddle the private. Its power comes from a passionate impersonality, a fiery coolness, a fierce gentleness — and a hatred of everything false, slavish, stupid, predatory. In the end it is an art about making things better, about showing people how they can act better than their selfishness and fears allow them to act. It is ultimately, then, about love. Not the sentimentalized tripe and self-involved silliness spooned into us by the wardens of our entertainment culture, but something much harder-edged, without schmaltz and dreaminess, almost in the realm of sacrifice, what Christ must have felt on the cross, both human and inhuman (since he was both), both heart-shattering and released. This is a rage which is a healing where the wound is more important than the medicine, since the wound is what keeps us alive and awake, the wound, as Howard Barker puts it, that the rope makes as we are pulled from the swamp.
An art that keeps the wound open, rage that cleanses, love both suckling and sundering — these will heal the affliction of being alive in this country in the era of the bipartisan meltdown.