Arts The Role of the 21st Century
posted by April 16 at 13:20 PMon
Rushdie’s great cause?
To determine “The Role of the Writer in the 21st Century.” What’s embarrassing about this mission is not just the audacity of trying to locate some supreme role for the writer in our post-disenchanted age, but the very mention of “the Writer,” the artist of words. Do people still call themselves that and really mean it, really feel it? If so, how sad and backward. Calling yourself a writer to us—the generation far beyond Nietzsche’s “builders of bridges”—is the same as a savage putting paint on his face and calling himself a doctor. The writer thinks words are important, that language is holy, and that his/her job is to redeem human kind with the magic of words. (To see these kinds of feelings in a frenzy, all you need to do is attend this year’s poetry festival.)
This is why I admire Jeff Mills (techno) and Burial (dubstep). They have the sanity not to call themselves saints—meaning, musicians—and yet what they make sounds like music. They understand something was lost on the way to the 21st century. That thing was the halo in Baudelaire’s prose poem “The Halo.” The bell has cracked, and at best all we can do is to free ourselves from the weight of the dead.
Mills and Burial also understand that what they are making may not even be music as such, music as Bach, as Coltrane, as the Stones. This kind of understanding is absolutely absent from the world of literature. Poets still believe they are poets, novelists novelists, playwrights playwrights. But everything around us has changed. We are not really writers (in the sense that Joyce was a writer) but something closer to Mills and Burial—data retrievers, data processors, data deployers. It’s nothing more than weak or strong affects, weak or strong sequences. And one should not take this art business so personally, as writers do. You are but a flickering node in a restless network.