Lakota Perspectives 

 

Literary Pursuits

                          CREATE DANGEROUSLY-- On Reading Camus Again
                                                                     by 
                                                             Janis Schmidt
 

   I was looking for something to say in the aftermath of the elections, one of the most heinous acts ever committed in the name of exercising one's freedom. The question on every thinking person's mind is, "how are we to survive 4 more years of Bush?" As I was reading through my articles on my web site, www.lakotaperspectives.com, I thought I had writen an answer. I would suggest you read some Albert Camus. 

   Sometimes when things get so bad, and there are no solutions, the only thing one can do is create. It is the only thing that is remembered in time. Think of the sand sifting over centuries, of ancient civilizations come and gone. The only thing that remains is the art. The warmongers are gone. The populace is gone. The only thing that remains is art. So, take courage. And make your statement. Piece and sew your words together of your experience that the whole world will come to know it. Even Bush and a thousand neocons cannot suppress it. The truth combined with art is pretty powerful.  

   Albert Camus is one of my favorite writers because he had so much to say to artists about the process of creating. He saw the 20th century with an uncanny eye for where we are headed. When artists are more concerned about earning bread than revealing truth, then our freedoms are gone. 

   I do not think he would have been surprised to learn that America is becoming a totalitarian state, quite easily and naturally. Camus said, "When a ruling class measures its fortunes, not by the acre of land or the ingot of gold, but by the number of figures corresponding ideally to a certain number of exchange operations, it thereby condemns itself to setting a certain kind of humbug at the center of its experience and its universe. A society founded on signs is, in its essence, an artificial society in which man's carnal truth is handled as something artificial. There is no reason for being surprised that such a society chose as its religion a moral code of formal principles and that it inscribes the words "liberty' and "equality" on its prisons as well as on its temples of finance." 

   He goes on to say that liberty is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the world today. It is regarded as an obstacle in the path of progress. Take a look around. Enron, Worldcom, Anderson, Bechtal, Haliburton, and so on. So what if they are ripping off the public. They still run the show, and soon, they will rule the world. Bush will see to that. 

   No, Bush isn't in charge; he's the front end loader for the rich. He is only in for one term, so he must accomplish everything within his 4 years. He's not out to win any popularity contest. He doesn't have to. As he said when asked if the people's disapproval of the war made any difference to him, he said, "Democracy is a beautiful thing. People can express themselves, but I don't have to listen to them. I can respectfully disagree." And we, the American people, can wring our hands and shake our heads and end up agreeing to our new police state, because we now have the ideal enemy, the terrorist, who could be anyone Bush declares is a terrorist. 

   Because we are so intimidated, we agree that these "terrorists" must not only be imprisioned, but deprived of their citizenship and tortured as well. And to be on the safe side, we must turn America into a compound. Orwell and Huxley would be impressed. 

   And how do you like the sinister fundamentalist religious overtones? Axis of evil. Murder Saddam in the name of righteousness. Is that what Christians do? "Let's hunt down these terrorists, one by one." Like the professor in Florida who defended the Palestinians right to life, and now finds himself removed, detained, and questioned. "Our enemies hate freedom and democracy," so saith Bush. Or how about the man who made an unfortunate comment in a bar, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that "Bush ought to be assassinated"?   He's how doing time. 

   Camus said, "For over a hundred years a society of merchants made an exclusive and unilateral use of liberty, looking upon it as a right rather than as a duty, and did not fear to use an ideal liberty, as often as it could, to justify a very real oppression. As a result, is there anything surprising in the fact that such a society asked art to be, not an instrument of liberation, but an inconsequential exercise and a mere entertainment?" 

   So, we are now in the chute. Don't you smell that blood? There's no gun pointed to your head, so before we go into that nuclear night, lets grab up that pen and paint brush, and come out swinging. Lets start creating dangerously, since that is the only option we have left, if we have a conscience at all.  Let the paint fall where it may. The days of the irresponsible artist are over. Camus said, "If the artistic cooks of our time upset more baskets of eggs that they intended, the omelet of civilization may never again come out right, and art may never resuscitate. Barbarism is never temporary." The natural consequences of barbarism are a lapse of morals, genocide cheered on by patriots waving flags, an indulgent press, insignificant art, and eventually, eventually hatred takes the place of religion. 

   Welcome to the 21st century and the New World Order. Before we descend into a fascist nightmare, or some type of controlled corporate abyss, while we still remember who we are, let us, who have been given a talent, start creating dangerously.  Work urgently, but keep a steady course. Remember, nothing of any value was ever created out of hate, but out of love. If there is any part of the culture worth saving, you better get busy and set it down. 
      
   Keep in mind what Noam Chomsky said, "It is the duty of the intellectual to expose what is false and reveal what is true." I read, with great interest, about the poets whom Mrs. Bush so rudely dismissed from entering the White House. Then, they moved the reading to a Hall and in the midst of the worst snowstorm in 4 decades, they had their reading anyway. Over 2000 people attended. With tears in my eyes, I read that Artur Miller and Kurt Vonnegut were there. The tenacity of these two old war horses for freedom, and all the people in attendance is an affirmation that life is precious and worth living fully. 

   So, come on out from under that bed, get your head out of the sand, and lets start doing out part. As Roosevelt once said when confronting real enemies and not just vagaries, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Create dangerously. 

   Contact Janis Schmidt at janis@lakotaperspectives.com.   phone 701-294-2196

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BROKEN VOWS 
by
James Joyce
Interpretation by Janis Schmidt



It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;  
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.
You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
 I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.
You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
 twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.
You promised me a thing that is not possible,
 that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
 that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird,
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.
My mother said to me not to be talking with you to-day,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
 it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
 it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.
My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or the black coal that is on the smith's forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you put that darkness into my life.
You have taken the east from me;
you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me
and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon,
you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great
 that you have taken God from me!


James Joyce, Irish, great poet and writer, lived at the turn of the century.  For daring to criticize the blindness of his fellow countrymen, he was ostracized from Ireland after his first book was published in Dublin.  All his works were destroyed by his publisher.  He left Dublin in 1904, never to return, living out the rest of his years in Paris and Zurich.  The work of an artist and writer speaks of his own time and culture.  A great writer continues to speak to the new generations.  Indeed, a hundred years later, Joyce has something to tell us. 

This poem is taken from a larger work called, The Dubliners, from the last work called, The Dead.  You must remember that the Irish were the Native people, whom England subjagated for so many years.  Colonization.   Death of a culture.   People going to sleep as warriors, and waking up as sheep, and not even realizing a metamorphisis has taken place!  

Who is this poem being addressed?   a faithless lover?  friend?  a culture of people?   Joyce never tells us, yet the "you" in this poem could be all of the above.   I like to look at it as the decimation of a culture willingly destroyed by the inmates.  As you observe, the "you" is personal, known, could be your aunt or your son, father or mother.  "It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;"  Yet at the same time, this is not anyone who can be found, or can be blamed.   For example, we all love to blame the IRA government for all our woes.  But who is the IRA government, really? Who works in the Tribal building, the programs, the schools?  

"You promised me, and you said a lie to me, 
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb."

Isn't it true?  No more eagles, or bears, or buffaloes, or horses-----just sheep, a bleating lamb.  Like cows in the field, you line up to take your orders.  Who is giving the orders?  Is it the bad white man?  Who is evicting you from your house?  Who hocked your land?  Who is destroying your culture today?  How many of you are really implementing the no-child-left-behind?  Who is teaching the children to line up and take orders?  Who is passing on the knowledge of the culture?  I keep hearing that by saving the language,  you are saving the culture. Is that all there is to culture?   Don't you know that the only way to save your Culture is to live it every day? 

"You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;"
 
Let me put it this way, even if you got the Black Hills back, don't you think they would be a little tarnished, polluted, used and abused, no longer the same?   Don't you know that you carry your culture in heart, and live it every day, every minute, or it is dead?   "The extent to which the state made Gaelic a compulsory part of the education system created a lot of resentment in Ireland," he argues.   For Scottish Gaels, exposure to the language must be "an issue of parental and individual choice."   

My mother said to me not to be talking with you to-day,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
 it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

This is about grief and loss, the vile taking of something, a rape, the taking of a culture, and the person doesn't even recognize he stole anything.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or the black coal that is on the smith's forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you put that darkness into my life.

There's only a few people left now, who know what the culture was.  What we have today is Cecilia Fire Thunder making a compact with the state on the lives of two Lakota boys, victims of a crime, accused by the State of South Dakota as the perpetrators of the crime.  We have Federal and State judges declaring Lakotas guilty, denying them a trial, just plead guilty and get sent off.   We have people in Tribal courts taking children from their mothers and giving them away. 

You have taken the east from me;
you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

Someone who still knows the culture will know what it is was to be violated, robbed of a cultural identity in every way, with absolutely no one to turn to.   If there are only two of you left out there, who understand what I am saying,  I am speaking to you,  for a great culture only exists in the heart and mind.   We hear a lot about identity theft, yet they are only talking about money.   What do they know of being robbed of your total identity?   Now, after they defiled it, defamed it, denuded it, shamed it, changed it; now they want to give it back to you.   If you read this with any kind of recognition, then remember they stole your heart from you when they stole your children.  For in doing so, they stole the future.  You are selling out your own religion.  

Stop, look, and listen.  Where there is life, there is hope.  

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