Herein a log of some of my efforts to understand how writing works and how to make it work: Fiction Readings. I call this section "fiction," but in fact I have begun to doubt that there is any such thing as "nonfiction." There are works of the free play of fancy, where the author asks "What if," and there are others of thought, where the author tries to say, "This is." Any thought-out piece of writing is structured, and thereby "fiction" in the original sense of that word, and every writing combines what the author believes to be true and -- well, other things. Currently, I offer here only my notes on the works of fancy. See also a sisterly site, readliterature.com, for notes on more fiction & poetry. �


The struggle continues -- forever

Mark Engler just sent a link to his article Seattle at Five, about how little what he calls "the US globalization movement" has advanced since the protests in Seattle five years ago. He sounds a bit dispirited. I'm older, and have been through this before and long ago accepted -- emotionally as well as intellectually -- that ours is a very long struggle. It is possibly even a perpetual struggle, because every time we think we've won some space for greater justice and freedom (the 13 colonies in 1776, France in 1789 and Paris in 1871, the October Revolution, the Mexican and Cuban revolutions, etc.), the same old enemies reappear, sometimes within our very ranks. I think this is what Marx had in mind when he defined life as "struggle."

As a college student, I was deeply impressed by reading Eduard Bernstein, Evolutionary Socialism (originally published under the snappy title, Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie, 1899). I think I need to read it again. What I remember most clearly is his motto, "The end is nothing; the struggle is everything." There is no promised land, but that doesn't mean we give up trying to fulfill that promise. If you're curious and don't know the work, here's the reference: Evolutionary Socialism.

Against compassion

My National Writers Union colleague Dian Killian asked me to review this book that she co-authored: Connor, Jane Marantz, and Dian Killian. Connecting Across Differences: An Introduction to Compassionate, Nonviolent Communication. New York: Hungry Duck Press, 2004. It’s a sort of mutual self-help book, with exercises designed to help you get people you work with to be more open-minded toward one another, which sounds innocent enough.

Sorry, but I can’t do it. I thought I could, but as I read the first chapter with all its emphasis on promoting compassion, I realized that I disagree violently. “Compassion” is just what we don’t need to encourage at this point.

“Compassion” is passion on behalf of somebody else, vicarious passion. It was what Bill Clinton was expressing when he would say “I feel your pain.” The problem is that nobody can feel anybody else’s pain the way that other person feels it.

George W. Bush is a compassionate conservative; that’s why he ordered troops to invade Iraq, because of his compassion for people he imagined as longing to be ruled by the U.S. instead of Sadam. The people who try and sometimes succeed to murder abortion doctors are compassionate, saving the unborn whom they imagine as longing for good Christian lives. The 9 guys who hijacked the planes and rammed them into the Twin Towers were compassionate, delivering their correligionaries from the oppression of the Great Satan, and delivering the people in the towers from their lives of sin. There is entirely too much free-floating compassion going around.

Any kind of passion is powerful and therefore dangerous. Vicarious passion is the most dangerous of all, because it makes people intervene in other people’s lives in ways that can do much more harm than good. We can’t live very interesting lives without it, but to promote “compassion” as a value in itself is a very bad idea. What we need is more rationality, to hold the passion in check or to channel it to useful purposes. If you want a literary example of how destructive compassion can be, even in the context of a good cause, check out Bertolt Brecht, especially his short didactic play Die Maßnahme – “The Measures Taken.”


Recommended viewing
Here are some war photos from Fallujah that were too gory to be published. It's best to face the horrid facts, so we know what we're committing our troops to, and what sorts of things they are forced to do, or (what's much scarier) may even come to do willingly. Fallujah in Pictures.

For commentary on these photos, see Mark Morford's column in SFGate, Very, Very Dirty Pictures: You want explicit? You want raw and uncensored and free of media bias? Here you go.