Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Future Imperfect as Verb Tense and Existential Reality

Writing in the current issue of The American Scholar, the novelist and sometime essayist, Amitav Ghosh, along with possible help from an uncredited editor-caption writer, asks about the consequences of future generations of fiction readers make of the failure of contemporary novelists to address what he calls the crisis of climate change.

From your own readings of Ghosh's fiction, notably The Circle of Reason, and to a lesser extent, The Hungry Tide, you have sufficient cause to believe he is a significant and devoted reader. You do not consider his (or the caption writer's) use of the word "crisis," hyperbole nor indeed of the hysteria-producing rhetoric often found in sources whose default more likely than not relies on exaggeration to attract readers.

Ghosh's essay is excerpted from a work of nonfiction due to appear as a book within the next weeks, further distancing it from the kinds of text and headlines for publication on the Internet and, thus, measurable for the number of "hits" or pages read associated with hyperbolic headlines and shock value.

Ghosh impresses you as a writer with a writer's conscience, which is to say a writer who is concerned with the resident issues of his time, caste system within the global sense, and who demonstrates the conscience of a writer. 

In this regard, your thesis herewith, without diminishing your own concern for the climate, which you acknowledge to be a worthwhile issue. Your thesis begins with the awareness that most of the writers whose works you've valued over the years tend to wrap their narratives of fiction and fact about the armature of a time and place, often (but not necessarily) sharpening their focus on some local or global issue of a broad, general urgency. 

Perhaps the writer is not as aware of the downstream aspects of the narrative as we, as readers and all the I Told You So of the Monday Morning quarterback, would appreciate.

Your thesis goes forth to believe how human life is, within your space within a bubble, populated with individuals whose awareness of crises and emergencies are spread thin with modern life. They may care about such issues as climate change, migration, and racial injustice, but only as spectators at the likes of one of the more contact prone sports, from the watching of which they may wonder about the ability of the human body to endure such impacts on a regular basis without suffering future consequences as well as the more immediate ones of, say, concussion.

Writers, whether knowingly or not, choose topics and characters from a menu of their own concerns and experiences.For every Rachel Carson of blessed Silent Spring memory, countless other writers are prescient only so far as their awareness of the issues of the moment allow.

We may read works from the past with bewilderment at how "they," those of the past, could not know, how, for instance, they could have been serious in their belief in the scientific reliability of phrenology, those aspects of spiritism that included seances, trance mediums, and contacts with"the other world." Even today, the equivalent of evoking the pro/con ire at hand for the discussion of climate change is to speak to or against the efficacy and reliability of astrology.

Some years ago, you indulged yet another argument about related matters with Sidney Kimmelman, ne Sidney Omar, the astrologer whose daily column was in wide circulation.  "Watch out, Virgo," he'd say at such times, "You're running off at your critical worst." Then he'd grow more thoughtful. "You do know there's big money in it, don't you?"

And then his, and your partner in a magazine venture, Borderline: The Magazine That Dares the Unknown, Henry Miller, was wont to say, "There's big money in anything if you're willing to exploit it."

The thing holding contemporary writers back from a more prescient focus of the future is the extent of their vision of the immediate present and its denizens.  Sometimes when the time of night, weather and atmospheric  conditions here in Santa Barbara allow you an awe-inspiring awareness of the starry skies, or those times when you are in deserts or other remote areas and bedazzled by the spectral view, you have brief, sobering moments of wonder.

Which of those lights you're seeing had their origins at stars who are long dead?

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