You know that I’m more conflicted about the Occupy Wall Street movement than is D.G. Myers, Commentary’s literary critic, but I think this is a fine rant against a list of prominent writers who have affixed their names to a statement in support of Occupy Wall Street. Excerpt:
The profession of the writer, by contrast, depends upon freedom, and especially upon a fanatical absolutist commitment to freedom of expression. As Nabokov said in a 1964 interview with Playboy,
[S]ince my youth — I was nineteen when I left Russia — my political creed has remained as bleak and changeless as an old gray rock. It is classical to the point of triteness. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art. The social or economic structure of the ideal state is of little concern to me.
Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art: there is the only political creed which can unite all writers into a political party. Many prominent American writers have lost interest in freedom, however, and have become obsessed with a world that is divided between rich and poor. Small wonder, then, that more and more readers are losing interest in them.
I am reminded of Franz, the professor character in Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” who is forever wanting to join protest marches, sign statements, and in some way associate himself with the progressive Grand March through history. It was part of his Romantic conception of himself. His lover, Sabina, an artist and a refugee from communist Czechoslovakia, was deeply suspicious of Westerners like Franz, because she distrusted the kitsch inherent in that sentiment. Here is Kundera on Franz:
As long as he lived in Paris, he took part in every possible demonstration. How nice it was to celebrate something, demand something, protest against something; to be out in the open, to be with others. The parades filing down the Boulevard Saint-Germain or from the Place de la Republique to the Bastille fascinated him. He saw the marching, shouting crowd as the image of Europe and its history. Europe was the Grand March. The march from revolution to revolution, from struggle to struggle, ever onward.
I don’t for a minute think these writers who have signed the statement want to suppress freedom of speech or any such thing. Unlike D.G. Myers, who deplores their allying themselves with anti-capitalists, I think their statement is fairly benign, but mostly because it’s a vanity project, and nothing more. What I find amusing, as does Myers, is the conceit that anybody in this country gives a rat’s ass what novelists and artists think about anything political. The number of Americans who would be impressed that many of the country’s best writers have publicly declared their solidarity with Occupy Wall Street could probably fill Zuccotti Park, with spillover into Harvard Square and Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. The rest of the country just does not care. And I think that is a healthy thing, both for the country, and for writers.
Writers should be very, very wary of joining any march, in reality or on paper, for any cause other than freedom of speech. Beware the crowd.