- Books, Literature, and Writing
Sewing a New Mentality - An inspired essay
How does change happen? Evolution is thought to be a natural progression based on factors outside of our control. However, every time someone makes a decision that isn’t based on a common opinion, doesn’t that inspire change? The information may not alter, but the way we put it to use could provoke a new perspective. Throughout history there have been broad thinkers, destined to inspire the earth’s future occupants. Though they may be dead, their words and ideas live on, making them near immortal. One of my favorite areas of history is the 1960s because of the outspoken voices that surfaced above the frowning faces of the majority. They called this counterculture - I call it purposeful evolution. Writers are among some of the most prominent influences mankind has to offer. They take the creation of language and interconnect ideas to form literary masterpieces. Words are liberating. Writers such as Susan Sontag, Sherman Alexie, and Denise Levertov drafted versions of counterculture idealism in the 1960s that have carried into our present to influence fervent, young writers that wish to expose true power, continuation of individualism, and universal consciousness.
Our real superpowers
True power lies beyond the use of weapons and artillery. It is not the result of won wars and comparisons of bomb strength. True power is a manifestation of truth. Denise Levertov, a born writer, grew up in Essex England in the 1920s. She was schooled at home and knew from the time she was a child that she would be a writer someday. She became a professor in addition to her writing and inspired many students. Her idealism and logic touched many in undeniable ways. In her last interview with Nicholas O’Connel for Modern American Poetry, Levertov expressed how she felt the twentieth century mentality has regressed: “This optimism is a twentieth-century repeat of attitudes in the nineteenth century, when they thought that steam, electricity, and telephones were going to make for some kind of utopia” (qtd. in O’Connel 2). She goes on exposing a spiritual hunger desired by many; “Our ethical development does not match our technological development. This sense of spiritual hunger is something of a counterforce or unconscious reaction to all that technological euphoria” (qtd. in O’Connel 2). She is describing the effect of technology on the ego. The ego is what drives negative reaction and violence and it lives within every person. So, coming back to true power, is it safe to say that whatever isn’t consumed by the ego is the direct result of truth? Peace, understanding, and love are all that remains when you take away the inhibiting mask of aggression. In the last line of Levertov’s poem, “Life at War”, she gives her account of the power hidden beneath ego: “…nothing we do has the quickness, the sureness, the deep intelligence living at peace would have.” (Levertov 127). The fact that this concept is intertwined in the minds of people in the 1960s and their children today is proof that the information lives on; the ideas may even survive, but the mentality will disintegrate if it is not upheld by dedicated followers.
I am Me
Individualism is crucial to success. Without defining a sense of self, one is in danger of being absorbed in the generic makeup of the world. In the 1960s, people were determined to be individuals. However, through the sense of self they developed, the more they became interconnected. The mentality grew with the numbers of people devoted to change and counterculture. Susan Sontag, a boisterous writer whose outspokenness opened minds and enveloped hearts, used her skills to present her readers with evidence for improvement. Her logic was undeniable in that she saw the truth and displayed it for her readers in a scholarly, highly educated manner. For many, including Sontag, individualism can be relatively isolating; “Because of reading—and music—my daily experience was of living in a world of people who didn’t give a hoot about the intensities to which I had pledged myself. I felt as if I were from another planet…” (qtd. in Hirsch 4). Her ideals set her apart from the people content with living only half of what they are capable. Sontag’s words inspire those who desire intense self-affirmation. Only by understanding oneself is one able to begin understanding others. This personal development takes the individual into a degree of understanding that is capable of taking on the world. Sontag said, “I could answer that a writer is someone who pays attention to the world.” (qtd. in Hirsch 2). Is that to say that writers have a defined understanding of the world apart from other people? It may just be that writers have a defined sense of self that allows them to see past the barriers of personal ineptitude, and therefore they are more easily equipped to look past themselves into the lives of others.
The Universal Universe
Universal consciousness is the source of the interconnectivity between people and the rest of the world. Despite cultural differences and even time, people have undisputable links that make them capable of understanding each other. Evidence of these developments can be found in language and writing where it is distinctly clear that people want to get their point across. These universal connections empower writers that wish to show their readers a deeper truth. Sherman Alexie is a raucous voice whose works have described his definition of consciousness. Alexie is a leader in modern Native American literature which differs from traditional folklore and tales passed down by word of mouth. His writing exposes the gritty realism of what has become of many Native Americans in the twentieth and twenty-first century. Alexie, a previously raging alcoholic himself, doesn’t hold back when he writes about the condition of his people. However, in Alexie’s work, he rejects the term “universal” saying, “Yeah, but the thing is, people always told me their story. They didn't say, ‘This made me feel like 100 other people.' The creation is specific and the response is specific. Good art is specific. Godzilla is universal” (qtd. in Fraser 8). It isn’t enough to write about the common human experience. Individualism first opens the door to self, then leads writers to understanding the depths of others. He goes on remarking on universal themes vs. universal works: “That's an appropriate way to talk about it, saying universal themes. But some people call the whole work universal. That's wrong. And even if there are universal themes, it's within a very specific experience and character. And that's what made it good” (qtd. in Fraser 8). So if the writing itself isn’t universal, it must be the idea that touches people. The ideas that live within people brought out by information strewn together in tangible order. Writing opens the door to consciousness.
Inspiration has no guidelines or limits. It can come from anywhere and touch anyone. The written word creates a perfectly real source of inspiration. Whether the author chooses to display their ideas in clear, distinct ways, or they take an abstract route leading the reader through levels of subtlety; the ever-present purpose of the work lingers and reaches the reader, creating a link between them. The idealism throughout history has been carried forward, not so much with people’s actions, but with literary ideas. The outlook of the human condition may seem bleak to some, but the answers aren’t far away. Open a book – open a mind. Embrace the possibilities as reality and watch the world try to stop progress. Change is imminent and powerful, and now is the time for another revolution; but hate can’t be the driving force. A revolution of love and acceptance is the only way to reach people on a real level. Look to those that know themselves and watch as they grow and succeed in their endeavors. Lastly, relish in the connectivity that encircles every person, and utilize this link as a way to reach them in ways they don’t expect.
Alexie, Sherman. Interviewed by Joelle Fraser. “Sherman Alexie’s Iowa Review Interview.” Iowa Review, 2001. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.
Levertov, Denise. Interviewed by Nicholas O’Connel. “A Poet’s Valediction.” Iowa Review, 1998. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.
Levertov, Denise. “Life at War.” The Portable Sixties Reader. Ed. Ann Charters. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. 127. Print.
Sontag, Susan. Interviewed by Edward Hirsch. “Susan Sontag, The Art of Fiction No. 143.” The Paris Review, 1995. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.