Some years ago I attended a conference at Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington DC on art and democracy. Along with the artists and patrons and at least one historian, many who came were national and local activists for marginalized communities invisible to national culture. They made impassioned pleas for the assembled artists to take the time to bring them and their needs into the spotlight.
I wasn’t kind to the idea. Its fine for people outside to express concern, to channel aid, but artists can’t be anyone’s mouthpieces. Culture requires imagination. It demands oblique correlatives, odd connections, and fantasy, a voice not determined by big-picture grandees but the kind of misfits who stay up all night sweating the details.
I’m not saying writers should be divorced from their societies but they should not try to confuse their role as entertainers and provokers of thought with measurable social value. Continue reading