THE ARTIST IN A TIME OF WAR
By Jack Random
"Fiction and nonfiction are only different techniques of storytelling. For reasons I do not fully understand, fiction dances out of me. Nonfiction is wrenched out by the aching, broken world I wake up to every morning."
Arundhati Roy, War Talk.
Arundhati Roy wrote a beautiful novel of ancient sorrow (The God of Small Things) before the war. Now she writes about war and injustice (War Talk). She has heard the cry of her people and it has moved her pen to a more direct, more pressing message, a message that is not shaded by metaphor or interrupted by the sheer beauty of language, the depth of imagery or the distortion of personal history.
Arundhati Roy will return to her muse once the war is over, when the pervasive fear and outrage has abated, and the needs of her people are something less than imminent.
She is not alone.
There are countless thousands, even millions, of individuals who pushed aside their artistic desires in order to fulfill a responsibility to their brothers and sisters on this lonely, forsaken planet. We may not be as talented as Arundhati Roy (who is?) but our loss is no less tangible. We feel an absence in the depths of our souls. We feel the acceleration of time, works that may never be written, songs that may never be played, sculptures that may never take shape, and we mourn.
We remember Dresden. We remember Guernica.
We think of Hearts and Minds, Apocalypse Now, Johnny Get Your Gun, War and Peace, and we wonder if our works will ever advance beyond the pervasive sorrow of our times.
We think of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, whose grief is less abstract, the kind that cuts and burrows, twists and darkens the very soul. We see the tears we cannot cry. We hear the cries of anguish we can only translate from our own personal experience. We feel the pain of our fellow beings and know that we can only share a token of remorse.
The casualties of war are as endless as a sailor’s last voyage. It touches every being that has not lost its senses. It moves us to rage and shatters our sense of balance until at length we become numbed. We shunt that which no longer serves our daily survival. We are only human. We cannot live with war imbedded in our souls. We move away from our fragile humanity, our delicate sensibilities, our rage and sorrow, and we become something less than what we were intended to be.
But the artist cannot survive without his sorrow or her rage. The artist must move through life with every sense intact and fully tuned to the experience of the times.
Arundhati Roy will return to her muse. She will summon stories only she can tell in a language only she can hear. She will fill our hearts with joy and shatter our delusions. She will seduce the better part of us. She will return to being who she was, to doing what she did, before the war.
So will we all in time yet we will know that every passage and every image, every etching and every form, is forever altered by the disease that entered our lives in a time of war.
When they speak of collateral damage they rarely mention the hope, the beauty and the terrible madness that is only born of art, but it is there. It is always there.