[At the equinox], a new poem published today at The Curator, is what it is (as they say around these parts: what a prevarication to say about anything, even a poem that supposedly wants to be and not mean). But the magazine itself has much to recommend it; sponsored by The International Arts Movement, it adopts that organization’s mission to “announce the signs of a ‘world that ought to be.'” This raises possibilities—who doesn’t want to live in a better world—and the natural question of just how we should do that. Could we possibly live productively in a world without an ideal of its improved condition as an image in our imaginations—can we even agree on the content of such an image—but at what point does living in and for the world as it ought to be get in the way of our living in the world as it is? Whatever the answer might be, I prefer The Curator’s intention to “uncover those artifacts of culture” (curate, natch) it feels points a way forward as opposed to those who claim to “renew” or “reclaim” culture, as if one can (or should) arrest the general drift, rather than simply, to paraphrase the Gita, shut up and do your thing. That’s what an artist does, and what one would expect from a movement of international artists, I suppose. The need to hedge against the natural impulse for idealism and attend to your life at hand, however, is persuasively argued in one of my favorite passages from Wendell Berry’s Standing by Words, somewhat condensed for the sake of the web-bots:
What can turn us from this deserted future, back into the sphere of our own being, the great dance that joins us to our home, to each other and to other creatures, to the dead and the unborn? I think it is love. Only the action that is moved by love for the good at hand has the hope of being responsible and generous. Desire for the future produces words that cannot be stood by. But love makes language exact, because one loves only what one knows. One cannot love the future or anything in it, for nothing is known there. And one cannot unselfishly make a future for someone else. Love for the future is self-love–love for the present self, projected and magnified into the future, and it is an irremediable loneliness.
There is not abstract action. Love proposes the work of settled households and communities, whose innovations come about in response to immediate needs and immediate conditions, as opposed to the work of governments and corporations, whose innovations are produced out of the implicitly limitless desire for future power or profit.
It’s really an explication of Augustine’s much pithier aphorism: “Love, and do what you will.”