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The Shovel Mental Contagion
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Andrei Codrescu
speaks with Gene Dillon
| Web Site

Born in Sibiu, Romania, Andrei Codrescu emigrated to the United States in 1966. He is a poet, novelist, essayist and screenwriter. He is a regular commentator on National Public Radio, editor of Exquisite Corpse, and is also a Professor of English at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

GD: I woke up this morning thinking about llamas.

To a mountain lion or a coyote, a llama makes a strong impression, one of bold fearlessness and imposing strength. The truth is, they are too ignorant to recognize a threat. Because they are tall, and they like to stare at things through vacant, unblinking eyes, most predators will get skittish and run away.

Do you know any people like this? Like the llama?

AC: That's way too much anthropormiphising. Fables used to be the way people explained people before psychology. Then both animals and people got the dignity of their own particulars. Do I know people too stupid to recognise a threat? Of course I do. Most people living comfortably in our post-industrial societies today are too stupid to recognise a threat. Usually, if it's got a lit fuse between its teeth you should kill it first.

GD: I see the llama as a lucky bastard - rather unique, really. As far as most people go, on the contrary, I think that they are very much in touch with their fear. We even have a War on Terror, an official battle declared against an emotion.

But not everybody has to play. Seeing a lit fuse, you could look for a bucket of water, or a pair of snub-nosed scissors.

AC: If you have a death-wish.

GD: Just thirsty for another angle.

Always thirsty. We're headed for another drought out here in Colorado. Meanwhile, I hear news of heavy rains and flooding in a lot of other places. This got me thinking about the intensity and the bi-polarity of so many major happenings in the world - the rigidity of opposing forces constantly repelling and slamming into each other. War, power grabs, the abyss of popular culture and politics... Nothing feels "even" anymore, and that feeling seems to bleed into everyday life.

AC: How do you know how things "felt" in the past? A lot shittier, I assure you. Ask people who've seen war close-up, or epidemics, or a collective death-threat of any sort. People are individually better off now then they've ever been -- notwithstanding your understandable and probably age-appropriate angst -- but collectively we are in trouble because of global warming and man-made environmental pillaging. It would be nice if people were more diplomatic than war-like, but we ALL have to be that - you can't have peaceful people living calmly with war-like people. When there are people who want to fight you, you have to fight back. Nonviolence only works among people with faith in reason or a benevolent universe.

GD: Like in the Magnificent Seven. A bunch of peace-loving farmers and hired guns stood up to the banditos who stole half of their crops every fall. They won the battle and the exploitation of the town was at an end. Of course, a bunch of them died, and the Magnificent Seven became a Halfway Decent Three. I can't remember if any of the bad guys got away and vowed revenge. Perhaps their bandito children will come back one day, and the town will have to hire the Magnificent Fourteen to help them. And so on. Non-violence, in the long run, is the only thing that really does work. It's just a lot harder, is all.

I'd love to be free of the angst. I can do this by getting in touch with my blissful ignorance. I think this is what you were referring to when you spoke about most people being too stupid to recognize a threat. But ignorance is not stupidity. It's simply ignoring things, which is stupid. That's all about choice. Perhaps this is a comfort issue. People living in Fat-Happy City for any period of time during the last 60 years have only had to face reality within their own intellects. They can pick and choose what to allow into their field of vision. But the landscape has been changing gradually, adorned with a few grand, traumatic events to foreshadow the future - a very close future, to be characterized by wide, global catastrophes that cannot be escaped. That's the part that really bugs me. I can't move to Mars. This is it. So, balance is not an ideal, it's a requirement. I know about my own past, anyway, and if things "felt" better, I think I'd be more optimistic and understanding now, at the age of 38, than I was in my idealistic youth.

AC: That's too long a rant to unpack in a lifetime. What people's children do is of no great importance, since clearly they'll do whatever they think is right. There is no reason to move to Mars even if you could. You'll die there faster and more painfully than from being swept to sea and joining the lovely earth food-chain.

GD: Future generations will imitate and react.

AC: Actually, they'll misunderstand everything, thankfully. If they really understood what sniveling compromisers we were they'd gag more than they already do.

GD: The sale and distribution of handguns and machetes is a thriving, global business. And the population of humans on this planet will soon exceed sustainable levels. Bla bla insert more ranting here yadda yadda.

I struggle with this "realistic" outlook. There is no room left in our current space and time to continue perpetuating the cycles of violence. Cut the string, and it is no longer a circle. Just think about all the possible directions that human history could have taken after 9/11. And look where we are now.

AC: History, your own and everybody else's, could have taken thousands of different directions. Since it took the one we're currently experiencing, deal with the present. Regret and hand-wringing is a waste of time, unless you're a preacher, then it's your business. Or the Pope or a nazi, in which case you should really spend your life apologising. In fact, people out of power do spend an inordinate amount of time apologising, and it beats all other retirement activities. But if you're still ambulant, fix it.

GD: Well, we got through 6/6/6 this month. I think the most evil thing that happened to me was an appropriately self-inflicted visit to Burger King. What do you think of all this literal interpretation of ancient mythical text? Would you take tooth-brushing instructions from a passage scratched onto papyrus 2000 years ago?

AC: Clearly, you're wasting too much of your time. Quit going to Burger King, grow an organic garden, join Habitat for Humanity, do something useful for other people. All those prophecies of doom are bullshit intended to paralyze the superstitious and excuse the lazy.

GD: And give birth to pointless remakes of horror movies about weird kids with birthmarks, bad intentions and evil haircuts.

AC: Yup.

GD: Movies can have a lot of staying power. After watching A Clockwork Orange when I was around 20 years old, I found that I couldn't listen to Beethoven's 9th without recalling a lot of disturbing imagery. It took about 10 years to get over it. Does this kind of thing ever happen to you? Beautiful things ruined by association?

AC: Everything is ruined by an over-estheticised sensibility. Instead of whining about the "beautiful," try to figure out what it is. Some anger is quite beautiful, and so is punishment of the wicked. "Clockwork Orange" had its day, it was quite well done and it only did what art always does: go fearlessly forward to awaken the dead.

GD: Oh, I'm not ripping the movie - I absolutely loved it. I guess I'm thinking about the fickleness of the mind, and how a firm opinion about something can be altered by external forces. When something nasty creeps in and takes over something we like, it can produce strange, unexpected results. Like a professional wrestler being elected governor, for instance.

AC: I agree with that, it's quite astounding.

GD: If you could go back in time - and I mean WAY back through the many intermingling processes of evolution - what would you try to get rid of? Or maybe you'd like to add something?

AC: Pointless question. You can only go forward. Back is not an option.


Cover photo by Brian Baiamonte


 
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