To Willing Conflators Of Wallace Shawn And Jeremy Todd (first letter)


How will the world change? Believe me, those who are now unobtrusive have their own ideas about how the situation might improve. But in the middle of the night I wonder: Can those I have left behind in the mansion of the arts and letters play a part? Can they reduce the destructiveness of the people we all know? Will they use their constructions and careers to lure our friends in another direction? Imperial dreams are not the only dreams. I’ve known people, for example, who’ve derived satisfaction from collecting seashells. And sometimes I think of a woman I knew a long time ago who seemed terribly happy, although her life consisted of not much more than getting up each day, playing with the cat, reading a mystery, eating an agreeable sandwich for lunch, then taking a walk in the afternoon. So what was her secret? Will I discover it’s mine too?
People can make a life, it seems, out of love – out of gardening, out of sex, friendship, the company of animals, the search for enlightenment, the enjoyment of beauty. Wait – wasn’t this once my particular province? Beauty can be important in a person’s life. And people beguiled by the beautiful are less dangerous to others than those obsessed by the thought of supremacy. If an afternoon of reading poetry has given me a feeling of profound wellbeing, I don’t then need to go out into the street and seek satisfaction by strangling prostitutes. Art can be central in a person’s life, even when they leave the mansion for good.
If the art we create is beautiful enough, will people be so drawn to it, that they’ll leave behind their quest for power? Beauty really is more enjoyable than power. A poem really is more enjoyable than an empire, because a poem doesn’t hate you. The defense of privilege, the centre of our lives for such a long time, is grim, exhausting. We’re exhausted from holding on to things, exhausted from trying not to see those unobtrusive people we’re kicking away, whose suffering is actually unbearable to us.
People live like children in the mansion of arts and letters, running and playing up and down the hallways all day and night. They fill room after room with the things they construct. After they die, they’ll leave behind poems, drawings, and songs, and they’ll never know what will be allowed to help in the making of a better world.
I would love to say something useful about my not sent letters. Unfortunately, the only thing that really seems to connect them is the fact that “I” wrote them – and I’ve always had a very very hard time trying to define the word “I” and the concept of the self. If the self is defined as the personality, then it seems relevant to say that the not sent letters I’ve written don’t particularly seem to reflect the person I know myself to be (or think myself to be) – except perhaps insofar as I may have decided to rearrange myself to conform to them after the fact. But if I’m going to say something about how my not sent letters came to have the particular qualities they have, where else can I begin? To be clear, I have never stopped making art throughout the entirety of my life so far, but these not sent letters could only begin after I left the mansion for good.