What responsibility does a writer have to the world around him? Should he be good, and kind? Faithful and free and gentle? Should he suffer the little children and fight for the weak and make common cause with the powerless? Or is his writing enough; an act of creating worlds which absolves him from the petty nuisance of living himself in the messy world of men?
Truth is I don’t know the answer. I am not perfect, in anything I do. Neither are you. Does this withdraw from me my right to create? Do my opinions which you might find offensive, as I do yours, leave me open to censure? Or does writing stand alone? “I am a writer, I come from Tolstoy, from Homer, from Cervantes. Leave me in peace and don’t ask me questions like that.” Says Peter Handke, who received the Nobel Prize in literature this year and has since come under intense scrutiny and criticism for positions held in support of Slobodan Milosevic. I mean really, who in any real way can today defend such a despot, such a wicked warmonger? Should we not all condemn him who defends the acts of such people?
But is that really the point? Because creation – like objective truth – stands alone independent of those vessels of creation. Did not even God say “the rain falls on the just and wicked alike”? Cannot both the good and the bad make lovely things? You who walk down the streets of Chicago marveling at the Watertower Center or the Hancock Building or any of the other great works, do you search into the inner thoughts of the architects seeking their purity in order to form your judgments of the works of brick and mortar? Or do you too not stare at a painting and decide whether you love it – sometimes even purchasing it without an interview, a background check of she who held the brush?
Are Handke’s novels beautiful? Did the pen of a man as depraved as one who could defend a brute such as Milosevic produce lovely prose which, ignorant its source, inspires and enlivens our dull world? And incidentally, who decides? Where were you who deride Handke, when Gabriel Garcia Marquez – the lifelong friend of the tyrant Fidel – won that same prestigious prize? What about Mario Vargas Llosa, who abandoned his wife? Is loving Fidel given a pass? Is infidelity not a great enough sin to assault the prize-winner?
“Ah,” you are saying now, “here is another. A defender of evil. Making common cause with the devil.” The truth is I had not heard of Handke before his win. And my life, such as it has been, fighting to end war after war after war and fight the very seeds of wickedness that germinate into genocide, stands as a solitary proof of my beliefs. “Then what are you talking about?” you ask.
I am saying I am sick of the empty moralizing. I am sick of the attack on objective truth – objective beauty – objective reality. I am sick of the currents which declare that only in the closely examined DNA tests; only in background checks conducted over years and against the measuring rod of newspeak’s blurred dictionary can we make a decision as to what is worthy, and what is not. I am sick of people using the wickedness of man – and yes we are all wicked – to say that there is nothing true, nothing good, nothing right or pure or just; simply because no man can live up to the standard. (Which is of course not exactly true, one man did in fact live up to those standards. He was murdered for it – oh, nobody wants me to talk about that. To speak of faith? That is intolerant, the cardinal sin! But I digress…)
So no, I am not making common cause with evil. I am making common cause with a beautiful building constructed by a tax cheat; an amazing meal cooked by an illegal immigrant; a song of love composed by an unfaithful man; and a well written book written by a racist. Without these things, our world would be ugly indeed.