This summer I plowed my way through Release The Bats by DBC Pierre in one sitting. I loved his debut novel Vernon God Little, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2003 and which some people thought was the worst book ever to win that award. The book is about the life of Vernon Little, a normal teenager who lives in Martirio, Texas, whose life falls apart when his best friend, Jesus Navarro, murders their classmates in the schoolyard before killing himself, and Vernon is taken in for questioning. It's narrated by Vernon in the first person. I was smitten by that book. He wrote Vernon God Little after years of debauchery and used the prize money from the Booker to start paying down debts. I love that part of the story, too.
I've been thinking so much lately about the power of art, its purpose, what it uniquely does. I've been wondering why art matters in particular right now with the wheels coming off so many wagons, the democracy wagon in particular. So it was timely to stumble upon Release the Bats because the book isn't just about the craft of writing, but about why writing—and all art—matters so much. I read it cover to cover in one summer day and haven't stopped thinking about it since.
The last paragraph of that book hit me so hard I copied it into my journal. It’s about art being the only way through this mire we've created and are trapped by, the only way to remember—and return to—our humanity.
Here it is:
The exclusive agents of the intuitive and the unspeakable are the arts...There's our workspace as writers. There's our mandate—who the fuck are we now, in what I predict is century of psychology and conflict? It doesn’t matter how technology comes to bear on it; technology is predictable. Its power, its wealth, is boring. It's supposed to be a tool, not the main game. And in the end whose life poses bigger questions: the programmer with the private jet or the girl whose palms bleed at Easter? A century changed us and much of that change lies in ways to scrutinize ourselves, which makes you think we don't even know what we're looking at anymore. Who are we now? When our horsemanship, our mothering, our knowledge of the land, our integrity, our far-sightedness, our meekness and even our laptop don't count anymore?...Our unconscious has to rehouse personality against a vertical curve of change. We can't count on the neighbors any more, the news is bullshit and the farm has long been sold; but maybe we read, listen and watch our way to an adjustment through a higher language of impressions, beyond the reach of laboratories and governments. Maybe we're writing, playing, singing, and acting our way out. Technology can't do what humans do. Whatever it is that we do, we should do it now in earnest. If art is the gap's boatman, its job now grows critical: because it alone addresses our humanity.
And we're going to need some of that.
About Susan Edsall
Writing is how I make my way through the thicket of what we’ve made of this planet we’re on. It takes me a long time and lots of words. Social media mystifies me. How do so many people have so much to say, so quickly, and with such resolute certainty? Read more about Susan >