reading the dystopia wherein you live
Since January 20, 2017, it is quite fashionable to talk about Donald J. Trump under the influence of reading dystopian or apocalyptic fictions. There is the possibility that what fifty years ago was accepted as "the news" is now a blatant form of social fiction. Broadcast from every ideological angle, what seems to be the news is replete with alternative facts and unacknowledged projections of imagination. There is a thin line between description of actuality and its reception in various media. And many readers hop across the line without benefit of thought. Reading is simply automatic, a reflex action
A few of us who assiduously stay out of touch with reality believe genre distinctions matter, and we attempt to discriminate such dystopian novels as Ishmael Reed's The Free-Lance Pallbearers and George Orwell's Animal Farm from tomorrow's news that happened always already yesterday. Our reading is a mission impossible, because we are the news. That is to say, we inhabit the dystopia we'd like to claim is external to us.
The problem is beyond resolution. We can, however, take pragmatic measures to minimize its paralyzing effects. We can segregate dystopian fictions from descriptive treatises by using traditional conventions of reading. The treatise purports to be objective and explanatory. The fiction is a subjective guide or template for analysis and interpretation, the necessary preconditions for explanation. We gain a bit of comfort from thinking we know the critical difference between fiction and nonfiction.
The hasty insertion of Trump within the act of reading Animal Farm or The Free-Lance Pallbearers involves one major error. We fail to account for the agency of citizens, readers and non-readers alike, who use the being identified as Trump as the heroic symbol of their lesser selves. We should try to avoid the error as much as we can. Reginald Martin's remark about Reed's early novel in Ishmael Reed and the New Black Aesthetic Critics invites us to be cautious: "the contemporary indices [here the reference is 1967]in the course of the novel certainly changed the reference points of American novels up to that time"(42). Fifty years later, the novel's indices are still recognizable and operative in the dystopia of American political economy. All changes. All remains the same.
Read with prudent skepticism as you critique the Other that you are and give voice to dialogues about the Trump, as you broadcast the news
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. February 7, 2017