Art does something special. It carries with it today the residue of Paleolithic ceremony and magic. And, historically, in terrible times, it was ceremony and magic that gave people the psychic means to endure, to survive. I’m not attempting to set up special quarters here for “gifted writers” or trying to argue their status as an elite corps. I’m saying that with the commercialization of book publishing, with widespread indifference to the reader’s fate, the relegation of the reader to the status of customer or consumer, and with the neurotic quest, particularly in America, for celebrity and special status, literature has suffered as an art. Commerce and fashion—this I know is a ho-hum observation—have compromised all the arts in modern times. My anxiety, my argument, is that we are at risk of losing what art does, or having its effective range catastrophically reduced, at a time when humanity is severely threatened biologically and chemically. When we most need story—not information, not rhetoric, not entertainment, not promotion—we find that story—the elevating and healing event, the exchange of emotions we call story—has been sent to Siberia. The stories most readily available to us are products. The life-sustaining magic, the reincorporation of ourselves into the river of life—generally, that is not there now.
Adapted from: Conversations with Barry Lopez
William E. Tydeman
University of Oklahoma Press
Softcover $19.95 (232pp)