I am currently reading a non-fiction work by Edwidge Danticat who is a Haitian-American writer. The book is titled ‘Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work‘ which is where I got the title of this post from and which Danticat herself borrowed from Albert Camus, it being the title of his last published lecture. Danticat writes:
Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what
I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part
that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere
someone may risk his or her life to read them.
The book is a reflection on art and the people creating it, predominantly those people who find themselves in exile from their home countries, countries which are in turmoil. Danticat who, although not in exile, feels deeply for Haiti and despite leaving the country at twelve years of age, during the hideous Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier regime, is still profoundly embedded within the country via the Haitian diaspora. She seems at once to be struggling with giving a voice to those who were forced into exile (an experience she herself did not have) and the argument that immigrant artists are obliged to speak on behalf of their countrymen and women about the realities of their countries of origin.
For me, this idea that ‘immigrant artists are obliged to bear witness’ to the suffering of their countries is one which I am consistently drawn to. Indeed it forms the basis of my Honours research that I will undertake next year. Reading this book, however, I am forced to confront not only why this is but how to reconcile this with the fact that I am neither immigrant nor the citizen of a country in turmoil. I am everything but these things and on top of this my desire to ‘create dangerously’ seems blighted by this fact. Of course I am not saying that there is no turmoil in modern, wealthy Western societies such as the one I live in but there is also this other thing that seems to override all the turmoil. That being passivity. In Australia the term ‘lucky country’ seems no longer to hold much currency. Yes, at one time we were lucky, and we knew it. In the past, turmoil was something that seemed to personally touch all echelons of the society and when we got through those turmoils we rejoiced, we took a deep breath and said ‘phew, that’s over and aren’t we lucky that it is.’ But now, turmoil seems to touch only a minority whilst the majority of us continue to live in relative comfort, food on the table, clothes on our backs, jobs to go to in the morning and the security of knowing that whilst most of our politicians are dim witted and capable of monumental blunders they at least won’t kill us if we dare to say so.
So what am I saying? I suppose if I were to voice these opinions to many people I would be branded insensitive, ungrateful, spoiled. And that is precisely what I am, I suppose. So how does someone manage to create dangerously within a context such as this? What do they fight against other than the apathy inherent to this society? What are the issues which place us in danger, either literally or metaphorically, if we confront them? In this society, what is it that is so pressing that we must fight it, now, here, today? Of course I can name things. I can say the environment, I can say racism or sexism or discrimination against asylum seekers, the mistreatment of the Indigenous peoples of this country, I can say the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But things seem structured in such a way that when I conceptualise these issues they seem distant, either physically or figuratively or, and this is much worse, they are just images or commodities or brands to which I attach myself arbitrarily. The war is not here, it is there. The asylum seekers are not people that I see near where I live and even if they were, what could I do that would change Government policy? The maligned images of our Indigenous are so normalised that I see no other way of viewing them and even if I do, even if I express an alternate view, it is not taken seriously, it is also maligned and so the circle closes and everything stays the same. Indeed, even if I did do something that riled the politicians, would there be enough fuel in such a situation to even start a fire? Wouldn’t it just eventually get swept aside? Issues are raised all the time and people just brush them off, half of us aren’t even aware of them in the first place. Of course I am not saying that I wish to live in an impoverished country ruled by some despot that kills his own and imprisons those who dare to speak against him. But there is something within situations such as those that has the fuel to ignite fires, fires that spread across borders and which eventually do enact change. And there is an inherent cost to enacting such change and the people who dare to break with the enforced norms are aware of these dangers but make that choice anyway and suffer the consequences. Look at Liu Xiaobo. Think about not just him but his wife, his family, his friends and colleagues. Think about all that automatically becomes trivial in the light of such creative danger. Thus within those situations there lie the ingredients of inspiration and from that inspiration people create dangerously because that is the only option that they are left with. And people respond to those acts by reading, watching, listening which in turn are dangerous acts because those same despots will kill you too, just for reading that subversive book or watching that film or having that picture in your house. Where I am from, I can’t imagine the reality of being left with only one option. Not really. I have options coming out my ears. We all do. So how does one, like me, create dangerously?