Samizdat and Collapse?

I’m aware that a lot of folks that I respect and like as poets, artists and writers are feeling crunched these days on an emotional/performative/creative front; articulated his sense of it in himself pretty well in today’s entry. (Others are doing fine: ‘s poem about Sunday’s shooting at the UU church in Tennessee rocked my socks off).

One of the tags I’ve been using on my LJ account these days is “annihilation anxiety”, which is my own sense of how difficult and hard this all can be. Gas prices have fallen slightly in the last few days and weeks, but there’s no sense that they’re going to fall enough to really affect many people’s budgets. The economy is tanking, and many families are having to tighten their belts on things like food as well as gas; eventually the trifecta here in the Northeast will be food, heating fuel and travel fuel. Global warming seems to be a continuing issue for everyone, but no one feels empowered to do much about it yet.

These choices are personal, but they start to become community-wide. I debate monthly on whether or not to stop using a cleaning lady, but I’m aware that Chris and her family will start to fall through the cracks if she doesn’t have enough work. Her husband has chronic illness, and the medicine bills and hospital fees continue to pile up. Traveling to see him in his specialty hospital continues to eat away at their lives and their wealth and their health.

A few months ago, when I began to read Club Orlov and other writings by folks interested in problems like Peak Oil and Climate Change as political-economic phenomena, I was struck by something that Dimitriy Orlov said about art. He said that in the days of Andropov and the early days of Gorbachev, there was an underground literature called samizdat. There were newspapers, blogs, zines, poetry journals, and other publications, usually produced on mimeograph machines or handwritten, and circulated hand-to-hand among interested parties. They were sharply critical of government — and in the Soviet system, that meant you were also criticizing the economic levers as well as the political ones. Satire and sarcasm were the principal weapons of these publications, first gently and then fiercely mocking the systems of authority.

Authority, of course, cracked down on them, hard. And got nowhere. The mimeograph machines were portable. There was a black market, and usable ones disappeared from official use to reappear in the unofficial economy. Alternately, the machines stayed right where they were, and the underground — who were all really part of the overground, too — simply used them while they were at work. And the writings were funny. They were pointed, bitter, hilarious, bleak, dark, humorous, and all the rest.

But the well of samizdat dried up, Orlov said. People stopped producing these writings, these cartoons, and this material, because they were working so hard on keeping themselves and their family afloat. The money system went first — no one put much trust in the rouble, because it didn’t matter how many roubles you had. You needed favors and contacts and friends to get inside the shop before all the toilet paper got sold. You needed to spend your time waiting in line to get the food. You needed creative energy for other things than ‘working’ at an official job in order to use an official mimeograph to wring out a dozen copies of your latest well-thought-out and funny anti-Communist screed.

My family genuinely believes in annihilation anxiety. Ask , but we laugh about it at dinners even as we think about how the latest bad news spells the end of the world. So you should take this next bit with a grain of salt, perhaps even a whole box of it. But my father — and I — both see the makings of another Great Depression here. And the commentators cloak it by saying, “oh, it’s not as bad as it was in ’35 or ’36, really.”

Well, maybe it’s not. But the rest of the world is losing its trust in the dollar, and shifting to other sources of value. Many of the best and most easily reached pockets of oil in the world are empty or nearly so, and the remaining ones are smaller, more difficult to get to, and involve releasing even more toxic waste than usual.

So I wonder. Are we having artistic difficulties because that’s just where we are in our careers? Or are we having artistic difficulties because our creative energies are being turned increasingly to ‘getting by’ instead of to getting out and getting noticed? And how bad is this likely to get?

Maybe it’s just annihilation anxiety. But I don’t see things getting great any time soon.

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8 comments

  1. …wandered in from mutual community or friends…I forget details! ahahaha!…but I wanted to refer you to an article that I put in my journal recently, that said that people can be switching to the sort of DIY economy…I forget the actual langauge, but it’s from the last week or so, and it might answer a few things, like how to cope with things…I feel that it’s sort of the oldold divide-and-conquer: would we be impeaching bush’s behind longlong ago if there weren’t these record-breaking profits for exxon and other companies, which coincidentally make most families and small businesses far too personally worried, depressed, helpfless-feeling, and fighting with each other due to stress and fear to get political…? Worth contemplating, and then working around…

  2. …wandered in from mutual community or friends…I forget details! ahahaha!…but I wanted to refer you to an article that I put in my journal recently, that said that people can be switching to the sort of DIY economy…I forget the actual langauge, but it’s from the last week or so, and it might answer a few things, like how to cope with things…I feel that it’s sort of the oldold divide-and-conquer: would we be impeaching bush’s behind longlong ago if there weren’t these record-breaking profits for exxon and other companies, which coincidentally make most families and small businesses far too personally worried, depressed, helpfless-feeling, and fighting with each other due to stress and fear to get political…? Worth contemplating, and then working around…

  3. Re: Rent and such

    I’m working on a new album AND moving AND getting over a chronic two-month illness! AND living in Fairfield County!

    Yikes!

    Well, the good news is that I’m also going on vacation soon! I’ll try to make it up to Pomfret soon…

    -B

  4. Rent and such

    I think a lot more of us are a lot more worried about “rent and such” than used to be true. Even my school, which has operated with a faculty of a given size for a long time, is looking into staff cuts of various sorts to get through the next school year, and probably the one after that.

  5. Thanks for the compliment (and sorry about last night — was all involved in cleaning the house and lost track of time).

    I’m a big believer in the message behind Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room Of One’s Own.” She addressed it, of course, to the specifics of women in art but I think the basic premise — that the production of good art requires some base of financial security and the ability to lock the world away — are true of everyone.

    I loathe the romance of the starving artist, and as someone who’s been through some fairly strenuous financial times of late, I can testify that while I was still productive during those times (because I can’t be otherwise), it wasn’t easy to stay that way when you’re worried about rent and such.

  6. Thanks for the compliment (and sorry about last night — was all involved in cleaning the house and lost track of time).

    I’m a big believer in the message behind Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room Of One’s Own.” She addressed it, of course, to the specifics of women in art but I think the basic premise — that the production of good art requires some base of financial security and the ability to lock the world away — are true of everyone.

    I loathe the romance of the starving artist, and as someone who’s been through some fairly strenuous financial times of late, I can testify that while I was still productive during those times (because I can’t be otherwise), it wasn’t easy to stay that way when you’re worried about rent and such.

    • Rent and such

      I think a lot more of us are a lot more worried about “rent and such” than used to be true. Even my school, which has operated with a faculty of a given size for a long time, is looking into staff cuts of various sorts to get through the next school year, and probably the one after that.

      • Re: Rent and such

        I’m working on a new album AND moving AND getting over a chronic two-month illness! AND living in Fairfield County!

        Yikes!

        Well, the good news is that I’m also going on vacation soon! I’ll try to make it up to Pomfret soon…

        -B

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