Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gobsmacked by working-class talent

I just joined the Susan Boyle fan page over at Facebook. Maybe I'm a sentimental sap, maybe I'm too easily sucked in by the latest pop culture phenom, but she moves me. So much. And she makes me think again about all the art that never sees the light of day, all the talent that never has a chance to be expressed, all the workers whose brilliance is never discovered in this rotten capitalist system that does nothing but exploit and cares for nothing but profit.

One of my blog posts that's gotten the most hits, and the one I know of that's been publicly derided, is the one about Flannery O'Connor's racism. O'Connor is widely regarded as one of the greatest if not the greatest U.S. short story writers of the 20th century. Most commentators argue that O'Connor's artistry is so superb that she is indispensable. Her writing is so brilliant that nothing else matters; we simply cannot do without it. I've been thinking about this a lot. The question I keep coming back to is: are there really so few great writers out there? Is an O'Connor--or, say, an Updike or a Roth or, hell, insert any of a dozen or more of the usual suspects' names here--really so exceptional that we must overlook all that is odious about them?

And the answer that keeps coming is no. No, artistic talent is not so impossibly rare. I am convinced that there are millions upon millions of people among the world's workers and oppressed who have it in them to be great writers, poets, painters. I am convinced that creativity is a human attribute that is much more common than we are given to believe. I am convinced of this every day as I look around me on the subway, on the streets, in the stores, delis, hospitals, schools, everywhere there are people who must spend their waking lives trying to survive, people who even if they have a spare moment to think, dream, imagine, craft, compose, have no avenue to take those dreams and ideas forward. Who can't afford to get an MFA. Who don't know an agent or publishers. Whose art that might have been the world will never see.

This to me is unutterably sad. All the potential art of which capitalism deprives us. Call me a sap again, call me a foolish believer in a better possible future, but for me one of the great appeals of the socialist idea is its potential for bringing forth a beautiful blossoming of creative talent that is crushed under capitalism.Which brings me back to Susan Boyle. Here she is, middle-aged, plain, and somehow, who knows how, she summons the courage to get on that stage and be ridiculed by Simon Cowell and snickered at by the audience and ignore them and sing. She stands, for me, for the world of wonders hidden in our class. This is why she moves me so. Sing, Susan. Sing!

P.S. The song Susan Boyle sang is a veritable working-class anthem about surviving in this hellish society from Les Miserables, which adds to the impact.