By Stuart Mitchner
Each day’s paper more violent . . . Indochina to Minneapolis … History’s faster than thought …
—Allen Ginsberg, from The Fall of America
The news isn’t just breaking, it’s running wild, raging, incendiary, out of control, so how do you keep up when you’re aiming toward the middle of a week that may exceed your darkest expectations? What do you do when the ever-shifting, on-the-scene, at-the-moment image of a floodlit Washington Monument looming in the foreground of an apparent river of fire headed for the White House evokes dystopian TV like The Man In the High Castle, or David Simon’s The Plot Against America, where Philip Roth’s boyhood Newark neighborhood seethes with a Kristallnacht menace as chilling as the West Baltimore phantasmagoria of The Wire.
What can you do but try to keep pace, making a bid for vicarious relevance by tying your weekly hovercraft to art and adversity in the belief that inspired acting, poetry, music is always timely, always worthy of interest. That’s been the motive force driving these pieces week after week, year after year. Along comes Hurricane Irene, a flooded basement, the power out, so you listen to Chopin, read The Winter’s Tale by candlelight, and write about it. When terrorists shoot up the Bataclan in Paris, you connect by way of Henry Miller, Rimbaud, and the Velvet Underground. When youth is under fire at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, you write about the night in 1963 the Beatles played there before swooning audiences of young girls who could have been the mothers or grandmothers of the victims. When terrorists savage Brussels, it opens the way for a column on MI-5. A terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge inspires a flashback to Wordsworth and his spirited sister Dorothy.
Sunday night it’s breaking news gone wild in D.C.’s City of Dreadful Night where the White House of Usher has gone dark and the only refuge is down the rabbit hole into the third season finale of Ozark, high on the super reality of art and outrage, your heart full watching a brother-sister tragedy and the transformative performance of Laura Linney. more