Both Sides Now.
I’m a great believer in the power of the written word, in the power of the ethereal story. I believe poetry can open your eyes to ideas and emotions that are right beyond our reach, but, I know that the right words in their best order can also create the most effective and the most oppressive lies.
So take this:
For Brazilian convicts, summer reading may be far more than just a flight of fancy.
It offers shorter sentences.
Aside from a plethora of poor plays on words as the media seized on the story, the announcement that Brazil’s federal corrections program was offering to slice four days off a convict’s time (with a maximum of 48 days a year) for every book read – and properly written book report submitted – rekindled a long-running debate about high rates of illiteracy among prisoners.
Read more about it here.
Yep, book reports. I know. It’s a great idea that is delicate in execution, but isn’t it just a beautiful idea? It also shows support that perhaps the penal system must seek to reform more than to punish. Of course, there are extremes and there are issues of public safety—and perhaps even a life away from the world may just be exactly what some inmates needs as they struggle with their own proverbial demons. I can’t help thinking that my ideas of such things came from a beloved story (apart from my own difficult beliefs in forgiveness and redemption.)
I think I reveal just how romantic I truly am in ideology, and how it is definitely a boon to the world that I am not in any power to control the penal system.
Today, I found this too. Teju Cole celebrates President Obama’s being a reader-in-chief, and then brings in the reality of the ongoing wars. I think it’s fitting that I can’t find a single paragraph that will capture what Cole tries to say, so let me share with you two with the strong urging to read the entire thing.
His successor couldn’t have been more different. Barack Obama is an elegant and literate man with a cosmopolitan sense of the world. He is widely read in philosophy, literature, and history—as befits a former law professor—and he has shown time and again a surprising interest in contemporary fiction. The books a President buys might be as influenced by political calculation as his “enjoyment” of lunch at a small town diner or a round of skeet shooting. Nevertheless, a man who names among his favorite books Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” Robinson’s “Gilead,” and Melville’s “Moby Dick” is playing the game pretty seriously. His own feel for language in his two books, his praise for authors as various as Philip Roth and Ward Just, as well as the circumstantial evidence of the books he’s been seen holding (the “Collected Poems” of Derek Walcott, most strikingly), add up to a picture of a man for whom an imaginative engagement with literature is inseparable from life. It thrilled me, when he was elected, to think of the President’s nightstand looking rather similar to mine. We had, once again, a reader in chief, a man in the line of Jefferson and Lincoln.
Any President’s gravest responsibilities are defending the Constitution and keeping the country safe. President Obama recognized that the image of the United States had been marred by the policies of the Bush years. By drawing down the troops in Iraq, banning torture, and directly and respectfully addressing the countries of Europe and the Middle East, Obama signaled that those of us on the left had not hoped in vain for change. When, in 2009, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, we noted the absurdity of such premature plaudits, but also saw the occasion as encouragement for the difficult work to come. From the optimistic perspective of those early days, Obama’s foreign policy has lurched from disappointing to disastrous. Iraq endures a shaky peace and Afghanistan remains a mire, but these situations might have been the same regardless of who was President. More troubling has been his conduct in the other arenas of the Global War on Terror. The United States is now at war in all but name in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. In pursuit of Al Qaeda, their allies, and a number of barely related militias, the President and his national-security team now make extraordinarily frequent use of assassinations.
From my limited understanding, it seems that the insidious nature of drones and even the argument of reform vs. punish is a question (?) phenomenon (?) predicament (?) —look how my brain stumbles with words—of humanity. The delicate execution (yikes) of the belief in the value of a single human being as an individual.
No answers really. Just these articles that I beseech you to read.
I will say though that literature and good ol’ fashioned grief has made it imperative for me to learn to live with uncertainty, to know that I can believe (or at least have very strong emotions about) two seemingly conflicting things.
Literature can save us, literature fails us. Words can save us, words fail us. We save us, we fail us.