Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 11 No. 1 | Spring 1988 (Twin Cities/Minneapolis-St. Paul /// Issue 5 of 7 /// Master# 46 of 73

BOOK A TRIP Whether you’re planning a European escape or a trip to an exotic land, Prentice Hall’s INSIGHT GUIDES will help you get there. These incomparable guides offer insights into the character, and culture of some of the world’s most fascinating places. Stop by our travel section today for a wide selection of travel guides, including FROMMER’S™ Dollarwise Guides™, Mobil Travel Guides, Gault Millau’s “Best” Guides, and The Real Guides, all from Prentice Hall Press. ODEGARD 612-222-2711 MBOOKS SAINT PAUL 10-10"M-Th 10-11 F & Sat 11-5 Sun 857 GRAND AVENUE • ST. PAUL, MN Advance praise for Michael Ventura’s N/ghtltnie posing Time “In Night Time Losing Time, Michael Ventura has written the best novel about American musicians I have read.” —Norman Mailer “A big, marvelously unbookish, book. For me it’s a surrealist textbook of the underworld that is America’s psychological reality and America’s psychotic obsession with spiritist-religion. Color it blue— the blues of moaning melancholy and music, of the body’s shady lustings, and of bruises that hurt long after. Thank you, Michael Ventura.” —James Hillman Author of The Dream and the Underworld and Re-Visioning Psychology The Education Center uses Avedo Aromatherapy AVEDA products mode with pure flower and plant essences Beautify and. Energize Yourself Services: • Aromatherapy shampoo, haircut, and style............. . $5.00 • Permanent wave starts at ...............$ 14.00 • Color/tint.............................................$9.00 • Therapeutic aromatherapy facial. . . . $9.00 • Manicure or pedicure ......................... $4.00 All services performed by supervised students. Call 331-1400; appointments not always necessary. Maximum Convenience: • Free parking behind institute/bike racks • Located on bus lines Become a Student at the Horst Education Center for Cosmetology • Cosmetology Course 11.550 hours) • Esthiology Course (700 hours) • Nail Esthetics Course (350 hours) Financial aid and loan counseling available. Call (612) 378-7400 for more information,- (612) 378-7401 TDD only. horst education center M — ui.uikn rnYKi Horst Institute, 400 Central AvenueS.E , Minneapolis Corner of 4th Street and Central Avenue Feb. 25th —April 1st Polly Kiesel / Paintings Fred Stonehouse / Paintings A lively collection ofgifts, clothing & jewelry THE BIBELOT C i L J D 2276 Como Ave., St. Paul 646-5651 ’^1 IV^i 1082 Grand at Lexington 222-0321 April 8th — May 13th David Goldes/Photos May 20th — June 24th Matt Brown/Painter THOMAS BARRY FINE ARTS the 198889 Mentor Series presents DENISE LEVERTOV prominent poet critic with STEPHEN BANKS & JOHN EKHOLM READING: Friday, May 5, 8 p.m. Bridgman Hall, Hamline University WORKSHOP: Saturday, May 6, II a.m. Fireplace Room, Willey Hall, U of M. ODEGARD BOOKS OF MINNEAPOLIS CALHOUN SQUARE* 3001 HENNEPIN AVE SO MINNEAPOLIS MN 55408 • (61 2)8 25-03 36 2 Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989

S T A F F Go-publishers Julie Ristau, Lenny Dee Editorial Board Lenny Dee, Diane Hellekson, David Morris, Julie Ristau, Karen Starr, Charlie Sugnet, Jay Walljasper Pacific Northwest Editor David Milholland Art Direction Lenny Dee Design Direction Gail Swanlund Cover Design Connie Gilbert Designers Connie Gilbert, Kim Klein, Gail Swanlund, Eric Walljasper Contributing Artists Leah Anton, Harriet Bart, Gabriele Ellertson, John Kleber, Robert Lawrence, Joe McDonnell, Stuart Mead, Dave Rathman, Sandra Taylor, Jeff Wilcox, Karen Wirth Proofreader Ann Laughlin Account Representative Dale Shifter Typesetting JeZac Typesetting Production Jay Miller Spiritual Advisor Camille Gage Terrapin Presto Log Lynda J. Barry Thanks to thee Brian Ahlberg, Barrie Borich, Tom O’Connell, Kathy Donahue, William Casper, Margy Ligon, Jennifer Gage, Jim Hare, Pegatha Hughes, Thomas B. Morgan, Judi Ray, Bruce Rowan, Carol Salmon, Linda Schinitz, COMPAS ON THE COVER This is a fairly accurate representation of Polly Kiesel who made the piece on the cover which is called We’ve Created a Monster!. For those who may not have noticed, Polly was gone for a while but is now back. She is represented in Minneapolis by Thomas Barry Fine Arts and will be showing her work there from February 25th through April 1st. We’ve Created a Monster! © 1987 Polly Kiesel. Vol. 11 No. 1 Spring, 1989 Subscriptions $10 a year. 212 3rd Ave. N., Suite 300 Minneapolis, MN 55401 The Twin Cities edition is published by the Clinton St. Quarterly, 212 3rd Avenue N., Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55401 —(612) 338-0782. Unless otherwise noted, all contents copyright 1989 Clinton St. Quarterly. We encourage your comments, articles and art. All material should be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Report from El Dorado— Michael Ventura Visions of American culture as seen from the bright lights of Las Vegas. The Fabric of Memory: Nigerian novelist and storyteller Chinua Achebe is interviewed by Bill Moyers. A world renown literary figure talks about the music of history. The Gustav Mahler Story— Joe McDonnell Everything you always wanted to know about the Austrian composer. Each morning brings us more screaming headlines of a violent world out of control. Riots in Venezuela, street combat in Washington D.C., armored vehicles attacking crack houses in North Minneapolis — day after day another corner of the globe seems to go up in smoke. This widespread epidemic of violence makes one skeptical about our ability to ever make sense of it all. Yet if we look closely at all this seemingly random violence, a pattern does seem to emerge. Venezuela rumbles when it is forced by US banks to tighten an economy that already is devoting over one third of its budget to paying off foreign debt. Such activity has cost Venezuelan consumers 35 percent of their purchasing power since the early 1980’s. Meanwhile, American inner cities rumble when the drug industry becomes the only viable economy. According to our own state department, global production of drugs is sharply increasing due to the political instability and economic need of many Third World nations. Here at home the demand for drugs conThe Sacred Carved Cheese Crosses of Koblentz— Tim Miske A tale guaranteed to rile any television preacher. 18 Highway 61 Revisited, Revisited— Greil Marcus The myth of the open road in rock ’n’ roll. Were we really born to run? Private Parts— Stephanie Ericsson An ovarian odyssey to pregnancy. tinues to escalate despite official exhortations to just say no. It appears that our attempts to remedy both problems have failed. After all, weren’t Third World development loans and the war on poverty valid attempts to improve these situations? Unfortunately not — most Third World loans have gone to a tiny corrupt elite, who pocketed huge kick- backs, invested in inappropriate industrial development models or wasted millions on an already bloated military. The US economy has gone through similar shortsightedness as our elite has prospered while a huge underclass has mushroomed. While our military plays with a kings ransom of war toys, our bridges, transit systems, highways and cities themselves continue to crumble. Indeed, the one recent attempt to fight poverty at home actually succeeded far greater than we remember. From 1964 to 1969 the number of impoverished people was reduced by one-third through social programs that cost only a tiny fraction of the money spent in Vietnam. The millions of poor over the world are potentially an enorClinton St. Gallery— Art inspired by books, by five artists featured in “volumes,” an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. 32 The Greening of America — Jay Walljasper Are American politics taking on a new environmentalist hue? Golden Fries Home— Jim Blashfield Don’t you owe it to yourself and your family to find out more? mous market, who if given the chance would eagerly buy enough goods to boost any malfunctioning economy. Were we to set an example by raising the incomes of people on the lower end of the economic spectrum, all classes would benefit from the release of this latent demand. To fail to do so will inevitably lead to more of the violence we read about in headlines each morning. * * * * Recently the CEO of Time Inc. predicted that within the next decade the communication world will consist of up to eight media giants — and that they intended to be one of them. Their recent merger with Warner Communications to form the largest media and entertainment conglomerate in the world is a harbinger of things to come. The CSQ is an attempt to fight this conglomeration of information sources. If you appreciate our efforts in this regard please consider taking out a subscription or sending a small contribution to help us improve Clinton St. Quarterly. —Lenny Dee Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989 3

Report fromEl Dorado By Michael Ventura I’m not suggesting a nostalgia for that time. It was repressive and bigoted to an extent that is largely forgotten today, to cite only two of it’s uglier aspects. But in that environment America meant America: the people and the land. The land was far bigger than what we’d done with the land. This is no longer true. Nowthe environment of America is media. Not the land itself, but the image of the land. The focus is not on the people so much as it is on the interplay between people and screens. What we’ve done with the land is To go from a job you don’t like to watching a screen on which others live more intensely than American life, by and large. This is our political ground. This is our artistic ground. This is what we’ve done with our immense resources. Wehave to stop calling it “entertainment” or “news” or “sports” and start calling it what it is: our most immediate environment. This is a very, very different America from the America that built the industrial capacity to win the Second World War and to surge forward on the multiple momentums of that victory for thirty years. That was an America that worked at mostly menial tasks during the day (nowwe work at mostly clerical tasks) and had to look at each other at Illustrations by Stuart Mead Graphic Design by Connie Gilbert 4 Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989

Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989 5

far more important now than the land —we’re not even dealing with the land anymore, we’re dealing with our manipulation and pollution of it. And what we’ve done with the very concept of “image” is taking on far more importance for many of us than the actual sights and sounds of our lives. For instance: Ronald Reagan stands on a cliff in Normandy to comWhat we’ve done with the very concept of “image” is taking on far more importance for many of us than the actual sights and sounds of our lives. memorate the day U.S. Army Rangers scaled those cliffs in the World War II invasion. Today’s Rangers reenact the event while some of the original Rangers, in their sixties now, look on. Except that it is the wrong cliff. The cliff that was actually scaled is a bit further down the beach, but it’s not as photogenic as this cliff, so this cliff has been chosen for everybody to emote over. Some of the old Rangers tell reporters that the historical cliff is over yonder, but the old Rangers are swept up (as well they might be) in the ceremonies, and nobody objects enough. This dislocation, this choice, this stance that the real cliff is not important, today’s photograph is more important, is a media event. It insults the real event, and overpowers it. Multiplied thousands of times over thousands of outlets of every form and size, ensconced in textbooks as well as screenplays, in sales presentations as well as legislative packages, in religious revivals as well as performance-art pieces, this is the process that has displaced what used to be called “culture.” "I I ’m not even sure it’s a culture A anymore. It’s like this careening hunger splattering out in all directions.” Jeff Nightbyrd was trying to define “culture” in the wee hours at the Four Queens in Las Vegas. It was a conversation that had been going on since we’d become friends working on the Austin Sun in 1974, trying to get our bearings now that the sixties were really over. He’d spent that triple-time decade as an SDS organizer and editor of Rat, and I’d hit Austin after a few years of road-roving, communehopping, and intensive (often depressive) self-exploration—getting by, as the song said, with a little help from my friends, as a lot of us did then. This particular weekend Nightbyrd had come to Vegas from Austin for a computer convention, and I had taken off from my duties at the L.A. Weekly for some lessons in craps (at which Jeff is quite good) and to further our rap. The slot machines clattered around us in unison, almost comfortingly, the way the sound of a large shaky airconditioner can be comforting in a cheap hotel room when you’re trying to remember to forget. We were, after all, trying to fathom an old love: America. There are worse places to indulge in this obsession than Las Vegas. It is the most American, the most audacious, of cities. Consuming unthinkable amounts of energy in the midst of an unlivable desert (Death Valley is not far away), its decor is based on various cheap-to- luxurious versions of a 1930s Busby Berkeley musical. Indeed, no studio backlot could ever be more of a set, teeming with extras, people who come from all over America, and all over the world, to see the topless, tasteless shows, the Johnny Carson guests on parade doing their utterly predictable routines, the dealers and crap-table croupiers who combine total boredom with ruthless efficiency and milk us dry—yet at least these tourists are risking something they genuinely value: money. It’s a quiz show turned into a way of life, where you can get a good Italian dinner at dawn. Even the half-lit hour of the wolf doesn’t faze Las Vegas. How could it, when the town has survived the flash of atom bombs tested just over the horizon? The history books will tell you that, ironically enough, the town was founded by'Mormons in 1855. Even their purity of vision couldn’t bear the intensity of this desert, and they abandoned the place after just two years. But they had left a human-imprint, and a decade later the U.S. Army built a fort here. The settlement hung on, and the railroad came through in 1905. During the Second World War the Mafia started to build the city as we know it now. Religiouszealots, the Army, and the Mafia—quite a triad of founding fathers. Yet one could go back even further, some 400 years, when the first Europeans discovered the deserts of the American West—Spaniards who, as they slowly began to believe that there might be no end to these expansive wilds, became more and more certain that somewhere, somewhere to the north, lay El Dorado—a city of gold. Immeasurable wealth would be theirs, they believed, and eternal youth. What would they have thought if they had suddenly come upon modern Las Vegas, lying as it does in the midst of this bleached nowhere, glowing at night with a brilliance that would have frightened them? We have built our desert city to their measure —for they were gaudy and greedy, devout and vicious, jovial and frenzied, like this town. They had just wasted the entire Aztec civilization because their fantasies were so strong they couldn’t see the ancient cultural marvels before their eyes. The Aztecs, awed and terrified, believed they were being murdered by gods; and in the midst of such strangeness, the Spaniards took on godlike powers even in their own eyes. As many Europeans would in America, they took liberties here they would never have taken within sight of their home cathedrals. Their hungers dominated them, and in their own eyes the New World seemed as inexhaustible as their appetites. So when Nightbyrd described our present culture as “a careening hunger splattering out in all directions,” he was also, if unintentionally, speaking about our past. Fittingly, we were sitting in the midst of a city that had been fantasized by those seekers of El Dorado 400 years ago. In that sense, America had Las Vegas a century before it had Plymouth Rock. And our sensibility has been caught between the fantasies of the conquistadors and the obsessions of the Puritans ever since. Yes, a fitting place to try to think about American culture. “There are memories of culture,” Nightbyrd was saying, “but the things that have given people strength have dissolved. And because they’re dissolved, people are into distractions. And distractions aren’t culture.” Are there even memories? The media have taken over our memories. That day Nightbyrd had been driving through the small towns that dot this desert, towns for which Vegas is only a dull glow to the southwest. In a bar in one of those towns, “like that little bar in The Right Stuff" he’d seen pictures of cowboys on the wall. “Except that they weren’t cowboys. They were movie stars. Guys who grew up in Glendale [John Wayne] and Santa Monica [Robert Redford].” Surely this desert had its own heroes once, in the old goldmining towns where a few people still hang on, towns like Goldfield and Tonopah. Remembering those actual heroes would be “culture.” Needing pictures of movie stars for want of the real thing is only a nostalgia for culture. Nostalgia is not memory. Memory is specific. One has a relationship to a memory, and it may be a difficult relationship, because a memory always makes a demand upon the present. But nostalgia is vague, a sentimental wash fhat obscures memory and acts as a narcotic to dull the importance of the present. Media as we know it now thrives on nostalgia and is hostile to memory. In a television bio-pic, Helen Keller is impersonated by Mare Winningham. But the face of Helen Keller was marked by her enormous powers of concentration, while the face of Mare Winningham is merely cameo-pretty. A memory has been stolen. It takes a beauty in you to see the beauty in Helen Keller’s face, while to cast the face of a Mare Winningham in the role is to suggest, powerfully, that one can come back from the depths unscathed. No small delusion is being sold here. Yet this is a minor instance in a worldwide, twenty-four-hour-a- day onslaught. An onslaught that gathers momentum every twenty-four hours. Remember that what drew us to Las Vegas was a computer fair. One of these new computers does interesting things with photographs. You can put a photograph into the computer digitally. This means the photograph is in there without a negative or print, each element sof the image stored separately. In the computer, you can change any element of the photograph you wish, replacing it or combining it with elements from other photographs. In other words, you can take composites of different photographs and put them into a new photograph of your own composition. Combine this with computer drawing, and you can touch up shadows that don’t match. When it comes out of the computer the finished product bears no evidence of tampering with any negative. The possibilities for history books and news stories are infinite. Whole new histories can now be written. Events which never happened can be fully documented. The neo-Nazis who are trying to convince people that the Holocaust never happened will be able to show the readers of their newsletter an Auschwitz of well-fed, happy people being watched over by kindly S.S. men while tending gardens. And they will be able to make the accusation that photographs of the real Auschwitz were created in a computer by manipulative Jews. The Soviet Union can rewrite Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, the United States can rewrite Vietnam, and atomic weapons proponents can prove that the average resident of Hiroshima was unharmed by the blast. On a less sinister, but equally disruptive, level, the writers of business prospectuses and real-estate brochures can have a field day. Needless to say, when any photograph can be processed this way then all photographs become suspect. It not only becomes easier to lie, it becomes far harder to tell the truth. But why should this seem shocking when under the names of “entertainment” and “advertising” we’ve been filming history, and every facet of daily life, in just this way for nearly a century now? It shouldn’t surprise us that the ethics of our entertainment have taken over, and that we are viewing reality itself as a form of entertainment. And, as entertainment, reality can be rewritten, transformed, played with, in any fashion. These considerations place us squarely at the center of our world — and we have no choice, it’s the only world there is anymore. Electronic media has done for everyday reality what Einstein did for physics: everything is shifting. Even the shifts are shifting. And a fact is not so crucial anymore, not so crucial as the process that turns a fact into an image. For we live now with images as much as facts, and the images seem to impart more life than facts precisely because they are so capable of transmutation, of transcendence, able to transcend their sources and their uses. And all the while the images goad us on, so that we become partly images ourselves, imitating the properties of images as we surround ourselves with images. This is most blatant in our idea of “a vacation”—an idea only about 100 years old. To “vacation” is to enter an image. Las Vegas is only the most shrill embodiment of this phenomenon. People come here not so much to gamble (individual losses are comparatively light), nor for the glittery entertainment, but to step into an image, a daydream, a filmlike world where “everything” is promised. No matter that the Vegas definition of “everything” is severly limited, what thrills tourists is the sense of being surrounded in “real life” by the same images that they see on TV. But the same is true of thef Grand Canyon, or Yellowstone National Park, or Yosemite, or Death Valley, or virtually any of our “natural” attractions. What with all their roads, telephones, bars, cable-TV motels, the visitors are carefully protected from having to experience the place. They view its image, they camp out in its image, ski down or climb up its image, take deep breaths of its image, let its image give them a tan. Or, when they tour the cities, they ride the quaint trolley cars of the city’s image, they visit the Latin Quarter of its image, they walk across the Brooklyn Bridge of its image— our recreation is a re-creation of 6 Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989

America into one big Disneyland. And this is only one way we have stripped the very face of America of any content, any reality, concentrating only on its power as image. We also elect images, groom ourselves as images, make an image of our home, our car, and now, with aerobics, of our very bodies. For in the aerobics craze the flesh becomes a garment, susceptible to fashion. So it becomes less our flesh, though the exercise may make it more serviceable. It becomes “my” body, like “my” car, “my” house. What, within us, is saying “ my” ?What is transforming body into image? We shy away from asking. In this sense it can be said that after the age of about twenty-five we no longer have bodies anymore—we have possessions that are either more or less young, which we are constantly trying to transform and through which we try to breathe. that is a real cliff, except it’s not the cliff we say it is, so that the meaning of both cliffs—not to mention of our act of climbing—is reduced. As I look out onto a glowing city that is more than 400 years old but was built only during the last forty years, as I watch it shine in blinking neon in a desert that has seen the flash of atom' bombs, it becomes more and more plain to me that America is at war with meaning. America is form opposed to content. Not just form instead of content. Form opposed. Often violently. There are few things resented so much among us as the suggestion that what we do means. It means something to watch so much TV. It means something to be obsessed with sports. It means something to vacation by indulging in images. It means something, and therefore it has consequences. Other Iv l edia is the history that forgives,” my friend Dave Johnson told me on a drive through that same desert a few months later. We love to take a weekend every now and again and just drive. Maybe it started with reading On the Road when we were kids, or watching a great old TV show called Route 66 about two guys who drove from town to town working at odd jobs and having adventures with intense women who, when asked who they were, might say (as one did), “Suppose I said I was the Queen of Spain?” Or maybe it was all those rock ’n’ roll songs about “the road”—the road, where we can blast our tape-decks as loud as we want, and watch the world go by without having to touch it, a trip through the greatest hologram there desert I thought of what Dave had said. “Media is the history that forgives.” A lovely way to put it, and quite un-Western. We Westerners tend to think in sets of opposites: good/bad, right/wrong, me/you, past/present. These sets are often either antagonistic (East/West, commie/capitalist, Christian/heathen) or they set up a duality that instantly calls out to be bridged (man/woman). But Dave’s comment sidesteps the dualities and suggests something more complex: a lyrical impulse is alive somewhere in all this media obfuscation. It is the impulse to redeem the past—in his word, to forgive history—by presenting it as we would have most liked it to be. It is one thing to accuse the media of lying. They are, and they know it, and they know we know, and It’s not that all this transformation of realities into un- or non- or supra-realities is “bad,” but that it’s unconscious, compulsive, reductive. We rarely make things more than they were; we simplify them into less. Though surely the process could— at least theoretically—go both ways. Or so India’s meditators and Zen’s monks say. But that would be to increase meaning, and we seem bent on the elimination of meaning. We’re Reagan’s Rangers, climbing a cliff cultures have argued over their meanings. We tend to deny that there is any such thing, insisting instead that what you see is what you get and that’s it. All we’re doing is having a good time, all we’re doing is making a buck, all we’re doing is enjoying the spectacle, we insist. So that when we export American culture what we are really exporting is an attitude toward content. Media is the American war on content with all the stops out, with meaning in utter rout, frightened nuances dropping their weapons as they run. is, feeling like neither boys nor men but both and something more, embodiments of some ageless, restless principle of movement rooted deep in our prehistory. All of which is to say that we’re just as stuck with the compulsion to enter the image as anybody, and that we love the luxuries of fossil fuel just as much as any other red-blooded, thickheaded Americans. Those drives are our favorite time to talk, and, again, America is our oldest flame. We never tire of speaking of her, nor of our other old girlfriends. For miles and miles of we know they know that we know, and nothing changes. It Is another to recognize the rampant lying shallowness of our media as a massive united longing for...innocence? For a sheltered childlike state in which we need not know about our world or our past. We are so desperate for this that we are willing to accept ignorance as a substitute for innocence. For there can be no doubt anymore that this society knowingly accepts its ignorance as innocence—we have seen so much in the last twenty years that continued on page 23 Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989 7

Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989

THE FABRIC OF MEMORY: NIGERIAN STORYTELLER CHINUA ACHEBE Chinua Achebe is president of the town council in his village o f Nigeria, a role that brings him more headaches than honors. He's also a storyteller who hears the music of history weaves the fabric of memory, and sometimes offends the Emperor as well His first novel, Things Fall Apart, sold over three million copies and has been translated into over thirty languages. His lates novel is Anthills of the Savannah. As told to Bill Moyers Moyers: There’s a proverb in your tradition that says, “Wherever something stands, something else will stand beside it.” How do you interpret that? Achebe: It means that there is no one way to anything. The Ibo people who made that proverb are very insistent on this—there is no absolute anything. They are against excess— their world is a world of dualities. It is good to be brave, they say, but also remember that the coward survives. Moyers: So if you have your God, that’s all right because there must be another God, too. Achebe: Yes, if there is one God, fine. There will be others as well. If there is one point of view, fine. There will be a second point of view. Moyers: Has this had any particular meaning for you, living as you do between two worlds? Achebe: Yes, I think it is one of the central themes of my life and work. This is where the first conflict with the missionaries who came to improve us developed. The missionaries came with the idea of one way, one truth, one life. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” My people would consider this so extreme, so fanatical, that they would recoil from it. Moyers: And yet your father became a Christian, and you were raised by a-Christian family. Achebe: Yes, completely—but there were other ways in which the traditional society failed to satisfy everybody in it. Those people who found themselves out of things embraced the new way, because it promised them an easy escape from whatever constraints they were suffering under. Moyers: So one of the reasons missionaries, colonial administrators, and other Westerners seldom penetrated the reality of the African society was that the African could embrace the Christian God while still holding on to the traditional gods. . Achebe: Yes. But it was not necessary to throw overboard so much that was thrown overboard in the name of Christianity and civilization. It was not necessary. I think of the damage, not only to the material culture, but to the mind of the people. We were taught our thoughts were evil and our religions were not really religions. Moyers: How did you come to grips with this when you arrived in the United States for the first time in 1972? Achebe: Well, I suddenly felt strange in very many ways. America was not unknown to us. While I was growing up, during the period of the nationalist agitation for independence from colonial rule, America stood for something. It stood in our ipind for change, for revolution. That image lasted right through the Second World War. When, for instance, Churchill and Roosevelt were talking about the Atlantic Charter, Roosevelt said, “What about the colonial peoples? Would this apply to them?” Of course you would expect Churchill to say, “No,” it wouldn’t apply to these people. And he did. ' Up to that point, America was seen as a friend of struggling peoples, and that was part of the background I brought with me when I came. That kind of image, of course, no longer exists. It is, in my view, one of the tragedies. Moyers: What’s happened to it? Achebe: Well, I don’t want to be overly critical, because as a guest, I should be careful. But it seems to me that something happened in that period between Roosevelt and perhaps the period of McCarthy that made it possible for the South African regime, for example, to say they have a friend in the White House. I think what happened is that America became a power in the world and, after the Second World War, forgot its revolutionary origins. Moyers: The dominant ambition became power politics instead of revolutionary fervor. Achebe: Yes, yes. Moyers: I remember when I first came to your country, Nigeria, in the sixties, I found three students out at the University of Ibadan who were reading Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. That was their great revolutionary pamphlet. Achebe: That’s right. In addition, two key people in the liberation from colonial rule in West Africa were trained in this country. So, in fact, a lot was expected of America. Moyers: What did it mean for African leaders to be trained in this country? What happened to them when they went back? You write about leadership a great deal and about the conflict in leaders between their training in colonial or Western ways of thought and their old traditions. Achebe: Well, Ithink that the first generation of liberation leaders came back bearing a message of America as a place that would befriend struggling nationalists. That image was possible because America was not in charge of West Africa. America was far away. Moyers: Unlike the British. Achebe: Yes, unlike the British. There was a kind of romantic air about America. The newspapers spoke of a land of freedom. Uncle Sam was very popular at that point, Moyers: And today in Nigeria? Achebe: Somehow America has found itself mostly on the wrong side of the popular feeling, the popular will. For instance, take Angola. There I think a very, very serious mistake was made from the very beginning. For America to support a government that the whole of Africa—with the ex- ception of South Africa —was against seems to me very, very strange and very, very unfortunate. Moyers: Does it seem to you that the United States has allowed the Cold War to determine what it does in Africa—that we embrace the government of South Africa because it’s alleged to be a bulwark against communism and the Soviet Union? Illustration by John Kleber Design by Kim Klein Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989 9

Achebe: That’s the heart of the matter. When America became powerful and found itself in the position of the leader of the free world, its main concern became “Where are the Soviets? What are they doing? And if they’re here, then we will be here.” And so it became possible for a regime like that in South Africa— which is in all practical ways very close to the Nazi regime—to get up and say, “We are anti-Communist.” Once you say that, you know, you are all right. Moyers: All other sins are forgiven. Achebe: Yes, yes, yes. Moyers: What has this meant to the American image in Nigeria? Do we appear to be a racist country, even though we have made such strides at home in coping with our own racism? Achebe: Yes. In fact, virtually everything that works against the freedom or the liberation of Africa is blamed on America first of all—even before the Europeans, even before Britain or Germany or France or Portugal— Moyers: —the old colonial masters. Achebe: It seems extraordinary, you know, that America would want to take on that kind of burden. But, as you said, I think it is this obsession with the Soviets, with communism.. Moyers: How would you like for us to see Africa? Achebe: To see Africa as a continent of people—just people, not some strange beings that demand a special kind of treatment. If you accept Africans as people, then you listen to them. They have their preferences. If you took Africa seriously as a continent of people, you would listen. You would not be able to sit back here and suggest that you know, for instance, what should be done in South Africa. When the majority of the people in South Africa are saying, “This is what we think will bring apartheid to an end,” somebody sits here and says, “No, no, that will not do it. We know what will work.” Margaret Thatcher sits in Britain and says, “AI-. though the whole of Africa may think that this works, I know that what will work is something else.” That’s what I want to see changed. The traditional attitude of Europe or the West is that Africa is a continent of children. A man as powerful and enlightened as Albert Schweitzer was still able to say, “The black people are my brothers—but my junior brothers.” We’re not anybody’s junior brothers. Moyers: There is still a lot of Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe could never accept Friday as anything but a child living in a primitive simplicity. Achebe: That’s right. But that’s not really true, it’s self-serving. What I'm suggesting is we must look at Africans as full-grown people. They may not be as wealthy or advanced in the same ways as you are here, but they’re people who, in their history, also have had moments of great success—in social organization, for instance. If you grant that Africans are grown-up, a lot of other things will follow. Moyers: You once said that if you’re an African, the world is turned upside down. Explain that. Achebe: What I mean is, I look at the world, at the way it is organized, and it is inadequate. Whichever direction I look, I don’t see a space I want to stay in. On our own continent, there are all kinds of mistreatment. The most recent, for instance, is the dumping of the toxic wastes from the industrialized world in Africa. Moyers: Many American companies and Western countries are dumping their toxic wastes in African countries, and they’re often bribing governments to do Lt. Achebe: Yes. The world is not well arranged, and therefore there’s no way we can be happy with it, even as writers. Sometimes our writer colleagues in the West suggest that perhaps we are too activist, we are too earnest. “Why don’t you relax?” they say. “This is not really the business of poetry.” About a month ago I was at an international conference of writers to celebrate the one thousandth year of Dublin. During the discussion everybody was saying that poetry has I don’t believe anybody can work for the people and for the salvation of society without being in some ways a good person. poetry is only something personal, you are saying something outrageously wrong. So I took the opportunity to state the other case. I said that poetry can be as activist as it wants, if it has the willingness and the energy. And I gave them two examples. Toward the end of the colonial period in Angola, there was a doctor practicing his medicine and writing very delicate, very sensitive poetry in his spare time. One day he saw one of the most brutal acts of the colonial regime, and he shut down his surgery, took to the bush, and wrote a poem which had the words “ Iwait no more. I am the awaited.” It is said that the guerrillas who fought with him chanted lines from his poetry. So I’m saying that these things are possible for poetry. Of course, a poet who becomes activist risks certain dangers, such as getting into trouble with those in power. Here’s another example: Some years ago, at a conference in Stockholm, a Swedish writer and journalist said to two or three African writers, “Say, you fellows are very lucky— your governments put you in jail. Here in Sweden nobody pays any attention to us, no matter what we write.” But, you see, the point is this: A poet who sees poetry in the light I’m suggesting is likely to fall out very seriously with the emperor. Whereas the poet in the West might say, “Oh no, we have no business with politics, we have no business with history, we have no business with anything—just what is in our own mind”—well, the emperor would be very, very happy. Moyers: So that’s what you meant when you said once that storytelling is a threat to anyonein control. Achebe: Yes, because a storyteller has a different agenda from the emperor. Moyers: And yet storytelling, poetry, literature didn’t stop the brutalities that werd visited on your own Ibo people in the Biafran War and didn’t stop Idi Amin in Uganda, or Bokassa in the Central African Republic. Achebe: Yes, well, there’s a limit to what storytelling can achieve. We’re not saying that a poet can stop a battalion with a couple of lines of his poetry. But there are other forms of power. The storyteller appea'ls to the mind, and appeals ultimately to generations and generations and generations. Moyers: I love this line in A Man of the People—“The great thing, as the old people have told us, is reminiscence, and only those who survive can have it. Besides, if you survive, who knows? It may be your turn to eat tomorrow. Your son may bring home your share.” The power of reminiscing is very important to you. Achebe: If you look at the world in terms of storytelling, you have, first of all, the man who agitates, the man who drums up the people—I call him the drummer. Then you have the warrior, who goes forward and fights. But you also have the storyteller who recounts the event—and this is one who survives, who outlives all the others. It is the storyteller, in fact, who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have —otherwise their surviving would have no meaning. Moyers: The knowledge that others have suffered. Achebe: —that others have suffered here, have battled here. That is very, very important, and that is the meaning of Anthills of the Savannah, you see. Memory is necessary if surviving is going to be more than just a technical thing. Moyers: The anthill survives so that — Achebe: — so that the new grass will have memory of the fire that devastated the savannah in the previous dry season. Moyers: So the anthill carries the memory to the new generation, weaving a collective memory. Achebe: Yes. The storyteller, not the emperor, is aware of all this. The emperor may in fact be planning to re- writethehistory of the people. Emperors do this all the time. For instance, an emperor who is totally illegitimate, in terms of the dynasty, might decide to rewrite the history a bit to show that power was always in his family. There is an inevitable conflict between him and the genuine poet. Moyers: You’ve certainly done your share of offending the emperor. In fact, you’ve been unsparing of your own people in these novels you write. You draw a devastating picture of government in Africa—ministers living in princely mansions while the peasants and the workers live in shacks. You write about the corruption of democracy, the bribery, the vulgarity, the violence, the brutality, the rigged elections. Aren’t you concerned that in these novels, which are gaining a growing audience in the West, you are reinforcing the stereotypes many Westerners have toward your own people? Achebe: Well, I can see that danger, but that doesn't really bother me because I’m not concerned primarily with Westerners, I’m concerned with the people whose story I am telling. If I'm a bit harsh, that harshness comes from concern. It is not that I hate my people or even that I hate those who rule us. I don’t hate them. But when you look at the opportunities that we have squandered in a country like Nigeria, it is really so painful because so much could have been achieved. So much assistance could have been given, not just to the poor in Nigeria but even outside of it, because providence has been so prodigious in its gifts to Nigeria. When you look at the possibility and then at what has been achieved, you can feel very, very bitter indeed. Moyers: What happened? There was such great hope back around the early 1960s, such great expectations for Africa as it was moving into the era of independence. Achebe: It’s a very complex problem. A whole lot of things played a part. But perhaps the fundamental failure was always there and was built into the independence movements. Independence is not granted. The leader of Nigeria was able to say in 1960 that independence was given to us on a platter of gold. Well, nobody gives independence to anybody. If you don’t achieve it, if you don’t fight for it, if you don’t struggle for it, then perhaps you have not had your revolution. This is basically what is wrong with many countries in Africa. The withdrawal of the colonial powers was in many ways merely a tactical move to get out of the limelight, but to retain the control in all practical ways. In fact it turned out to have been even a better idea than running these colonies, because now you could get what you were getting before without the responsibility for administering it. You handed responsibility back to the natives, but con10 Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989

tinued to control the economy in all kinds of ways. In addition to this, the powerful nations did not leave us alone. If you remember what happened in the Congo, for instance, in 1960, you know the country was not really handed over to the Africans. There were people masterminding what was going on there and determining that some things would never happen and other things would. We saw the same situation with the Biafran experience. Even though Biafra was a self-governing, independent, sovereign nation, Britain was able to say things like, “We will not tolerate the dismemberment of this great market.” They always talked in terms of markets, as if people were created for markets. So this is part of the problem—that we were not really left alone. In addition, there were other things—real calamities, like drought. Moyers: One theme recurring throughout your novels is of traditional African culture overwhelmed by the forces of a Western civilization that is itself beginning to disintegrate—as if a man had been shanghaied onto a ship that gets out to sea and starts to sink. So Africa’s had a double blow. Its own traditional values have been torn asunder by missionaries, colonial administrators, and wealth seekers, and then the civilization which tried to adopt it— Achebe: —was no longer viable —yes. Moyers: So you have the sense in Africa of spiritual and political anarchy? Achebe: Yes, I think there is a bit of that, definitely. But I don’t allow that to take the upper hand. Artists should not be the ones to offer despair to society. I don’t think that is a function of art. There are enough people around doing that. Moyers: We journalists will take care of that. Achebe: Yes, there are so many people who can take care of that. Moyers: Someone said, “My sense of Achebe is that he is neither yielding to optimism nor falling into pessimism but is carrying on a running campaign against despair.” Achebe: That’s a good summary. ,l would agree with that. I’m not an optimist in the sense of saying, “Oh, everything will work out well.” We have to work, we have to think, we have to manage a situation to the best of our ability. Success is not guaranteed. We have to work with some hope that there is a new generation, a group of survivors who have learned something from the disaster. It is very important to carry the message of the disaster to the new dispensation. With luck, they will succeed. Moyers: But friends of mine come back from Africa these days saying that life there has taken such a desperate turn that people are talking not about economic recovery but about mere survival. Is it too late for Africa? Achebe: No, it can’t be too late. I think we’ve been through similar periods in the past. The three hundred years of the slave trade must have left that kind of feeling. Africa has been walking around a very, very long time in the world. It has been the home of mankind from the very beginning. So the events of the last four hundred years, which is what the contemporary mind fastens upon, or maybe the last one thousand years or two thousand years, are really nothing compared with the history that has gone before. And there’s no reason for us to imagine that in our time Africa will come to the end of the road. Moyers: You talk about external contributions to the chaos of Africa. What about Africans’ responsibility? You’re pretty tough when you write, “We have given ourselves over so completely to selfishness that we hurt not only those around us, but ourselves even more deeply,” and that in doing so, “one must assume a blunting of the imagination and a sense of danger of truly psychiatric proportions.” That’s a harsh judgment. Achebe: You mentioned Idi Amin; you mentioned Bokassa. There are minor examples of the same kind of mindlessness at all levels. You have scores and scores of examples, of people who cart away the wealth of their nations to Swiss banks. You The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have—otherwise their surviving» would have no meaning, / have examples of officials who take money so that toxic waste can be dumped in their territory. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. It’s impossible to contemplate that kind of situation without being very, very bitter. Moyers: There’s a moment in your new novel, Anthills, where you seem to say that the ordinary people share responsibility with the politicians for the corruption of Nigeria, that their indifference and cynicism breed cynicism on the part of the leaders. There’s a scene where four men are brought before a vast crowd with the television cameras running, and as they're shot, the crowd cheers. You seem to say the people share in this. Achebe: Yes, of course they do. Of course they do. These things would not go on if the people said no. The people are the owners of the land. But they’ve still got a long way to go because part of the problem is lack of awareness. The weakness of the people, the owners of the land, is that they are uninformed. They do not know. They are not organized. When these things change, when the people become well educated and well organized, then they will be able to say no to this kind of situation. Moyers: Yet you talk about a kind of artless integrity at the bruised heart of the people. A kind of powerful, fundamental goodness. Achebe: The writer is aware of that. Now, you’ll find many people who’ll say, “I’m for the people, I’m a radical, I’m a revolutionary,” and so on. But you look closer and find on the whole their attitude to things is selfish, even brutal. I don’t believe anybody can work for the people and for the salvation of society without being in some ways a good person. You don’t go about making an effort or striving to achieve connection with the people. You instinctively react appropriately to people and to suffering. The artist may not be a good person, either, but if he’s an artist, he’s aware of the possibility of this essence and would not obstruct it. Moyers: In your third novel, Arrow of God, there’s a wonderful point when the chief, who’s been imposed by the colonial government on his people, goes mad. The people take it as a sign that their god is reinforcing tne ancient wisdom of the elders, which is that no man, however great, was greater than his own people, and that no man ever won judgment against his clan. A great leader can’t lift a vulgar people. But a vulgar leader can’t lift a great people. Achebe: It has to be a combination, a joint effort. I personally place a lot of responsibility on leadership, for practical reasons. If you have a bad people, a bad leader, and a bad system, what do you do? Where do you start? Where can you make the greatest impactlf you want to bring about change? In the case of Nigeria, to try to change a hundred million people is a hell of a job. Would you start by trying to create a perfect system? This is not possible, because the perfect system worked by imperfect people will be corrupted. So I think, in a practical way, it is easiest to address oneself to the leadership, because that’s the special group that has had the benefit of a good education, and the investment of all kinds of things in them. They should be enlightened. They are fewer, too. One can address this smaller group more easily than the entire population. But one should also remember that leadership without the people will not really work perfectly. Moyers: It was a great gamble that Nigeria and other new nations in Africa took when, leaving colonialism, they embraced democracy. It takes a great deal of discipline, institution building, and tradition to make a democracy. And democracy is corruptible. Achebe: I think you are right. But it goes even beyond that, because, for instance, when people say.that we failed to practice democracy in Africa, they assume that we were taught democracy during colonial rule and that we somehow betrayed our education. That is not true at all. The colonial regime itself was not a democratic system. It was a most extreme form of totalitarianism. The colonial governor was not responsible to anybody in the territory. He was responsible to a minister in Paris or in London, but he was certainly not responsible to the people on the ground. And so there was no model of democracy. We were not practicing the Westminster model in Nigeria under colonial rule. We were practicing colonial dictatorship. So the colonial people really had no experience of this so-called democracy that they were supposed to have inherited. They did not inherit anything of the sort. It is not simply a question of people not living upto expectations. They really were not prepared. They were not trained for democracy. Moyers: So candid an admission, once again, can play into the hands of the enemies of black Africa, because so many Westerners argue, “Well, that’s right. Nigeria was not ready for democracy. And because Africa can’t handle democracy, better we stick with South Africa, because its government knows how to keep order, to prevent Communists from rising to power—whereas the governments of Africa and other black countries have not proven themselves up to the—” Achebe: That is, of course, totally spurious. There's no way you can inculcate democracy through dictatorship. The colonial system in itself was the very antithesis of democracy. So, no matter how long you stayed under it, you would not learn democracy. There was democracy in many parts of Africa before colonial rule came. So to say, “Let’s keep ruling them until they learn democracy,” is really fraudulent. Moyers: But that’s what is said in South Africa. Achebe: But of course to say, “Let’s support the South Africans, since they’re the only ones who understand democracy,” comes down to not accepting that Africans are people—because if you accept that Africans are people, you cannot possibly say that a tiny minority of white people should impose their will to the extent of depriving others of even the elementary rights of self-expression. All the rights we know in the so-called democracies are denied, positively denied, in this regime. Now, for anybody to say that’s the right thing for Africa shows that that person does not grant full humanity to Africans. We know that there are such people, Clinton St. Quarterly—Spring, 1989 11