(Discovering) The Power of Art

I just completed Night by Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor. I cried for a while after having read that. I had never to-date, read something as hard-hitting, something as powerful. I have never in my life been so shattered and deprived of faith, in God, in humanity and in myself. 

As students of literature we are often taught about the power of art and the role of the artist. However, it isn’t often that we encounter this power. I think for those of you who haven’t encountered this, consider yourself redeemed. God has been good to you.

We also speak of the artist. We speak of her/him being the ‘chosen’ one in a community to tell the story of a people. This is not a powerful position. It is not liberating. In fact, it is very objectifying. The author, our story-teller is ‘chosen’ to not only write the tale of suffering but also in the process becomes immune to  the suffering that is written in the course of the story.

So where does that leave us, the reader?

I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears.

I cried after reading Night. I expected to weep, howl even, but I didn’t and I couldn’t.

I don’t know why I couldn’t.

I don’t know why I cried.

I think I couldn’t cry more because, maybe the pain didn’t sink in as deep as it should have. I made myself a cup of tea after and not that I forgot about it, but I did feel as though I could wake up in the morning and go about making my coffee, having my regular bowl of cereal and doing whatever. It didn’t shatter me as much as it should have. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to know what its full impact would be like either. I shudder even at the thought of it. I don’t think I am the strong individual I make the world and myself think I am.

That brings me to my next question, why did I cry? I think I cried not for the Jews, the annihilation of a people, of a community, but I cried for humanity itself. I read, what man was capable of doing to another man. I come from a country that waged war for nearly three decades but man-fighting-man had never struck me this hard. One man’s lack of humane qualities: compassion, intolerance and above all, cruelty. They speak highly of animal cruelty, no I don’t love animals but I do care for humans. I too am one of them.

I publicly call myself a racist and now I have the urgency to eat my own words.

Coming from an island, unknown to most, from a region, considered cultural, rich in civilisation and underdeveloped like most developing countries, I do not cry today for the six million, or more Jews. I cry today for man, for mankind. We are the legacy our ancestors who fought wars and sacrificed themselves. However, we haven’t done them justice. I am not speaking of rituals and chants and long battalions of offerings of worship. I speak of the duty we have towards a people, our people. A duty, I feel we have forgotten. A duty recalled by art, the artist. The same artist who is either not allowed a voice to speak for himself, for the subaltern or the artist who speaks for those who can ‘afford’ to narrate their story.

We live in a world of contradictions, of hypocrites, of faithlessness, of supposed spirituality and of people who want to tell their story but are not always allowed to.

Night rejuvenated in me my love for sunny days.

For childhood memories of school, of sandy beaches, of home and of the delusion of life.

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