Response Paper #1
September 12th, 2011
The first time that I read “A Calamity of Heart” by E.L.Doctorow, I was astonished to know that this piece would be my first English assignment in college. It’s a highly influential piece of work! In the essay, Doctorow is trying to purvey to the reader, a sense of hope that artists collectively dispel from almost out of nowhere and into society whenever necessary.
Doctorow claims that artists are independent entrepreneurs that don’t usually band together. Yet, in critical moments in our national life, they’ve been known to do just that. Even if it may be ambiguously, their art collectively impacts the whole nation. I think that this is the main point that Doctorow portrays in the essay.
Doctorow implies that some terrible deep damage was done to the nation in the aftermath of 9/11. He argues that “The government that swung into action misdirected its response and, with devious arguments to the American people, took us to war. In short time it had adopted the policies of an authoritarian state. Americans found themselves the sponsors of torture, and of the endless imprisonment without trial or counsel of presumed terrorists; they learned well after the fact that they themselves were subject to secret illegal surveillance by their government, and saw their Constitution disained with the unilateral abrogation of international treaties such as the Geneva Convention, though such treaties are constitutionally “the supreme Law of the Land.” All these measures were claimed as wartime expedients and promoted with a propaganda of fear. At the same time, the scientific evidence of global warming was ignored, religious literalism was put in the way of medical advance, regulatory agencies were given over to the very industries they were to regulate and, rife with wartime corruption, this government left to wallow an American population severely alienated by gross economic inequalities, the forces of wealth thriving at the expense of the middle class and the shrill demagogues of right-wing radio and television shouting down all principled disagreement with what was happening. The resulting trauma to the American people’s sense of themselves and their country is still being felt.” (26, 27). He also states that at the same time, our politicians are unable or unwilling to budge the seemingly unmovable structures of corporate wealth that hold in check our national priorities. Doctorow leaves no stone unturned in describing the mess we’ve found ourselves in.
In turn, these loner artists, fed up with the way things are going, create varying works of art to express their emotions and opinions in order to relieve themselves of this so called “Calamity of Heart” that we all have come to endure. He believes that the artists utilize our freedom of expression to awaken the public eye to the reality of our situations. Doctorow states that the artists “offer us the aroused witness, the manifold reportage, the expressive freedom, the groundsong for our time of a diverse, still vibrantly alive society, that for all difficulties of this moment would restore us to ourselves, awaken our stunned senses to the public interest that is our interest, and vindicate the genius of the humanist sacred constitutional text that embraces us all.” (27). In other words, artists instill hope in traumatic times and in dire need.
I completely agree with everything that Doctorow has to say in this essay. If you look anywhere into history, you will always find art. Whether it seems meaningless or has a direct point, art is a freedom of expression utilized by anyone with something to dispel. Not only does it bring relief to the creator, but art has the potential to inspire anyone into a new perspective and can bring about the most positive changes in people.
The reason that I became astonished to come across this piece in this moment in time is because of the mere reason that I chose to go to college in the first place. I want to become a very influential artist in many ways because I decided one day that I was tired of the way things were going in this country. As I became more knowledgable about all the things going on around me, I could not sit idly by and exist in a cycle of questions with no answers. I’ve always wanted to be an artist my entire life, not realizing that capability was a state of mind.
I came across so much painful knowledge, that the only way to offset the sadness was to escape into my art. With a book in one hand and a paintbrush or pen in the other, I became mad with curiosity. I needed to feed on at least five books at a time to quell the desire for knowledge and truth inside of me. I watched endless documentaries with clenched fists and many winces. Pain was passed along my synapses and I bled art for relief. My intention is not to dwell so much on my own life story, but I do believe it may promote a better understanding of the way this text has struck a chord with me.
What morale I had left at my waitressing job, soon vanished as I grew dreary in the realization that people don’t question as much as they should about the way things are going. Most people feed into the media’s biased and oversensationalized fear-mongering tactics of control. Whenever you try to have a conversation about what seems to be the most important topics of our lives, people don’t want to hear it. Denial becomes a band-aid on a constantly bleeding wound. An artist can become jaded and anti-social if left unattended to. It’s hard to find anyone willing to talk about the nitty gritty of our lives and even harder to find others willing to do something about it.
As Doctorow states, “The artists, poets, musicians are gathered here in the presumption that a politics of self-correction may not be enough to heal us, to recover us from our spiritual disarray.” (27). He’s absolutely correct. I have come to believe that people only begin to change their lives and paradigm by the influence of inspiration. Inspiration is sparked by anything that a person finds particularly meaningful to them. It bubbles up from the inside and out, quite like inception. Art can change a person’s life to the effect of a quantum leap into a new dimension.
Doctorow seems to believe that the combined efforts of these individual artists will awaken us all out of this traumatic stupor. I wholeheartedly agree.