To believe in the power of art to create or change politics (for the better) is no small thing. Such belief requires an implicit optimism that the despair and risks of the political moment (of now or any time) has difficulty supporting. Cynicism is a logical, rational response to the political moment of Trump, or in the case of Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time : Stalin. The personal danger of resisting the cynical impulse by creating art is the question of the novel. Continue reading
Of Mice and Men asks a number of questions: what sacrifices are we willing to make for those we love? (as in George’s decision to continually uproot himself to protect Lennie) How do we know when we’re acting in the best interest of those we love, or acting selfishly? (as in Candy’s inability to put down his dog; and George’s climatic decision) What effect does intention have on culpability? (as in Lennie’s responsibility for crushing Curly’s hand, or *spoiler*)
But the issue that interested me the most was that of why, when we’re given the opportunity to have the things we’ve dreamed about and schemed for, why, when those things are within grasp we intentionally sabotage the opportunity, we turn away with two hands the (not even chance) promise of realizing our (supposed) dreamed future. Steinbeck’s novel proposes that there are two sorts of people: those who live for the perpetually postponed dream; and those who, when the opportunity for realization occurs, seize it. I’m not sure I accept such a stark dichotomy of people, indeed, I might rather have liked Steinbeck to have been a little more nuanced in his explanation of why this kind of personal sabotage takes place. It can’t be a simple as some people live in/for dreams, can it? And yet, Lennie’s childish interaction with the world, his constant deference to George work to build a character that is delicate, innocent, and for that, a fool. A fool not because he isn’t bright, but a fool to not just pass up, but actively refuse, the realization of his (or George’s?) dream. And George’s ultimate decision and action reveals him as the kind of man who will seize the opportunity, regardless of personal or ethical cost, the kind of man who will act selfishly and call it a benevolent or generous act. Though at the same time the selfishness – the at long last selfishness – is somehow its own kind of realization of a dream, to finally act for one’s own interest, rather than a constant deferral for the needs of the other (Lennie).
So I think I need someone else in my immediate circle to read this one so I can talk about it out loud. It’s only 100 pages, or an afternoon of reading, so if you’re so inclined, give it a read and let me know. I’ll buy the coffee, if you’ll help me get George and Lennie (or me and me) out of my head.