I engage, you engage, we engage

OK, we’re getting some clarity here. We acknowledge that all this talk of engagement was fated at some point to revert to Sartre (who after all coined the very term littérature engagée). 

This helpful scholar writes of Sartre’s “Engaged Theatre”:

He wrote for the stage in order to act in history, to engage his audience in issues of collective concern, and to change – or explore what it means to change – social reality.

Which I think about covers it all.

But for extra credit, here’s an essay by Kristin Prevallet on the concept of littérature engagée and how it has slipped and morphed in our perception over the years. (And yes, I know — what are people thinking when they put such tiny black font on a red background? Copy and paste it into a Word document for civilized reading.)

I must admit I’ve been side-tracked by focusing on the difference between grappling artistically with the very structures of human consciousness (woe is us, we’re screwed because we’re human!) which is where I see people like Eliot more or less coming from, and grappling artistically with the bum raps humans deal each other (woe is human sub-group us, we’re screwed because someone other human sub-group more powerful than us has decided to screw us!) which is where I see people like Brathwaite more or less coming from.

I still think this is an important distinction, but no longer in the context of defining engagement, I think, as both arenas seem to fall safely into the “act in history” context quoted above.

And yes, I see all that on solitude vs community. As in the artist Jonas in Camus’ L’Exil et le Royaume whose last verbal canvas read ambiguously (was that a t or a d, now?) – Solitaire or Solidaire. Two sides of the same coin. Effective art requires both. (And hm. Let’s see. Would that be yet Another Ghastly Continuum in Human Affairs?)

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Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

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