Thursday, October 19, 2006

History in Black Rainbow

In Black Rainbow the quotation that struck me the most was towards the end in chapter 16: True Confessions. Wendt writes, "I slept, woke, ate, read, slept. And repeated that pattern, suspended high in the air, shut away from the passing of time and the world. Only my voracious reading of novels kept me in the society of people, age, love, and death, all fictional of course. ('Art ain't life,' my wife would've said) Only my passion for the literature of the twentieth century, especially that from the 1960s to the 1980s, programmed into me by President Linn, anchored me to place, country, history. I became more addicted to the work of Tangata Maori writers, my ancestors, finding in them the identity and past I'd been denied" (244).
We discussed in class that art can provide for us a frame with which to view reality, but art takes on an even more significant purpose in Black Rainbow. The characters reality had been so distorted that art became his reality, instead of just being a lens to view the world through. Art was what he had to help define who he was, because history had been striped away. This quotation also shows the ever present difference that existed between the central character and his wife when he says 'art ain't life,' my wife would've said. At this point he is completely submerged in a fantasy world of literature. The repetition in his pattern of life merely includes the necessities to survive- eating and sleeping.
This passage struck me as so utterly sad because I saw it as there was no meaning in his life, but rather he was just going through the motions. He does say that he has one passion, which is literature, but his reason for this is that it 'anchors' him in history. I think this is a profound statement because I think Wendt is trying to convey the importance and value of ones past and history. I think Wendt is saying that identity of a person is deeply rooted and cannot ever be entirely separated from one's past. In this passage he says his identity and his history had been denied, and as a result of this he was separated from the world around him. So not only does history and past establish one's identity, it also connects them to the rest of the world, and other people, either united in a common ancestry or able to share with each other their different backgrounds.

Thinking of history and the past in this light reminds me of my interactions at Beans and Bread. Everyone I met, either volunteer or guest somehow introduced themselves through first identifying some element of their past. I am reminded of one volunteer in particular. His name is Monte and immediately after he said his name to me he began telling me of his past, essentially his life story, and how he came to be a volunteer at Beans and Bread. He told me he was once an alcoholic and his life almost ended after driving his car, while intoxicated into a brick wall. He said God saved his life, and gave him another chance. He said slowly he rebuilt his life, from being a guest at Beans and Bread to eventually a volunteer. His story really moved me, and it was his past that made me appreciate him more in the present. I felt I understood more about him because I knew where he came from, and how proud he was to be a volunteer. It was his history that he defined himself and his past he used to describe his postive change in personality.