Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This Present Darkness

The owners of the land came to the land, or more often a spokesman for the owners came...
Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves. Some of them hated the mathematics that drove them, and some were afraid, and some worshipped the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling. If a bank or finance company owned the land, the owner man said: The Bank — or the Company — needs — wants — insists — must have — as though the Bank or the Company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them. These last would take no responsibility for the banks or the companies because they were men and slaves, while the banks were machines and masters all at the same time. Some of the owner men were a little proud to be slaves to such cold and powerful masters. The owner men sat in the cars and explained. You know the land is poor. YOu've scrabbled at it long enough, God knows.
The squatting tenant men nodded and wondered and drew figures in the dust, and yes, they knew, God knows. If the dust only wouldn't fly. If the top would only stay on the soil, it might not be so bad.
The owner men went on leading to their point: You know the land's getting poorer. You know what cotton does to the land: robs it, sucks all the blood out of it.
The squatters nodded - they knew, God knew. If they could only rotate the crop they might pump blood back into the land.
Well, it's not too late. And the owner men explained the workings and the thinkings of the monster that was stronger than they were. A man can hold land if he can just eat and pay taxes; he can do that. Yes, he can do that until his crop fails one day and he has to borrow money from the bank. But - you see, a bank or a company can't do that, because those creatures don't breathe air, don't eat side-meat. They breathe profits; they eat the interest on money. If they don't get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat. It is a sad thing, but it is so. It is just so.
The squatting men raised their eyes to understand. Can't we just hang on ? Maybe the next year will be a good year. God knows how much cotton next year. And with all the wars - God knows what price cotton will bring. Don't they make explosives out of cotton? And uniforms?
Get enough wars and cotton'll hit the ceiling. Next year, maybe. They looked up questioningly. We can't depend on it. The bank - the monster has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll die. No, taxes go on. When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size...
And at last the owner men came to the point. The tenant system won't work any more. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families. Pay him a wage and take all the crop. We have to do it. We don't like to do it. But the monster's sick. Something's happened to the monster.
But you'll kill the land with the cotton.
We know. We've got to take cotton quick before the land dies. Then we'll sell the land. Lots of families in the East would like to own a piece of land. The tenant men looked alarmed. But what'll happen to us? How'll we eat?
You'll have to get off the land. ... It's not us, it's the bank. A bank isn't like a man. Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn't like a man either. That's the monster.
Sure, cried the tenant men, but it's our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it's no good, it's still ours. That's what makes it ours -being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not paper with numbers on it.
We're sorry, it's not us. It's the monster. The bank isn't like a man.
Yes, but the bank is only made of men.
No, you're wrong there - quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it...You'll have to go.
But it's ours, the tenant men cried. We ---
No, the bank, the monster owns it. You'll have to go.

--John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
With thanks to Charles Campbell, Walter Wink, Ted Smith, and Ezra Pound
No taxation without representation.
We wrestle not against flesh and blood.


Anonymous said...

Dang. That's so on, so doggone apt. I hate that book, but he's got the serpent's voice down cold just there.


The UN is trying to figure out this week how all this impacts Millennium Development Goals.

Karen Luttrell said...

Worth a look...

[ i s r a e l ] said...


Derek said...

That's a great
The image that kept coming back to me throughout the past ten days or so has been Sam Lowry flying through his dreams in 'Brazil' - brough back down to earth by the giant filing cabinets that erupt all around him... (De Niro eaten by paper is apt as well, I suppose...)

I wish I could give credit where credit is due on where I first heard about 'EA' - sometime last year. I bought the book when I read that you were going to be at Greenbelt. Love the Festival and very glad for GB web presence, even though I have not been able to go for a decade...

Your other recent posts also marvelous - this is the first I had an immediate response to...

thanks again and God bless, Derek

jdaviddark said...

Thank you, friendly people.
Welcome unto you, Israel and derek.
derek, dost thou have an interweb presence?
_Brazil_ is THE FILM, isn't it? i'm glad to have those images in my mind again. i thank you.

Derek said...

No interweb presence yet...have thought about blogging - a bread blog on the necessary meditative/prayer space that baking my own bread opens up and a long long, multi-year reflection on the Gary Snyder poem that starts "what history fails to mention/is most everybody lived their lives..."...if I ever get started...
I am blessed by your blog...

jdaviddark said...

I'm blessed by the thought of what you'd do with a blog (beginning with that dadgum snyder quote...SO good). I suppose you've already done it just now. I thank you.