Since the election, one month ago today, many artists and writers have been grappling with their role in a United States under future President Donald Trump. In an interview with The Stranger earlier this week, author Sherman Alexie revealed his conclusion: “I’m not one of those artist-writers who thinks they have any real power,” he said.
Alexie, the novelist and poet who wrote the frequently challenged and lauded The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian among other acclaimed works, told the Seattle alt-weekly that he did see a role for artists and authors in tough times ― just not necessarily a politically influential role:
I’m laughing because they’ve already begun the calls for Poets Against Trump anthologies ― talk about the most powerless gesture in the history of the world. But what we can do with art is become spiritual boosters. I think we can be spiritually nourishing even if we have no political power. We end up being the equivalent of noise-canceling headphones.
Anyone who has only made it through a flight with a screaming baby ― sanity intact ― thanks to noise-canceling headphones can surely attest to the spiritually nourishing value of such a device.
That said, the phrase might lead casual observers to think Alexie expects artists and writers to shield their audiences from harsh reality. But in the rest of his interview, which discusses his podcast with novelist Jess Walter, “A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment,” he talks about cutting through the noise to discuss real issues, saying, “there’s a place for us as artists to talk about how our egalitarian liberal natures can help.”
He also gets real on who he thinks needs a talking to (”[t]he moderate working-class whites and the leftist Jill Stein voters”) and why he thinks it’s crazy not to just vote for the lesser of two evils (”All of us, at every point in the day — because we’re privileged fuckers — are compromising”).
Noise-canceling headphones aren’t earplugs, after all; they just block out the unnecessary and distracting noise so that the important dialogue can come through clearly. We could probably all use a little more of that right now.