from OLD AND NEW LITIGATION SONGS
Learn the songs and stories of the human tribes—life won't mean much in their absence. But there is more-a further imperative we're facing today. This has to do with areas of speech, writing and thought not previously thought of as literary. Law for instance. Investigative journalism's another. Dry as they are, they may point to the mortal underbelly of the Beast. Song is always one of the Beast's unprotected spots, as is humor. But information, compassionate law, precise uses of language may get there equally fast. The Beast protects its tender organs with a webbing of fraudulent language and simulated images. Can you find that soft underbelly and pierce it with an arrow? What are the effective arrows? Are they as they used to be—songs and poems? Sometimes. At moments I think there exist other charms, new weapons, ones we're just beginning to get a grip on. These include lawroom intricacies, revisioned histories, informational newsletters, archival retrieval. Letter writing campaigns. Each of them has stung the Beast. Can you hear the music?
We are writers—men and women of letters. If that means anything it means we inhabit a language-body, the shape of which shifts at the twist of the pen or the closing down of a vowel. With access to this power, why restrict yourself to a single genre? I mean if you don't want arrows and beasts—take bulldozers and monkeywrenches. In our language-bodies we need to become effective monkeywrenchers.
I've defined monkeywrenching this way: "Preemptive acts that disable the machinery of destruction."
Heroes of the Sea Shepherds and Earth First! have led the way here. Quieter citizens also do tough work. For a few months I've been chewing over a phrase—I'd like to link it up with Ed Sanders' "Become a scholar in chaos": Paper monkeywrenching. It's a term of derision applied by wilderness warriors towards those who—well, they say there are two types of environmental activists—those who do, and those who do mailings.
From one perspective the division's certainly true. There's some humor here, also a big dose of machismo. I think it's possible to come up with an effective notion of paper monkeywrenching. Paperwork, the tactical application of written language, can disable machinery—because most of the behind-the-scenes machinery is also built of paperwork. Strategies include learning the dance of legal terms and arguments, the unburying of historical truth from libraries, the recovery of suppressed heroic deeds, investigative poetics. These may not replace guerrilla tactics like monkeywrenching hardware in certain flashpoint situations— they're certainly less glamorous—but they bring to bear a different power. A good piece of legislation will stop the bulldozers as surely as a pair of wire clippers.
We should be singing ballads about the law courts! Journalism with the elegance of poetics! At that point poems and stories can pass beyond Elegy—farewell cards to vanishing cultures and extinguished animal species—and move on to a world that takes seriously the law of the irreducible minimum.
"This is the end of the
"No Native American language
has a word for goodbye."
—Paula Gunn Allen
Andrew Schelling "Old and New Litigation Songs" in The Handful of Seeds, copyright © 1999 by Andrew Schelling. Pleasure Boat Studio.