Johnston: Let the vision live past today

What is one to think the morning after? The passion that reached its climax the night before, giving way to a hazy afterglow and eventually sleep, is now cold and distant. Think about it long enough and the stirrings of desire return, but not in the same way.

The deed is accomplished; any reenactment resembles aftershocks rather than the initial quake. The consummation only happens once. The prior concern — desire and fulfillment — is replaced by two questions. Has the consummation given rise to new life? If so, will that life be carried to term and brought into the world?

Consider the first question. At issue is whether the consummation was real or imagined. That is, whether the climactic moment occurred in the context of generative possibility, or in a chimera of longing and hope. Much of the rhetoric indicated the latter. “We are the change we’ve been waiting for” is a self-indulgent fantasy. And the substance often matched the rhetoric, foretelling no more than the transcending of an existing malaise. “The promise of change over the power of the status quo.”

The problem with such substance is that it prescribes nothing beyond the triumph. It dramatizes and heightens anticipation for a glorious moment of liberation without painting a vision of the subsequent world. “Change” on its own means nothing after the climax. And if the climax is everything, the context of its realization matters little.

It should not be surprising that film was the most effective medium for this message. Film inspires, arouses. Directors whet the appetite of the viewer, then pull back, rhythmically saturating his mind with desire. The anticipation is heightened by contrast. The status quo is not merely the privation of change, but a cosmic stain, a “storm” that “hasn’t quite passed yet,” as in one video shot in Fredericksburg, Va.

“Sometimes the skies look cloudy, and it’s dark, and you think the rains will never pass.” But “as long as all of us are together, as long as we are all committed, then there’s nothing we can’t do.” Pan across a cheering throng with a rain-beaded lens, light flitting through upstretched arms, increasing intensity in the insistent guitar. The manufactured moment is a type of that to come, a hope pointing beyond itself. “It may look dark tonight, but if I hold on to hope, tomorrow will be brighter.”

But however vapid the message, however infertile its characteristic medium, last night’s consummation occurred in a context of generative possibility. The intimations of the last two years may have been fantastical, but last night was distinctive as the confluence of the forces of flesh and blood. The consummation has given rise to new life — a vision the world after the triumph. The vision is at an early, embryonic stage, and the former object of projected aspirations is now the vessel of that vision. Will the vessel carry the vision to term and bring it into the world? Will the life be aborted or stillborn?

The father of the new life is the sovereign — the people. The proper purpose of a vision is to inspire, but law is concerned with formulas, which only inspire in opposition to other formulas. After the triumph, law has no power to inspire; that is, law is nothing but power. The sovereign is living flesh capable of generating a vision; the law is dead formulae the consummation of which can only lead to something unnatural. The first lesson for the vessel is this: to say that law is the father would be to abort the vision.

Life cannot develop without appropriate nourishment. A vision cannot grow without the witness of history. History is full of progress and regress, of sanctification and degradation. As the intimation of equality impresses events with the character of progress, the testimony of nostalgia tempers triumphalism. The second lesson for the vessel: feed the vision with the fullness of history, else it will arrive stillborn.

Many videos of the last two years concluded with a sun rising over a horizon. One memorable example insisted, coincident with the emerging sun, “your voice can change the world.” The message is only true for the vessel, who may deliver a new vision in seventy-six days. But the language of seventy-six, tied to legal formulae and shallow history, would forestall any such delivery, revealing nothing in its place but murder and deformation.

Peter Johnston is a senior in Saybrook College.

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