Sunday, 24 February 2008

Journal #6: The Paralyzing Grey

The Lives of Amphibians and Chimæras:
Journal #6
The Paralyzing Grey
In Anna Deavere Smith's "Twilight: Los Angeles," a character who calls himself Twilight plays an important role. He exists only at the end, and describes himself as a liminal figure, one who walks in limbo, one who walks between day and night. He says that he comes from night because his skin is black, and he gives positive connotations to that darkness. However, he also says that his people must move into understanding and enfranchisement, into the illumination of the day. Being ahead of his time and ahead of his people, he is trapped between night and day. Thus he calls himself Twilight.
It is common wisdom that being part of two entities is essentially the same as being separate from both. Witness Aesop's fable of the Bat: in the war between Animals and Birds, the Bat tries to be friendly with both sides and ends up the enemy of each, henceforth banished into the night. From each side you are branded for fraternizing with the enemy and are labeled a traitor: from each you are an outsider.
Bill Watterson's Calvin observes a similar phenomenon. When his morality and opinions are clear and distinct--in his words, black and white--decisions are simple because you avoid the black and stick to the white. Further knowledge about the issues, he worries, creates areas that are grey, and he claims that grey paralyzes. The choice is no longer clear and decisions become difficult. Too much grey, and decisions become impossible, or, at best, random. Calvin of course prefers the fairy tale of black and white morality over the more realistic grey, but the reader has likely come too far into the grey to turn back.
Los Angeles is captured in this limbo in Smith's play: it belongs both to the first world and the third world. The internal frictions erupted into riots, essentially a civil war, and in this war morality was coated with a grey fog. The rioters were undoubtedly repressed and suffred injustice in the unfair trail of Rodney King, and so their roar is understandable. Their response, however, overflowed justifiable bounds: the violence and destruction that came to the Vietnamese community and to innocent passers-by, such as the beaten and abandoned truck driver, was obviously wrong. On the other hand, many of the people who considered themselves innocent victims were not so innocent--their lifestyles allowed and even necessitated the existence of a repressed lower class. The city was thus striken with grey, with moral complexity: blame cannot easily be assigned and restoration may not even be desirable.[1] Los Angeles is caught in twilight.
I believe that there are ways to live in twilight successfully, but I also acknowledge that it does not at first glance appear to be the most attractive of real estate. The ability to see from multiple perspectives sometimes makes defining yourself difficult and can complicate decision-making. I do hope that it is ultimately possible to reconcile black and white; if not, borderlands will also be no-man's-lands.
1] Restoration, as in a return to the previous status quo. The repression and imbalance of the former situation is not something to which return may be desirable.

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