Transcript of Jonathan Lethem’s Speech at the People’s Library on November 7th

This is a lucky day for me, to stand before you.I wish I could offer something in returnFor what you’ve given me:

The hope I thought I’d spent three years ago.

You great human specimens

Who offer your nights and days to the Occupation

Who offer yourselves as a lens on the world.

A vision of changing our lives,

To reflect our passion for justice,

For community and for connection,

Outside what’s permissible under the corporate regime

Which now passes for our republic

And still goes by its great name:

The United States of America.

You, here, on the Barricades of the Now

I wonder where you find the strength

To stand and stare, and endure the gaze

Of those who haven’t heard the call.

My thoughts turn to the middle-men

Whose incomprehension and scorn

Stands between you and the new world

On which you’ve settled your gaze.

The police, yes, and the traders

The wannabe moguls, the eager drones.

The newscasters and commentators

With their weary condescension.

Tribes that insulate the status quo,

That bad dream, which they too, suffer

And who stultify your dream of another world.

The only analogy I can offer

Is that of the service call.

We’ve all made such calls

To some bank or agency or institution

Some monolith which typifies

The drab abuse of routine power.

Precisely those whose inspire your resistance here.

Think of those you encounter on such a call

How they speak as if the rules that bind them

On the wrong side of the human story,

Were laws as natural as gravity.

As if the curbs on their humanity, and yours,

Were common sense, were right as rain.

How I wish, at those times, in my weakness

I could climb through the phone,

And commence my career as a strangler!

And so I imagine how you must feel

Looking into those faces.

Your grace, your restraint, is astounding.

God bless you for that.

For it’s never worthwhile to heap abuse

On those who perpetuate the lies

When you know they’re lied to as well.

Even those who sneer or berate,

They’re one of you, one of us,

Just not willing, not yet, not quite,

To try on the glasses, to look through the lens.

Not yet conscious of the possibilities

That lay within your steady gaze.

So they react in defense

Of the only world they know,

And against fear of what’s unknown.

What’s best to do, on a call like that?

Best is to summon these words:

“I’d like to speak to your supervisor.”

And then, usually, to say it again,

When the so-called supervisor appears,

“Now your supervisor, please.”

And so on, up the line.

That’s what this Occupation is:

The greatest collective service call ever made.

The ones you want to speak with

Are those who enact the structures

Within which the operators serve,

The real architects of the status quo.

The muckety-mucks, not those

On who they dump their muck

Nor even those who dump on their behalf.

I’d like to speak to your supervisor, please.

A graceful question, and peaceful too.

I’d like to speak to your supervisor, please.

Until you get to the top of the scheme,

The secret room at the summit of the tower.

How simple, really.

We all know who they are,

The supervisors with whom we wish to speak.

Their name crawl across our televisions,

Are etched on the plastic in our wallets,

And on our stadiums and concert halls.

They’re the ones avoiding your call,

And they’re the ones you want to speak with.

For if corporations are persons now,

Let them and their masters be called to account

Within the human community,

Let them answer to We, The People,

On this vast person-to-person call.

The phone’s ringing now.

You’re about to get through.

So go to the top.

Don’t settle, my friends, don’t settle for anything less.


Filed under Announcements, Steve S.

4 responses to “Transcript of Jonathan Lethem’s Speech at the People’s Library on November 7th

  1. Chris Roberts

    That author Jonathan Lethem must hitch his wagon to Norman Mailer is telling and more deep than merely scratching at the literary surface of Mailer. Where, exactly, show me, is the “ecstasy” in paying homage to a man (Mailer) who stabbed and nearly killed his second wife, Adele Morales? This poor lady currently lives in near poverty. Where is her ecstasy, ode or even a simple mention Jonathan Lethem?

    Divorce the author from his personal life is always the counter argument and it is true for the most part. Writing is perhaps the most personal art, one must rise up a sculpture from a blank page, no clay, no models, only imaginative tenacity fueling the keyboard stroke, build it up, typed page, build it up.

    I will never buy into or be alright with Norman Mailer as a “master” or his work “a literary monument” as Lethem states. That is a flawed literary world view about any author. There are no great works, only great concepts unrealized. Maybe it is that the Lethem-Mailer link is a shared place: Brooklyn. Well, I am from Brooklyn too and and in my place and time, real time, there is no exaltation, no room for a cheap jack, literary loudmouth who is defined by law as an attempted murderer.

    Yes, as I’ve been reminded, the book. I really think that to write about graffiti, one must have wielded the spray paint can. Lethem shows zero knowledge on the subject. The motivation behind it is to tag what slice of neighborhood is yours. The mural type or the exaggerated use of cryptic lettering, along with figurative representations are not, and never will be, graffiti.

    “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Lethem’s essay that takes on Harold Bloom’s book, is a walking, talking, breathing embarrassment that venerates the sneak footed, low crawling plagiarist. Yes, writers are influenced by other writers, it is a natural transference. One would think that a serious author would not so casually assign his byline with the word plagiarism in the subtitle. This entire work is a fusion of old and new, musings that are entirely lacking in energy and originality.

  2. Pingback: N17 Day of Direct Action: Resources | Occupy Wall Street Library

  3. Michael

    Hey Steve, I’m backdating this post – because there’s so much going on today and over the last few days that needs to be front and center.

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