35.1: Hope on the Edge

Cover image of the Dandelion volume 35, issue 1
Publish Date: 2009
Managing Editor: Emily Carr
Assistant Editor: Kathleen Brown
Contributing Editors: Tyler Pearce Hayden, Cara Hedley, Drew McDowell, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Aaron Giovannone
Layout: Emily Carr

The question at the heart of issue 35.1 is whether we [North Americans] will be better at imagining hope. Are we capable of respecting hope? Has our story had time to gestate? Is it going out too quickly to too broad an audience? Is hope in fact as dangerous as, for example, war?

In “The Braindead Megaphone,” American satirist and short story writer George Saunders argues: “Our [American] venture in Iraq was a literary failure, by which I mean a failure of the imagination. A culture better at imagining richly, three dimensionally, would have had a greater respect for war than we did, more awareness of the law of unintended consequences… A culture capable of imagining complexly is a humble culture. And it knows that no matter how well-prepared it is–no matter how ruthlessly it has held its projections up to intelligent scrutiny–the place it is headed for is going to be very different from the place it imagined.”

“Hope on the edge” stages an intervention, proposing that living discourse can act as a mode of resistance to the canned speech and tepid sentiments that dominate Culture-At-Large. The contributors in this issue show that it is indeed possible, in the age of Hollywood blockbusters and Twitter mania, to imagine hope richly and three-dimensionally. They encourage us to actively engage in the messy process of self-reflection.

Their texts don’t offer quick answers; indeed, they rarely answer at all. Rather, they arise the necessary questions, the questions we must ask if we are going to understand, for example, the difference between hoping and, simply, wanting, if we are going to be able to hope in the long-term. Where are we going? these pieces ask. And just who are ‘we’? Who gets the social sanction to determine who has hope and what it is we are hoping for?

If we are to succeed at hope, the writers collected here remind us, we have to think beyond the present, we have to give the idea time to gestate. We have to learn to balance future consequences with our present needs and desires. We have to think imaginatively, about how we are going to make the world we want to live in the world we are living in. But more than that, even. The pieces collected here offer strategies for hoping imaginatively, richly, three-dimensionally, humbly, and critically. They offer us ways of holding hope up to intelligent scrutiny. They show us how we might negotiate the shortfall between the imagined and the real. They encourage us, to borrow from Saunders, to “rise up and whip our own ass, so to speak”: “Turn that Megaphone down, and insist that what’s said through it be as precise, intelligent, and human as possible.”

Maybe we are, as Saunders argues in the paradoxically hopeful conclusion to his essay, the enemy. Maybe our imaginations have failed us in the past. Maybe we too were seduced by the guy with the Megaphone. It’s never too late to start over again–ethically, compassionately, skeptically, with the hope of doing more and doing better. Not just offering social critique but going beyond that and posting strategies for social repair: doing real work in real time in the real world.

– Emily Carr

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