Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ellen Willis on the poverty of a society that denies creativity

In twenty years’ time, how many significant literary fiction writers will have grown up working class? How many career artists at all who weren’t endowed with a trust fund?

Maybe we’re oblivious, or maybe just stretched thin, but not enough people are talking about this. The late cultural critic Ellen Willis did—and years before the worst of it hit. With a clarity of thought and the kind of fury that pangs and never scabs over, she diagnosed, snarled, and illuminated what she considered a central plague of her day: the way our economy limits our creative expressions. As she put it in her essay “Intellectual Work in the Culture of Austerity”: “On the crudest level, the lives of American intellectuals and artists are defined by one basic problem: how to reconcile intellectual or creative autonomy with making a living.”

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