Spring/Summer 1995, Volume 12.2
Neila C. Seshachari
In all the political hype about the Republican "Contract with America," one certainty seems to be the bleak prospects for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. These days, no matter where I go or what circles I move in, there is always conversation in doleful tones about these big three being on the hit list. NEH has already taken its first blow in reduced funding. Crippling the NEH, NEA, and public broadcasting will have repercussions on the affirmed life of the American people, for whatever else the Contract with America may be, it is also a "contract on America's culture," as D.W. Fenza, editor of AWP Chronicle, has noted.
All's not well in the republic of the arts and humanities. The humanities have been even more suspect than arts in our culture. And yet without the mediation of the humanities, our technetronic professional lives would find no means of making connections with the spiritual, the benevolent, and the beautiful in our universe. More importantly, without the humanities our lives would lack the wisdom and philosophy that enable us to endure and prevail in times such as these.
How does one convince the management experts—the lawmakers, executives, and administrators—that the sciences, arts, and humanities in a nation's life are more closely linked than global economies? That the arts generate creativity in technology? That the arts and humanities stimulate government's avowed objective of economic growth? That arts and humanities are essential for promoting public welfare and the development of gracious social values? Without NEH and NEA and public broadcasting, the mental and economic welfare of American life would be as endangered as the health of a community living on a Love Canal infested with nuclear and chemical wastes.
I have heard the indefatigable Jane Alexander, who presently directs the NEA, declare with persuasive conviction that for the paltry sum of 64 cents of our tax dollars per citizen, the NEA generates $11 in private donations and returns manyfold bounties to our nation's rural and urban communities. I have prayed that her voice be heard by decision makers, and I have feared that it may be lost in the wilderness of political cacophony where the loudest voices are those of the likes of William Bennett and Lynne Cheney, both past "Chairmen" of NEH. Bennett testified before Congress that NEH helps erode "mainstream American values," and Lynne Cheney has gone on record exhorting Congress to abolish NEH. An Indian adage sums up such situations: What recourse does the crop have when its fence begins to eat it?
A common threat to our political existence has brought us writers and artists together. As I deliberate on the Utah Governor's Board of Fine Arts, I see this growing kinship among visual and performing artists and writers. Utahns are lucky to have a state legislature that is bipartisan in its support of the arts, but without the full support of the NEA, even Utah artists will be scorched by the drought of resources.
As I ruminate on the state of the arts and humanities, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the deep gratitude Weber Studies owes to the state agencies of the NEA and NEH in Utah, and to the Utah State Legislature which, in one inspired move that created a participatory Utah Arts Endowment, both pledged its own support to the arts to the tune of $1.2 million in matching funds and thus involved arts organizations in working toward their own economic stability.
Making scapegoats of the NEA, NEH, and public broadcasting in a show of attempts to balance the budget is both pretentious and dangerous to the nation's wellbeing.
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This Spring/Summer issue brings together a fine array of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and book reviews in one collection. Max Oelschlaeger's "Reflections" reaffirm the notion of nature as a primary moral source that gives us an alternative definition of being human. Frances Wilson, exploring the mystery of Sherlock Holmes, concludes that Holmes is protected from shocking revelations of his corporal self by the power of his myth. William T. Ross, investigating George Orwell's pacifism in the context of patriotism, points out that Orwell eventually worked himself into a state of mind where war seemed a desirable alternative. When denied the opportunity to fight in the real war, he re-turned to rhetorical war in Animal Farm and 1984. William E.H. Meyer's provocative essay, brusquely setting aside the notion that New-World thinking owes its origin and impulse to any European antecedent, sets out to give a "definitive" account of the American Great Awakening or "hypervisual phenomenon" in terms of America's own transcendentalism and pragmatism. Thomas H. Brown searches the roots of cultural conflicts between the native inhabitants of North America and 17th C. English settlers through re-searching William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation.
Availability of space enabled us to feature more poetry and fiction in this issue than in others that carry a Fiction/Poetry Interview.