in a dust storm of altruism

Table of Contents

I’ve been wanting to work with voice in a composition (or more than one composition), and started doing so a few years ago writing some mesostic poems/pieces inspired by Cage’s work along similar lines. But for a new piece, I wanted to find text that really resonates with me but also goes some way towards offering some sense of hope. Over the last few months I’ve been slowly working my way through Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, which offers some really fantastic (if somewhat old, now) examples of revolutionary hope against what were then some pretty dire political circumstances, that have worsened since.

In particular, this passage:

Hollywood movies and too many government pandemic plans still presume that most of us are cowards or brutes, that we panic, trample each other, rampage, or freeze helplessly in moments of crisis and chaos. Most of us believe this, even though it is a slander against the species, an obliteration of what actually happens, and a crippling blow to our ability to prepare for disasters. Hollywood likes this view because it paves the way for movies starring some superman in the foreground and hordes of stampeding, screaming extras.

(Solnit, 2009, 117)

For me, it really captures the oppressive nature of Western government policies against their own people. The excerpt continues:

Without stupid, helpless people to save, heroes become unnecessary. Or rather, without them, it turns out that we are all heroes, even if distinctly unstereotypical ones like that elderly woman who got Fichtel back on his feet. Governments like the grim view for a similar reason: it justifies their existence as repressive, controlling, hostile forces, rather than collaborators with brave and powerful citizenries.


This offers a far less bleak perspective on us as a people, while still offering a solid critique of the government. One that resonates strongly today in light of climate change and the rapid and relentless march of capitalism and the erosion of labour, the reshaping of work, and so on. One could easily shift the government in the above passages to, say, gigantic multinational corporations; the drive and desire is fundamentally the same, I think. But as antidote to that bleakness, because actually, as Solnit points out, when it comes to a pretty big catastrophe (in this essay she is talking about the 9/11 incident in New York, specifically) as a species we have a tendency to pull together, to work together, and to care about each other, and that is remarkable. This passage (and chapter as a whole) therefore gives me a sense of hope when it is easy to be pessimistic, and I think offers some text to work from for a piece for voice and small chamber ensemble.

I have turned this passage into a mesostic poem with the title as the spine. This piece, when it gets written, will probably be called in a dust storm of altruism.

hollywood movIes
aNd too
government Disasters. likes this
sUperman in the and
hordeS of

Out that we

Us are
panIc, trample each other,
momentS of