Last night BAM's Eat Drink & Be Literary series featured playwright and actor Wallace Shawn. The warm BAMcafe was packed with convivial Brooklyn liberals, listening in rapt attention as Shawn read from his insightful new book of essays (called Essays), which explore the contradictions of being a lefty man of privilege who's "up to my neck in being an American, whether I like it or not." During the Q&A that followed, moderator Daniel Menaker asked Shawn about his dogged political dissidence and wondered, "Why don't you just give up?" After a long pause, Shawn replied:
Well, I'm still alive. I'm not extinguished. This is a grim moment and, you know, between irrationality and greed (if you're going list qualities that are dangerous), the planet is terribly threatened and a lot of people are being squashed as we sit here. But in my lifetime I have seen political action have some effect. And for me to give up, while still keeping everything that I have, I would be actively making things worse every day without even any attempt to make them better. I mean, I do believe that our lives are rather harmful, just by leading the bourgeois life that most of the people in this room live, we are hurting other people and we are certainly allowing much more violent things than we see in our own lives to be done to people we don't see in other countries. We're doing stuff every day and it would be quite unseemly for us, probably, to give up.
It was a funny exchange to listen to while sipping wine on a full stomach. If you've never gone to one of these Eat Drink & Be Literary events, do yourself a favor and check it out. For $52 (including tax/tip) it's a pretty good deal; the buffet is surprisingly good, there's abundant vino, and a lively discussion typically breaks out by the end of the night, with the usual unhinged person ranting at the stage. A new block of tickets is going on sale for some of the sold out nights, which include E.L. Doctorow, Sam Lipsyte, and Sam Shepard. And "Wally Week" continues tonight; Shawn will read at a fundraiser for Revolution Books, then "discusses human nature with a communist," Andy Zee.