Tille Olsen -- "These Things Shall Be"
furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sun Mar 9 09:37:06 MST 2003
The Progressive Interview: Tillie Olsen
by Anne-Marie Cusac
...In the title piece of Tell Me a Riddle, I was writing about a
revolutionary generation, immigrants in this country whose children
grew up here. But I wanted to write about other aspects of their
individual lives. Little is written about revolutionaries, let alone
Jews who became atheists, "idealists," some people might term them,
not "realists." I like to quote William James, who said, "The world
can and has been changed by those to whom the ideal and the real are
dynamically contiguous." It was their struggle to do this and make
There was a period in my parents' lives--it was a period in our
country's life--when the ideal and the real were dynamically
contiguous. They really felt that the international movement was
going to change the world and make it a more just, human place. They
were young when they came here, but they'd lived so very, very much.
The world is so different from the world of their youth and the world
of my youth. Still, power is primarily held by people of wealth and
position. By and large, class interest still rules in our country.
Who are the people who make policy and how do they get there? You may
get an elite education, but you don't learn labor history (which
means the lives of most of humanity).
There aren't many of my generation left who did make history. I'm
going to be eighty-eight.
There is entrenched power, and with few exceptions it has no feeling
for the vulnerability and sacredness of human life. And they have the
weapons and the power until there is a movement of people, as has
happened over and over in the past.
And that's why "These Things Shall Be," that British labor song in
"Tell Me a Riddle," is sung still:
These things shall be, a loftier race
than e'er the world hath known shall rise
with flame of freedom in their souls
and light of knowledge in their eyes.
They shall be gentle, brave and strong,
to spill no drop of blood, but dare all...
On sea and fire and air.
And every life shall be a song.
I have a lot of hope from young people, too, with that flame of
freedom and light of knowledge, as well as from some of the old
people, whom I honor a lot. There's the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who
fought in Spain, what's left of them, and there's no bitterness,
there's no cynicism. They believe, too, as I do, that it's in human
beings not to put up with what is harming and depriving. I am a
believer, but the U.S. über alles psychology is very strong now and
our bombings from the air. I don't want to die leaving the world as
it is right now.
You know the old saying, "Whoever degrades another degrades me"?
That's Walt Whitman--an American, I'm proud to say.
* Calendar of Events in Columbus:
* Student International Forum: <http://www.osu.edu/students/sif/>
* Committee for Justice in Palestine: <http://www.osudivest.org/>
* Al-Awda-Ohio: <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Al-Awda-Ohio>
* Solidarity: <http://solidarity.igc.org/>
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