Can Writing Heal the Brexit Wounds?

Channel 4: Uncivil War

I have not seen the recent Channel 4 drama, Uncivil War. I doubt I will. I expect it will be too painful. But I have heard much in its praise, especially from partisan sources on social media which suggest it does not take sides and that it paints no one in a particularly flattering light. One comment I saw – from a leave supporter – suggested that anyone who was able to watch it without reflecting upon their own position was beyond reason. 

This got me thinking about how art might start to respond to events. It has to respond at some point, but because we are still undergoing the process, it is less able to do so, unable as I think we are to take a clear perspective on things. But perhaps the time is arriving, and this drama in particular is the first sign of art trying to help us process the pain?

Healing

Some kind of healing will be necessary. The archbishop of Canterbury has called for some government leadership in order to facilitate this, though I wonder if, rather than imploring the government, it were better the church seize the initiative and do it instead. Either way, he is right that this mood cannot be allowed to fester. He has a model to follow in this in the Church of Scotland, which held a service of unity following the 2014 referendum, though I know of none of its work in this area since that time. 

But what of the rest of us? Just as I argue Welby cannot simply wait for the government to take the lead but should seize the initiative himself, so too I argue the rest of us have a duty to do the same, whatever our place in society. If I am right about Uncivil War, then television and drama might already have made a start here. 

Harming

There is, of course, a danger. Words can heal, and words can harm. A cursory glance over social media should reveal just how ghastly some people are determined to be right now. Even in more formal work, there will be a number of people who relish opening fire at those who vote differently to them, or share a different vision. Such behaviour is the outcome of a petty mind, impossible to reason with; the product of character that desires not to reconcile but only to denounce. Most recently, the BBC version of Poirot at new year falsified history in order to associate the leave vote with fascism, so it has already started. I therefore state, with total confidence, that poisonous, tendentious and polemical work will naturally constitute the weakest work, most worthy to be disposed.

The form it should take

As suggested above, the perspective that time lends to us will enable us better to make sense of what we have been through, and I don’t believe we are securely in that place, even if one good drama has made a start. Sometimes, these events will need to be tackled head on. At other times, it might help to explore these things through allegory.

It is easy to conjecture how. Take some of the factors of these times:

  • long term friends falling out
  • irreconcilable interests between different parties, factions or groups
  • paranoia, denunciation, suspicion
  • political rhetoric and its power for good and ill
  • identity
  • borders

and anything else you care to mention. All of these things can be discussed in drama, literature, art, music, whatever, without having to revive the myriad ghosts that lurk behind the spectre of Brexit, and this might help to reduce the inflammation. 

My own contribution

I have a first draft of a novel which does some of what I argue for, totally by accident. The story requires a hard political border and tension between two states. I invented a parallel world in which one of those states is the former capital city of the other, but which seceded several generations before. I conceived of the idea before the 2015 general election, when Brexit had not come into view, whilst out walking on Southborough common, soaking up the beauty of the place in the sunshine and contemplating the difference between my life in Kent and my old life in London. But if anyone were to read it now, not knowing these things, they would naturally see Brexit in it. I am comfortable with that. My world being a false creation, I can present secession without presenting a view on it, or alienating those who do come to it with their own views. 

Now I just need to redraft and get the blasted thing published.

Conclusion

It helps that I conceived of this story before Brexit, for I might not have been able to handle it so dispassionately in this atmosphere. But that only makes it more urgent that we try: feeding feuds and despising your neighbour, chewing the gristle of old grudge – this is easy, even satisfying; to reconcile requires good will and determination, which is in short supply at present. That is why Welby, and all of us who desire to reconcile, should find ways, including ans especially in writing, to seize the initiative, for otherwise we will be in the power of those who relish discord.

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