Active resistance to propaganda
Saturday May 12, 2007
We shall begin with a search for art, show that art gives culture and that culture is the antidote to propaganda.
We must find out; go in search of her. But wait! Who is this with fire-cracking smouldering pigtails, gold teeth and a brace of flintlocks in his belt? He is a pirate. And what does his T-shirt say? I love crap. (Pirate hands Vivienne Westwood an Hawaiian garland of plastic flowers.)
Pirate: "Leave everything to me. I plunder for you. Stick with me and you might get a share of the bounty. My name is Progress."
But you have stolen imagination. There is hardly anyone left now who believes in a better world. What is the future of unlimited profit in a finite world?
Pirate Progress: "I like you artistic lot. But, trust me or not, I'll take you with me if I go down. We'll all burn together." (Film clip, close up: the pigtails burst into flames and with a "Ha-haagh!" the pirate disappears in a pall of smoke followed by black night.)
(Still dark) He is not Progress. He must have stolen the name. (The defiant face of Pirate Progress appears and disappears like the Cheshire Cat. Light returns). True progress, as the Greeks thought of it is without limit. How can things get better and better if there is a limit?
Beautiful Slavegirl: "Everything must have an end. And to progress or advance in any way you must know where you are going. An end cannot be something you choose for the sake of something else. For example, money is not an end but a means to an end. And for this reason, I shall be set free.
"I am so happy! I am the famous Rhodopis (Rosycheeks). My master made a fortune from selling my body but now my lover will pay a vast ransom, even more than my future earnings could be. Oh, Liberty! I thought you were my end, but now, I see you are just a beginning. Can I be happy when the other slaves don't have a beginning? The only true End must be Happiness - but not just for one person. I see now that progress can be an end without limit for there is always a better way of living. And though we may progress towards greater happiness, as an end it will always escape us, and a good thing too, because if we ever reach Paradise we'll all be dead."
Child Slaveboy: "A slave is not a person but a thing. A thing can be something like a car, or a hammer, as well as a slave. Soul-destroying, to put it in a nutshell. But my mother told me how to survive. I must try to understand the world and that way I don't lose my soul, I know who I am. When she said, goodbye, she said, 'Love Liberty, but forget the key, for the key turns only once. I love you.'"
Alice: "She was your mirror. Her love showed you Yourself. She believed in you."
- A work of art may show us ourself - who we are and our place in the world. It is a mirror which imitates life.
Alice: "Those round convex mirrors are very good - you see a lot, but concentrated down - you see big and small at the same time - you need to fit all the things into a microcosm but it has to reflect as well," and turning to the Art Lovers, "I was just explaining this to Pinocchio".
Pinocchio: "Now that I have become a boy, I want to be a freedom-fighter."
- Action! Nothing is possible without art. Come with us. To find if Art is alive, we must first know who she is. To the Lyceum!
Alice - to Pinocchio: "We are going to see Aristotle. His analysis of Greek tragedy is such an objective breakdown that it serves to define art in general and in all its forms - what it is and what it isn't," then finding themselves alone, "We must go back and find the others".
Pinocchio: "There's a bloke here who lives in a barrel."
Diogenes: "I shit and wank in front of people in the street like a dog: I am the Cynic. The Great Alexander made a point of coming to see me and asked if he could do me a favour. Nobody's better than me. I told him to step out of my light. I am famous because I've got the balls to do what I want. And I don't want much."
Pinocchio: "Cool, I've found art! I could be Diogenes II. I'll call myself a piss artist and make lots of money."
- Come on children. Alice we're waiting for you to introduce us to Aristotle. And Pinocchio, you're just being silly. Though Diogenes is obsessed by himself he doesn't believe in anything, let alone himself. That's why he's a cynic. This self-promotion, and doing what you want is a sham philosophy of life. No, no, it's not self-indulgence but self-discipline that makes the individual. And you, especially, need self-discipline if you're going to be a freedom-fighter.
Pinocchio: "You are right. Diogenes seemed kind of happy, but he's a poser. Too boring, I couldn't keep it up. Ha, ha, keep it up! I could sell canned sperm. Great marketing opportunities."
Alice (sarcastic): "Oh how lewd!"
Aristotle, a Greek gentleman, impeccably dressed, - in contrast to Diogenes - stands centre stage. Alice moves to his side.
Alice: "Aristotle refers to the writer of tragedy as 'the poet'. Greek tragedy was expressed in verse but this is not the important thing. What defines the poet is that he is an imitator - just like a painter or any other maker of images. If a historian were to write up his whole history in verse this would not make him a poet; for he tells of things that have happened in real life and this is not imitation. Imitation is the work of the imagination. The poet's role is to tell of things that might happen, things that are possible. Aristotle adds that the poet may imitate life not as it is, but as it ought to be.
"The way Aristotle describes tragedy is very much the idea of taking the microcosm and fitting things into it."
Aristotle: "For tragedy is not an imitation of individual men but of actions and of life. It is in action that happiness and unhappiness are found, and the end we aim at is a kind of activity, not a quality; in accordance with their characters men are of such and such a quality, in accordance with their actions they are fortunate or the reverse. Consequently, it is not for the purpose of presenting their characters that the agents engage in action, but rather it is for the sake of their actions that they take on the characters they have. Thus, what happens - that is, the plot - is the end for which a tragedy exists, and the end or purpose is the most important thing of all."
Alice: "Dear Aristotle thank you for stating the links between character, action and fortune. I remember you once said that character is a person's habit of moral choice. But please now tell us what you mean when you describe a work of imitation - in this case tragedy - as 'the Whole'."
Aristotle: "The events which are the parts of the plot must be so organised that if any of them is displaced or taken away, the whole will be shaken and put out of joint; for if the presence or absence of a thing makes no discernible difference, that thing is not part of the whole." (Aristotle retires)
Alice: "That's how I feel about Velasquez. That exhibition was the most powerful thing I've ever seen; yet his work is so minimal and reduced. The people in the paintings were so real that I sometime thought they weren't there, especially in the split second before you turned to look again. - The paint was so thin! I was so stunned, I just wanted to melt into a pool on the floor."
- One can begin to grasp something of the obsession people have had with the idea of the circle as a perfect form. A work of art then, is an imitation reduced to its essentials, thereby forming a whole - as in a microcosm.
Thus art gives objectivity - a perspective, an overview. We define objectivity as seeing things as they are.
Real life is not objective - we can never get the complete picture. It is chaotic and continuous - a jumble of particulars in which events are engulfed in the flux of circumstance. How can the artist be objective when he, himself is part of the change? He needs a fixed fact to stand on - a standard, a measure, a model.
Alice: "Tell me all about it! If there is nothing fixed in the world then you find yourself in Wonderland where everything changes - including yourself. - And you try to play a game of croquet with a flamingo for a mallet and the ball is a hedgehog who runs away.'
- A hedgehog must understand the world from a hedgehog point of view, and we must understand it from a human point of view.
We do have a fixed standard - timeless, universal, recognizable. We refer to it as Representative Human Nature (RHN). It is the key to this manifesto:
You or I - as individuals - we change. But there is something typical about us which does not change. When we say, "Man is the measure of all things", we mean the unchanging part: Man, both in his general nature and according to his various types: this is RHN.
Aristotle takes this for granted when he says: "In accordance with their character men are of such and such a quality ... it is for the sake of their actions that the actors take on the characters they have." He also says that the best characters in a play are people with whom we can empathise - 'someone like ourselves'.
For example, Chaucer's characters are as alive to us today as when he first invented them: Timeless - outside of time, they speak to us of the human genius - what it is to be human. Each detail illuminates the type and is what we call the universal in the particular - "someone like ourselves".
We are not saying that art has to be confined to the direct portrayal of human beings: We do say that art must be representational - for it is in imitation that objectivity lies. In practice, through his medium of RHN the artist gains direct imaginative insight into the general nature of things; his view extends from the model.
Consider the Chinese master, the painter of bamboo: we have a shared object - the non-ego, RHN. And he reaches out beyond the model and grasps the very cypher and nature of bamboo. And we see through his eyes, his own particular poem of life.
Consider the divine music of Bach: Bach is pure objectivity, the most representative of men because the least egotistical in front of his talent.
Music has not yet been conceptualised by the art mafia, though they are trying. We do not accept a symphony composed on the remaining three keys of a broken piano, accompanied by the random throwing of marbles at a urinal. Yet its equivalent is the latest thing in the visual arts. (Aren'tya OD'd on the latest thing?) Items selected from real life and set up as art do not represent a view of life. The famous urinal is still a urinal whatever you do with it. (OK! Visual semantics and presentation skills - not art, not a musical instrument.) It is imitation that reveals the whole view.
And abstract art? An abstract that represents no object! And revels in subjectivity. Academic, it's all in the mind - the painter's mind. Unfortunately we are not all mind readers, and the work gives us no clue. He may think he's discovered the secret of the universe! He will take it to his grave. There is no common ground on which artist and art lover can come together, because there is no objectivity - no control of the imagination.
Alice: "Oh hello, Mr. White Rabbit! Please stop a moment! The artist has just produced a giant hole in the wall. Perhaps he thought it was a 'Whole'. I'm sure you have an interesting observation on holes."
White Rabbit: 'Negative,' (rushing off).
Artist's Agent: 'Superb intellectual irony. Right on!'
Mad Hatter: "What do you mean, we're not mind readers? We've all got a hole in the head and we can fill it with whatever 'Whole' we want." (changes price-tag on hat from 10/6d to £10m)
Pinocchio: "I'm going to be a real painter and a freedom fighter. I've been drawing in secret. To see the world as it ought to be - that can't be bad for a freedom-fighter. Hard work though."
Talking Cricket: "Pinocchio, you know that there are two sides to people, the donkey and the boy - the self who wants to live in Toyland versus the self who wants to grow up. It is the inner struggle between doing what you want and being true to your Best Self, that humanise a puppet."
Pinocchio: "Dear little Cricket, I still get around - have a laugh! But, yeah this inner voice is always having a go, 'Pinocchio, don't be an arsehole! I am your human genius. Listen to me!'"
- Pinocchio, the whole future of art is at stake and depends on you and others controlling your imagination and listening to your best self - your human genius.
Imagination is the driving force in human nature. But it is likely to run wild and escape into the chaos of endless desire, unfulfilled longing and alienation.
Pinocchio: "Alienation! Hell! Those donkey's ears. What a terrible price to pay. Poor Candlewick!" (Pinocchio's friend in Toyland, who became a donkey and was worked to death by a cruel master.)
- The way we control the imagination is through the imagination itself - or rather, through its 'best self' - the ethical part.
The Ethical Imagination is an inner check, which prefers to see things as they are. It questions art: is it probable? possible? Could it be otherwise?
- The classicists of the seventeenth century objected to Corneille's play, Le Cid, that it was not possible - because not normal or "natural", that the heroine might be allowed to marry her father's murderer, that this was bizarre, extreme and therefore unethical. This would seem a clear example for criticism to decide, yet it provoked a battle of opinion.
There are no rules - each person must decide. (Yet we are not completely at sea, we have a reference in RHN).
To the great artist the ethical imagination is absolute, he never ceases to explore and cultivate it. To the art lover, we possess it in differing degrees, all may cultivate it. It is intuitive, you get at the truth through insight and you get better at it with practice, through comparison - between works of art and with real life. You need the stamina of a lifetime.
In general: the true artist is always true to his art; the impostor is self-conscious, demonstrating his idea, projecting his theory, his ego, and e.g. the figures of the painter are not borrowed ideas who demonstrate themselves talking, dying, dreaming - they do it. They are of themselves and they LIVE! - and the flowers are not showing us how pretty they are, or how weird - they are what they are - Etc.! No invention for the sake of invention! Invention must serve the purpose of art.
Art is alive to the extent that we control our imagination; we miss everything if we let it run wild. The aim of art is objectivity - she comes to life when we are objective - when we see her as she is. Without judges there is no art.
Neither is there culture, - for art gives culture - because objectivity in art is a centralising and unifying experience:
1. The artist, taking RHN as his model presents an imitation of life. We aspire to the image. The image may be beautiful or ugly. We see our human face and we ask - could it be otherwise?
2. Thus RHN is the authority on which culture rests. Culture must rest on something abiding, an authority, a belief. But our authority is not the dogma of outer authority (no need for God to supply social cement or fill the spiritual vacuum) but the authority of a consensus, - of shared experience.
3. Through culture we are moving towards a centre which is infinite. It is more human, and alive and open to improvement, because it is dependent on the private judgement of every one of us - which is our third factor, the inner check - the ethical imagination.
We define culture as: The exploration and cultivation of humanity through art.
Points still to be made.
1) Whistler: The artist has no responsibility but to his work. There is no Progress in Art.
2) Symposium on Culture - nobody knows what it is.
3) Culture will overcome Propaganda, the nature of Propaganda.
4) We discover Progress.
End of the journey.
· Italics are author's own