Monday, December 20, 2010

Liberals – Art part III 109

If someone were to tell me that it lay in my power to write a novel explaining every social question from a particular viewpoint that I believed to be the correct one, I still wouldn’t spend two hours on it. But if I were told that what I am writing will be read in twenty years time by the children of today, and that those children will laugh, weep, and learn to love life as they read, why then I would devote the whole of my life and energy to it.
Leo Tolstoy
An Argument: Propaganda Is a Useful and Powerful Tool for the Artist

Writing about the tough issue of art versus propaganda from a Christian viewpoint, Philip Yancey of Christianity Today wrote:

Counterbalancing the literary tug away from propaganda, many evangelicals exert, an insidious tug away from art. They would react to Tolstoy’s statement with disbelief -- to choose a novel that entertains and fosters a love for life over a treatise that solves every social (or, better, religious) question of humankind! How can a person “waste” time with mere aesthetics -- soothing music, pleasing art, entertaining literature -- when injustice rules the nations and the decadent world marches ineluctably to destruction? Is this not fiddling while Rome burns? Currently, novels written by evangelicals tend toward the propagandistic (even to the extent of fictionalizing Bible stories and foretelling the Second Coming) and away from the artful.
Somewhere in this magnetic field between art and propaganda the Christian author (or painter or musician) works. One force tempts us to lower artistic standards and preach an unadorned message; another tempts us to submerge or even alter the message for the sake of artistic sensibilities. Having lived in the midst of this tension for over a decade, I have come to recognize it as a healthy synthesizing tension that should be affirmed. Success often lies within the extremes: an author may succeed in the evangelical world by erring on the side of propaganda. But ever so slowly, the fissure between the Christian and secular worlds will yawn wider. If we continue tilting toward propaganda, we will soon find ourselves writing and selling books to ourselves alone. On the other hand, the Christian author cannot simply absorb the literary standards of the larger world. Our ultimate goal cannot be a self-expression, but rather a God-expression.
So, the author states that propaganda is acceptable when it serves theology. This must be the attitude taken by J.R.R. Tolkien when he wrote his ring cycle about Middle Earth. His Catholic message was that the world is stratified and that such organization is Good and ordained (see The Gospel According To Tolkien by Ralph C. Wood and reviews of that book).

I think we can call those whose “ultimate goal cannot be a self-expression, but rather a God-expression” conservative propagandists. Ultimately art can be propaganda for God in this view.

The progressive or modern liberal view is obviously the complement to this. Art that is propaganda for redistribution or social justice or a dictatorship of the proletariat is good and proper because of the greater good that is served. There are even strains of philosophical feminism and deconstructionism that declare that all art is produced in a mind war between classes or philosophies and that critical analysis is merely the uncovering of which master is being favored by the propaganda under a specific work of art.

Listening to wordless apolitical instrumental music? That is so lacking in point, such an obvious waste of time, that the listener has deluded himself by giving himself over to schlock! And that, dear blog readers, is why the leftist musicologists can't stand boogie-woogie or Henry Mancini themes or John Barry soundtracks. They are not fond of Les Baxter, Percy Faith, Hugo Winterhalter, Max Steiner, or Angelo Badalamenti, either. These are selfish fools who seek to lull the bourgeoisie with pleasant tunes that accept the status quo and waste the life force that should be dedicated to the inevitable progress and success of the vision of a progressive utopia! Therefore they are the enemy.

I am going to posit that by starting with instrumental music (what the English call “light music”), I started with an excellent leading indicator for this fight. There is even a “Light Music Society” out of Lancashire that has a quarterly newsletter. The society and its newsletter are quite aware that modern orchestras denounce tuneful and melodic music and wish for its demise.

Alternative Argument: Art Must Always Be Divorced from Propaganda

This argument proceeds straight from classical Greek mythology.

An artist wishes to entertain us with his talents. These come from inspiration. There are nine Muses available. Unlike most of the Olympian Gods and Goddesses, the Muses actually like us and want to inspire us. The most efficient way to conjure them is probably by practice (at the piano keyboard or guitar or at the painter's easel, for example). If we are very dedicated to perfecting our art, they will gather around us and talk to each other about us.

Now slow down, take a break, brew some herbal tea, do some breathing exercises and clear your minds. What I'm about to tell you is profoundly important. It is also a frighteningly wise insight. Ready?

The Muses are the daughters of MEMORY (Mnemosyne) and POWER (Zeus). They are attracted by the efforts of artists to achieve excellence. They gather around such artists and talk to each other.

But we mortal humans do not understand their language. Instead, we hear music; for “music” is “the language of the Muses.”

A modern Homer would say to us that the attack on tuneful instrumental music is an attack on Mnemosyne, a fight picked in order to cripple MEMORY itself. And replace it with propaganda.

In ancient Greece, an artist able to conjure the Muses does not serve the Olympian Gods nor an ideology. Instead, the ultimate artistic achievement is to heal the audience through art by inducing catharsis in that audience, a miracle that proceeds individually, attendee by attendee.

Catharsis is the center of Greek civilization and Greek thought. It is also the topic of a missing lecture by Aristotle. We know this lecture was given because surviving student notes refer to it in other lectures of Aristotle. But the actual lecture on catharsis is missing.*

Concluding Analogy: Communists and Surrealists

In 1922 the surrealist movement, headquartered in Paris, correctly intuited that the Fascist movement of Italy would grow and encompass other European countries as it developed a virtual religion of war. The surrealists offered to become allies of the communists, with whom they met.

The communists, in one of their rare and astonishing fits of intellectual honesty, declined the partnership. The reasoning was that the surrealists emphasized the individual mind and imagination. But communism sought to re-engineer human thought and emotion to a paradise of social thought and perfect redistribution. The communists found the surrealist model incompatible.

Therefore, I project that modern leftists (and theocrats as well!) will reject art that is inspired by the Muses, that seeks to demonstrate excellence, that strives for the ultimate artistic goal of catharsis (which is a painful healing, not a utopia!). For decades both left and right have been screening and starving them out of western universities, as we shall see from further postings.

= = = = = = = = = =

*Aristotle's lecture on catharsis has been reconstructed by a modern seeker. The reconstruction was based on individual experience, followed by ruthless research into the mechanics of the cathartic event. This discovery has been given as a lecture but has not been published anywhere as of 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment