Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Off the Leash

“[A]rt has broken its elitist leash to inspire collective purpose”, reads the strap-line for Madeleine Bunting’s latest Jacobinical scribble [1], in the midst whereof she rejoices to tell us that,
[T]here has been a democratisation of culture. The appetite for the drama, shock, delight, intrigue and sheer bewilderment which the visual arts so abundantly provide is growing apace. Perhaps it reflects the increasingly well-educated country in which everyone is steeped in a sophisticated visual literacy — on television, on the internet and in advertising. [2]
It must be a funny kind of “sophisticated visual literacy” that leaves one shocked and bewildered, and the suggestion that Britain is becoming an “increasingly well-educated country” strikes me as nothing but the delusion of a purblind ideologue. Still, she is right to say that there has been a democratisation of culture, though I cannot find anything to celebrate in this fact; for the anti-elitist doctrines of accessibility and inclusiveness are the democratic acids by which culture is being corroded. As Richard Weaver pointed out:
The questioning of apartness, the suspicion of difference, the distrust of distinction, the jealousy about allowing privacy—these are all features of a modern mentality which, often without even knowing what it is doing, may put an end to what has always been the source of culture—a particular kind of development in response to particular values. Thus the plight of the individual is reenacted on a larger scale. Not only is the single human individual being pushed toward conformity, but the individual group or culture is met with the same demand to go along, to become more like the generality, and so give up character. [3]
This is the spirit of destruction to which Sylvain Maréchal gave expression during the French Revolution: “Let all the arts perish, if need be, as long as real equality remains!” [4]
[1] Madeleine Bunting, “Culture, not politics, is now the heart of our public realm”, The Guardian, 3rd October 2003.
[2] Ibid.
[3] R.M. Weaver, “Reflections of Modernity”, Speeches of the Year, Pamphlet, (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1961), reprinted in In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, ed. by T.J. Smith III (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), p.113.
[4] Sylvain Maréchal, Manifesto of the Equals (1796), tr. M. Abidor, from Buonarroti, La Conspiration pour l'Égalité, (Paris: Editions Sociales, 1957), published online at Marxists.org.


dearieme said...

We used to take the Grdnaiau but gave it up, lest madness be catching.

Anonymous said...

Lacking both your and Mr. Weaver's elegance of language, I have, over at my place, just put the boot in to some silly sod who thinks he's a poet.

Further to 'Dearieme's' comment above, I suspect he's a Grdnaiau reader.

Deogolwulf said...

Mr Duff,

I am yet to miss one of your adventures.

dearieme said...

We wandered, Mr Duff. When we left the land of the Scotsman, we tried too The Indie and The Times: we've settled on the Telegraph. More chance there of a sense of proportion; more chance of a recognition of the incongruity of things. Plus a cartoonist of the highest quality.

Anonymous said...

I have never knowingly read The Independent, and I like to think that I would have noticed if, inadvertantly, I had!

My main reason is the slippery nature of its title, the term 'independent', particularly in a newspaper, being open to the sort of philosophical ruminations and doubts expressed so elegantly and perceptively by our host in other contexts.

(Christ! I could get used to this way of writing!)