September 27, 2003 18:35 | Confession / Culture / Features / WebBlogging

"To hell with culture"

To Hell with Culture
Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968).
Leading poet, publisher, educational theorist and social reformer, who was one of the most influential art critics of the twentieth century.

Having only read the introduction thus far, I wish to share with you some excerpts of it which I find highly relevant today, in the context of the cultural phenomena we are observing with the advent of weblogging et al, and the political ideas which have begun to float because them, "Emergent Democracy" chief among them. I also am personally fascinated by the roles of the artist, personal freedom and social expression.

Ever since democracy became a clear political conception in the city-state of Athens, democratic philosophers have been faced with with the anomaly of the artist. It has seemed to them that the artist, by his very nature, cannot be accommodated within the structure of an egalitarian community. He is inevitably a social misfit, ...
... a democracy would be right to resent the presence of such individuals in its midst, for democracy starts from the proposition that all men are equal ...
Society expects something more than self-expression from its artists... /.../ It gets something that might be called life-expression. /.../ ... the life which is expressed in great art, is precisely the life of the community, the organic group consciousness. It is the artist's business to make the group aware of its unity, its community. /.../ ... he is the man who mediates between our individual consciousness and the collective consciousness, and thus ensures social re-integration. It is only in the degree that this mediation is successful that a true democracy is possible.
Read explains here that part of the artistic/poetic process is escapism, retreat from "the group" in order for the expression to be realized. He states that the poet demands a society in which tranquility and withdrawal is a natural right, that the modern world has "invaded (the artist's) home of quiet, invaded it with cares and rumours, insistent politics and totalitarian wars".
The changes promised by the existing political parties have no appeal to the poet. They do not guarantee his solitude. They all imply a more exacting social contract, a more complete surrender of individual liberty: surrender to the state, surrender to mass opinions and mass standards.
And here comes the coup de grace:
... the direction must be reversed—political power must be distributed and broken down into human, tangible units.