Jack Ross, ed.: brief 30 - Kunst (November 2004)
WARUM die KUNST?
Why do Nazis
get all the best lines?
ARBEIT MACHT FREI
Satan hath made thee mighty glib
• When I hear the word
I reach for my revolver
• I came here to chew gum
& kick ass
& I’m … plumb out of gum
• We had to destroy the village
to save it
Shock and Awe
Gulf War II (2004)
“.. for the more experimental or highbrow
you’d turn to Landfall and Sport
or, farther out, Brief.”
– Harry Ricketts, “Poetry is on the menu.” NZ Listener (July 3, 2004) 60.
Warum die Kunst? Why Art?
I adore going to the movies on Queen Street. In the Force Entertainment Centre, with its huge blank Imax screen, we’ve made ourselves a little hell on earth – chrome-plated, labyrinthine, full of clumsy and inappropriate décor: space-rocket lifts, marbled-glass walkways, plastic vomit-coloured tentacles clinging to the walls …
Everything’s on sale there: fast food in the foodcourt, entertainment on the screens and games machines, books and mags and cds and dvds in Borders, clothes in Tommy-gun … I feel alienated by it and excited by it at the same time. Even now, after years of wandering around there, I can still get lost. I suppose that’s why I like it.
Or, rather, that’s why it seems so appropriate to me.
I’d just been to see that documentary The Corporation when I started to jot these lines down in my notebook. Corporations, it appears, are defined as legal beings under the fourteenth amendment to the US constitution. Not only are they alive, they have all the rights of humans and citizens. The fact that they’re (potentially) immortal doesn’t alter this one jot – in law, at any rate.
But what sort of human beings are they? Psychopaths, we’re told: without remorse, without a sense of guilt, ferociously acquisitive and aggressive … the film plugs its central metaphor remorselessly and persuasively.
Why Art, then? What’s the point, when the planet’s so urgently threatened by forces of destruction? Why not politics, activism, street theatre, propaganda, instead? Why not give up this vain pursuit of the aesthetic phenomenon (memorably defined by Jorge Luis Borges as “a revelation which does not occur”)?
I suppose one answer is the way I felt when I watched, in the film, the forces of solidarity at work in Bolivia, resisting the privatisation of the water supply. There they all were, men, women and children, united in a common cause, gathering in great numbers in the central square, cheering the leader’s words, suffering under the batons of the oppressor … It was moving, inspiring, effective even (ultimately, at any rate).
But what I was looking at was that man with the megaphone at the front of the crowd. Somehow there’s always someone with a megaphone leading the chant, and there’s an inner ring around them who are in the know – they’re the ones who planned the whole event, handed out the leaflets, got the show on the road. They’re too busy to talk to you, of course, but they’re tireless in the cause. We need them to be there – no doubt about that. The “spontaneous demonstration” is a bit of a mythical beast, I’m afraid.
But what if you don’t want to cheer and wave your arms up and down? What if you have reservations, scruples, delicate adjustments you’d like to make to the programme? The crowd-beast is no more responsive to such matters than the corporations it opposes. They’re worthy adversaries, in fact – mirror-images, one might say.
Why Art, then? Because Art is individual. Because it’s the voice of the awkward squad who won’t keep in step. Because it rakes up inconvenient facts that don’t fit the collective solution. Because it’s forced to see both sides of the question. Because it acts hastily and takes long views. Because it will listen to anyone – coward, hero, liberal, reactionary – any time. Because it’s got room for Céline as well as Camus, Pound as well as Henry James, Britney as well as Bob Dylan.
When it comes to getting people out of jail or changing laws, Art’s not generally much use (the examples most frequently cited: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle, The Grapes of Wrath – are exceptions that prove the rule: different shades on the spectrum between propaganda and literature). Art is more about learning to be human than achieving partial ends.
So, all in all, I’m not ashamed of wasting my time on our arty little magazine. Whether what’s printed in it is any good, or has any effect on those who read it, is much more to the point. All I can say is that it’s encouraging to be told we’re “farther out” than all the others.
I’ve tried to find a place for the best of the myriad contributions which have come in over the past six months; I’ve tried to review (or at least notice) most of the books which have come down the mail-chute; I’ve tried to keep my eyes on the prize and my nose to the grindstone … but it is a long time since issue #29, you know (some of you have been kind enough to remind me of the fact). Profuse apologies for any omissions, then – it wasn’t a carefully meditated insult directed specifically at you, however probable that may seem in your darker moments.
Mexicans call the Pacific a warm place that has no memory (or so says Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption). Sounds like bliss. Sounds like a myth. Those of you who think we still need memories, read on …