“Today, I hold fast to all tenets of mistrust…”

The novelist Howard Jacobson on the virtues of art and literature over politics and politicians…

It doesn’t follow from what I say that we should hand over the reins of political power to artists. They wouldn’t make a better job of it. But we would all make a better job of thinking about politics – indeed of thinking about anything – if we refused that daisy-chain of affiliation which the ideological hang around our necks, with the promise that we’ll never again have to make a decision of our own. Only believe “a” and it will follow as night follows day that we will believe “b”, and so on through the corrupt alphabet of the doctrinaire, as though a single code can crack the mystery of life, and we can purchase every article of faith we need – anti-colonialism, anti-monarchism, environmentalism, ecofeminism, anti-capitalism, anti-Zionism, libertarianism, vegetarianism, absurdism – for the price of one.

Our beliefs should come as a surprise to us, and a shock to one another, just as Anna Karenina’s humanity came as a surprise to Leo Tolstoy and his principles of ascetic renunciation based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Otherwise we are no better than those historians who went on hymning the praises of the Soviet Union in the face of the show trials and the gulags and assassinations, because their systems of thought wouldn’t permit them to do otherwise.

They are the dead men, who peg out their postulates on a single line, and cannot start again each day, noting the flowers individually, finding beauty in what will not cohere, and giving thanks for everything that makes a fool of their convictions. [added emphasis]

Just saying…

But read the whole thing.

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  • Robin Keogh

    What a waste of space !

  • Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?

  • Robin Keogh

    Just as you are are likely to say that.what utter nonsense, as if there weren’t enough pressing issues to discuss…good grief !

  • Zeno

    “It doesn’t follow from what I say that we should hand over the reins of political power to artists.”

    I’d say Actors would be better. The ones we have are very poor actors but imagine having the cast of House of Cards running Northern Ireland.

  • Zig70

    Didn’t Warhol or Dali have an agenda?

  • Self-promotion.

  • david crookes

    Thanks a lot, Pete. A refreshing act of war against the Pod People.

  • Gopher

    Hitler was an artist, so to Julius Streicher, Geobbels fancied himself as an author. Goering collected/stole art as did Napoleon who loved nothing better than to get painted. Churchill dabbled with brushes, not sure that is being an artist per se, Blair was a failed musician, Nero a thespian. Louis XIV and Freddy the Great obsession with the arts and *enlightenment* did not stop them being ruthless singleminded expansionists. Whilst I agree with the general thrust dogma is bad and it is healthier to use democracy in a more practical manner than vote like a sheep, I just dont believe artists/writers/musicians are any less single minded because they are involved in the arts hence you get “schools”, “genres” and the various musical categories which the more cynical amongst us would suggest humans only stray from if they believe its better for them. Which might actually be part of the point he is making. An interesting read none the less, the referencing of Tolstoy ensured I read it to the end

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Some of you are missing the point entirely. That point is that we should continuallly be looking at things (and ourselves) differently. “Our beliefs should come as a surprise to us”

    The fact that we in wee Norn Iron recoil from doing that says a lot about the state we’re in.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Dabblers, wannabes, patrons and … um “failed musicians” are not really artists. Funnily, that’s why they made their careers elsewhere.

  • Gopher

    Really? Your deciding what is art which is kinda *my* point. How good an artist is probably only gauged by what individuals are prepared to pay for their work. The fact that they fail does not negate the fact they seen themselves as artists or cloaked themselves as guardians of culture. Which incidently is why I object to my money being taken from me through taxes to let some overpaid quango decide what is art.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    “your deciding” (sic)? “(T)he fact they seen” (sic). I object to my money being paid for your education or lack of.

  • Reader

    So how would you reform the education system to make better use of your money?
    And would your education system qualify everyone to assess people as either ‘artists’ or ‘not-artists’; or is that a judgement best left to the self-appointed?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Huh? It’s not a question of educational reform. It’s a question of seeing things differently.
    As for who discriminates between the artist and the mediocre or the charlatan, well that’s a democracy of taste.
    As a general rule of thumb when a work requires us to see the world from an entirely new perspective or exposes an aspect of humanity hitherto unconsidered then we kinda recognise it for what it is.

  • Reader

    A work like “On the origin of species”?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    A fully researched tome that has provoked endless debate and outrage. Inspiring stuff, just like works of art

  • Reader

    So it passes as art by your rule of thumb, doesn’t it?