Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

May 22, 2013

Art Judges Economy, Not Vice Versa

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Art Judges Economy, Not Vice Versa
   
   

Pyramid of Capitalist SystemPart of the ideal in creating an economy is to figure out how to optimize growth and production and decrease scarcity, while at the same time distributing goods in beneficial ways. Furthermore, with the absence of tyranny, everyone would get good food, a good place to stay, access to health care, access to the lands of the country, and so forth. So any command aspects of the economy would only be to serve the greater good, as would any and all self-interest aspects.

What happens when some people, our infirm for instance, cannot participate in the machinery of the economic system? More generally, what happens with those who are unable, such that common interest collides with self interest? The idea is to return to the ideal and say that “everyone would get good food, a good place to stay, access to health care, access to the lands of the country, and so forth.” That is where the re-creation or evolution of the economic system pivots, where at all times it is in service to a representative government, an ideal that should remain what we are continuously striving to perfect, no matter how entrenched our imperfect system gets.

Those unable or less able to participate in what has been set up to benefit us all, still should participate fully in the benefits. We just have a hard time getting a system going that works like that, as we continuously compromise ourselves to the imperfect system. There is no good reason, other than some ultimate benefit to everyone, that Bill Gates should have more money and access to the good life, than any other single one of us. He may be a good person, but he is not billions of times better as a person than someone who is unable to do works such as he has done. The bottom line, as it were, is that we would value each citizen equally and fully, and to be continuously questioning how we can change our economic system such that it serves each and all of us better.

The same thing that happens with those who are either unable or less able to participate in an economic system that pivots on self interest, is what happens with those attending to the arts and spiritual aspects of life. They are either sidelined or not in the game. The strength of an economy is measured by what the bean counters can attend to. Yet art and spirituality cannot be effectively measured this way. Where is the evidence that Frida Kahlo’s paintings are worthy of anything more or other than a place on a rich person’s wall? What The Water Gave Me, by Frida KahloThere may be none, but they are far more and otherwise worthy. That our bean-counting market system makes little or less room for the theologians and artists among us, does not mean that they should not be part of the “everyone” who “would get good food, a good place to stay, access to health care, access to the lands of the country, and so forth,” or be the beneficiaries of what might be considered the charity of the more “fortunate”.

Nor does it mean that we should align with bean counters who only wonder if people would be more productive and earn more money if and how they are spiritual and enjoy which types of art. It is only one aspect of art, of Frida Kahlo’s works, that somehow they would make anyone a more productive employee. Art is not for the economy’s sake. Art is in no way in service to the market system. One of its functions is to be there to expose the economy for its faults. Who’s judging who? Art judges economy, not vice versa.

The manufacturing tycoon’s money is merely his, because the rest of us say he can have it, and only for as long as the rest of say he can have it. It may be a game of Monopoly we’ve decided to play, but Monopoly is only a game, and a person’s net value is not ultimately measured in how she plays such a game, or even her interest in it. Any money we say that the tycoon must give over to art or spirituality, that part that we say that he cannot have, is not his. That’s our money in a representative government—just as in a monarchy we would say he is rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.

We get the bean counters, who want artists and theologians to justify themselves to the economy, when their justification is to the greater citizenry, to humanity as a whole, to humanity through time, and any life or spirituality that may be transcendent of that. It is part of being human to create good art, bad art, and everything in between. It is a sick, lopsided society that, when the economy is failing, the artists and theologians are made to suffer disproportionately.

Yes, there is a case for bad art. For instance, Samina Malik, who was jailed in the UK for writing a bad poem, and then rightly let go. The creative process is so misunderstood, the political machinery in its ignorance had her incarcerated for a time.

Let’s look at another case of poetry, one that may or may not be good, depending on what you as an individual think of it. After then-poet laureate of New Jersey Amiri Baraka recited his poem Somebody Blew Up America, the state decided to no longer have a poet laureate, to completely do away with the position. The challenge to the political establishment was too great.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, BakuA benefit from art and spirituality is that they challenge the status quo of the money machine, which can lead to an industrial machine, a science machine, a technology machine, to the point of being a threat. Laws are created to prevent such threats, and artists and spiritual activists throughout time, up to and including today, are imprisoned, some tortured, and some even killed for their expressions.

Arts and humanities show us more of what it means to be human. At a basic level, an artist may simply be displaying what it is like to be another person. Culturally broader art steps outside the established modes of thinking and being, to display wider possibilities than are available in society. When it is not pointing directly to the outcomes of greed and the plight of those left outside the machinery, it can be bringing us beauty to consider, or even ugliness, other ways of seeing the world and our place in it, that are not part of the paradigm needed to produce goods and make profits.

I have news for you atheists: there may be a god. You don’t know. You have decided. That there is no room for god in commerce, is a great pull to atheism. Atheists have selected to believe that which is available within the limitations of commerce and industry. When we check out at a store, the cashier says, “Thank you” to us, not “Thank you and god bless”–heaven forbid. Or how about, “Thank you, you are loved”?

There are fully other sides to being human, than those fostered by the economy left to itself as a system, a system bent on growing and absorbing each of us. There are aspects to being human that an economy given full power would not allow us to participate in, or even hint at. Art so threatens. Spirituality brings morals and ethics that threaten. These parts of us are transcendent of the social and economic systems that we have chosen for ourselves.

We need to interject, to say that everyone gets to participate in art and spirituality, just as “everyone would get good food, a good place to stay, access to health care, access to the lands of the country, and so forth.” We are all not only above the law, but above the economy.
   

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September 10, 2006

Call 911: Beck, Armitage, & Stevie Ray Vaughn Out of the Blue

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Jeff Beck–Going Down (1983, Arms Concert NY)

 
 

If I were to say that Jeff Beck is one of the great rock and roll guitarists, thousands or millions of people would be outraged that I did not name him as the single greatest. And here is one of the great rock songs, “Going Down.” If you like this kind of music, the guitar work is extraordinary. Frankly, I am at risk of not completing this poetry blog post, because I want to play this over and over, just listening and appreciating. But, isn’t there a flaw with the song–I mean, what about the lyrics?
 

Going Down
 

Well I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground

She’s gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
She’s gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground

So I’m going down
Down, down, down, down
I’m going down, down, down, down, down
Down, down, down, down, yes I am
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the

Well I’m goin
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground
Gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
She’s gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the

Well I’m Down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground, yes I have
Well she walked out the door
And I crawled right out there

 

 

In rock and roll, to have that much singing in a song, you’d think there’d be room for something more, some more depth. These words are okay. They give a background to feature the intrumentation with. And we get it about the going down part. So okay, but, on the other hand–just okay. Yet and still, the song remains amazing, if you’re into this kind of music.

What does this have to do with poetry, and Simon Armitage? For the 5th anniversary of 9/11, Armitage has a film-poem coming out. It’s called Out Of The Blue (the link is to his blog where the poem is, and here’s more blogging about it).

I love the technical virtuosity, and his musical ear in the poem. If you like this kind of poetry, it is remarkable. A minor downside is that it reads at times like he had T.S. Eliot ambitions while writing it. That’s okay. This post ends with Jeff Beck being joined by Stevie Ray Vaughn. Unreal!!–though SRV may be the only guitarist who honestly can do a great tribute to Hendrix. So, the “tribute” aspect of Armitage’s poem is forgivable, if existent for a given reader.

Isn’t there a real flaw with the poem, though? In the Richard Brooks article, Poem for 9/11, by the laureate in waiting, in the last Sunday London Times, Armitage is quoted as saying, “I wanted to do something which was both commemorative and elegiac, but not political.”

If Armitage is going to load his character with thoughts of someone, anyone, in the Towers five years ago, why load his or her mind with section three? Here’s some of it:

Is it shameless or brash to have reached top,
just me and America
ninety floors up?

Is it brazen to feel like a king, like a God,
to be surfing the wave
of a power trip,

a fortune under each fingertip,
a billion a minute, a million a blink,
selling sand to the desert,

ice to the Arctic,
money to the rich.
The elation of trading in futures and risk.

Here I stand, a compass needle,
a sundial spindle
right at the pinnacle.

Under my feet
Manhattan’s a simple bagatelle, a pinball table,
all lights and mirrors and whistles and bells.

In an e-mail, I wrote this to him a few nights ago:

The problem is in Section 3, where your character goes into a hubris situation, but also where he has ideas that truly a normal worker wouldn’t. For instance, a salesman would not really sell ice to the Arctic per se, but would look for where there was a need a fill it. An individual worker is not concerned with millions in a blink–his next $500 commission, or Friday’s paycheck with the $120 in overtime maybe.

Your risk becomes that a legitimate read is that the poet is saying that this type of thinking in your section 3, is representative of what the thousands who died were going through. My initial read was simply that you were showing how the greatest a human society can create or has come to, can become dust in moment. I suggest making this statement some other way than by making it part of your character.

Therefore, early in the poem, that character is no longer human, but representative of something social, and what follows is a comeuppance, and legitimately a political alignment because the murderous and destructive events were human-made. Of course, I do not think you mean for this to be the case, or that you believe this, but this is how the poem can be read and so will be, and maybe, therefore, should be.

Possibly, the video production will make up for his banker/ghost saying these things or having these thoughts five-years hence. On the other hand, loading a representative character with those words might bring such a poet as Armitage down quickly, especially one commissioned as a laureate-in-waiting. Look what happened after Amiri Baraka’s Somebody Blew Up America, and Armitage’s poem is debuting on an even wider stage than Baraka’s.

We’ll see. In the mean time, I can enjoy his great riffing with the language. First, though, let me hear that Beck/Vaughn guitar duet one more time.

Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jeff Beck

 

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Commemorative 9/11 Addendum
 


 

One way to commemorate 9/11 is with a Desktop Theme called “In Memory Sep 11” by Ingalill Colbell at Themes You Have Never Seen Before (Page 5).

And by the way, I organize my themes using Desktop Architect.

 

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