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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December 19, 2006

Adonis: ‘We, in Arab society, do not understand the meaning of freedom’

   

Duration 4:40

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This is from The Middle East Media Research Institute: Special Dispatch Series, No. 1393

The video above is better viewed on the MEMRI site from here:

MEMRI TV Clip 1335

Below is the transcript translated into English by MEMRI.

   

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Renowned Syrian Poet ‘Adonis’: ‘We, In Arab Society, Do Not Understand The Meaning Of Freedom’

The poet Ali Ahmad Sa’id (b. 1930), known by his pseudonym “Adonis,” a 2005 candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, left his native Syria for Lebanon in the 1950s following six months’ imprisonment for political activity. In 1973, he received his Ph.D. from St. JosephUniversity in Beirut; in 1985, he settled in Paris, where he now works as a writer and literary critic. Among other occupations, he has edited the modernist magazine Mawaqif (Viewpoints), and translated some of the great French poets into Arabic. The following are excerpts from interviews with Adonis, which aired on ANB TV on November 26, 2006 and on Dubai TV on March 11, 2006.

November 26, 2006 Interview

to view this clip: MEMRI TV Clip 1335

Adonis: “The difference between Europe and the Islamic world is in quality, not in degree. What I mean is that the Christian view of the world is not political, but humanistic. It is human beings who are the basis for politics.

“A Christian has great liberty to separate his religious faith from his political activity. The mistake committed by the Church in the Middle Ages was rectified–obviously after a struggle and violent revolutions–and political rule was entirely separated from politics . . .”

Interviewer: “From religion . . .”

Adonis: “From religion, sorry. In our case, political rule was based . . . Ever since the struggle over who would inherit Prophet Muhammad’s place, political rule was essentially based on religion.”

Interviewer: “But there were great revolutions in the Arab and Islamic world. Take, for example, the ideology of Arab nationalism. This ideology may be connected with Islamic culture, but it is still a man-made ideology.”

Adonis: “But the ideology of Arab nationalism, in all its forms, is a religious ideology, in the sense that it has never raised any cardinal question concerning religion.”

[. . .]

“The Arabs have managed to turn democracy or the revolution into a dynastic or monarchic regime, which is handed down. Most Arab regimes are monarchic regimes, one way or another.”

Interviewer: “Including the republics . . .”

Adonis: “Especially the republics. In my opinion, while it is true that colonialism has played a role, and the wars with Israel have played a role, the greatest responsibility is, nevertheless, on us Arabs.”

[. . .]

“The Arab individual does not elect from among people of different opinions who represent different currents. The Arab is accustomed to voting according to pre-determined concepts. Whoever represents this pre-determined concept . . . The nationalist will vote for a nationalist, and the communist will vote for a communist. These are all types of religious sects. The tribal and sectarian structure has not disintegrated, and has not melted down into the new structure of democracy and the democratic option.”

[. . .]

“There can be no living culture in the world if you cannot criticize its foundations–the religion.

“We lack the courage to ask any question about any religious issue.

“For example, as a Muslim, I cannot say a single word about the Prophet Moses.

“The Prophet Moses did not say anything to me as a Muslim, whereas the Israeli Jew can criticize Moses and all the prophets in the Torah, and he can even question the divinity of the Torah.”

[. . .]

“We, in Arab society, do not understand the meaning of freedom. We say that freedom means writing an article. Freedom is much deeper than that.”

Interviewer: “Even writing an article is not possible.”

Adonis: “True. Arab society is based on many types of invisible slavery, and the ideology and political rule conceal them with worthless slogans and political discourse. The underlying structure of Arab societies is a structure of slavery, not of liberty.”

   

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March 11, 2006 Interview

to view this clip: MEMRI TV Clip 1076

Adonis: “Words are treated as a crime today. Throughout history, there has never been anything similar to what’s happening today in our Arab society–when you say a word, it is like committing a crime.”

Interviewer: “True.”

Adonis: “Words and opinions are treated as a crime. This is inconceivable.”

Interviewer: “You can be arrested for writing an article.”

Adonis: “That’s one example.”

[. . .]

“In the Koran itself, it says that Allah listened to his first enemy, Satan, and Satan refused to obey him. I believe that Allah was capable of wiping out Satan, yet He listened to Satan’s refusal to obey Him.

“At the very least, we demand that Muslims today listen to people with different opinions.”

[. . .]

Interviewer: “How do you view the plan for democracy, the ‘Greater Middle East’ plan?”

Adonis: “First of all, I oppose any external intervention in Arab affairs. If the Arabs are so inept that they cannot be democratic by themselves, they can never be democratic through the intervention of others.

“If we want to be democratic, we must be so by ourselves. But the preconditions for democracy do not exist in Arab society, and cannot exist unless religion is reexamined in a new and accurate way, and unless religion becomes a personal and spiritual experience, which must be respected.

“On the other hand, all issues pertaining to civil and human affairs must be left up to the law and to the people themselves.”

Interviewer: “Mr. Adonis, how do you view the democracy in Palestine, which brought Hamas to power?”

Adonis: “I support it, but I oppose the establishment of any state on the basis of religion, even if it’s done by Hamas.”

Interviewer: “Even if it liberates Palestine?”

Adonis: “Yes, because in such a case, it would be my duty to fight this religious state.”

[. . .]

Interviewer: “What are the reasons for growing glorification of dictatorships–sometimes in the name of pan-Arabism, and other times in the name of rejecting foreigners? The glorification comes even from the elites, as can be seen, for example, in the Saddam Hussein trial, and in all the people who support him.”

Adonis: “This phenomenon is very dangerous, and I believe it has to do with the concept of ‘oneness,’ which is reflected–in practical or political terms–in the concept of the hero, the savior, or the leader. This concept offers an inner sense of security to people who are afraid of freedom. Some human beings are afraid of freedom.”

Interviewer: “Because it is synonymous with anarchy?”

Adonis: “No, because being free is a great burden. It is by no means easy.”

Interviewer: “You’ve got to have a boss . . .”

Adonis: “When you are free, you have to face reality, the world in its entirety. You have to deal with the world’s problems, with everything . . .”

Interviewer: “With all the issues . . .”

Adonis: “On the other hand, if we are slaves, we can be content and not have to deal with anything. Just as Allah solves all our problems, the dictator will solve all our problems.”

[. . .]

“I don’t understand what is happening in Arab society today. I don’t know how to interpret this situation, except by making the following hypothesis: When I look at the Arab world, with all its resources, the capacities of Arab individuals, especially abroad–you will find among them great philosophers, scientists, engineers, and doctors. In other words, the Arab individual is no less smart, no less a genius, than anyone else in the world. He can excel–but only outside his society. I have nothing against the individuals–only against the institutions and the regimes.

“If I look at the Arabs, with all their resources and great capacities, and I compare what they have achieved over the past century with what others have achieved in that period, I would have to say that we Arabs are in a phase of extinction, in the sense that we have no creative presence in the world.”

Interviewer: “Are we on the brink of extinction, or are we already extinct?”

Adonis: “We have become extinct. We have the quantity. We have the masses of people, but a people becomes extinct when it no longer has a creative capacity, and the capacity to change its world.”

[. . .]

“The great Sumerians became extinct, the great Greeks became extinct, and the Pharaohs became extinct. The clearest sign of this extinction is when we intellectuals continue to think in the context of this extinction.”

Interviewer: “That is very dangerous.”

Adonis: “That is our real intellectual crisis. We are facing a new world with ideas that no longer exist, and in a context that is obsolete. We must sever ourselves completely from that context, on all levels, and think of a new Arab identity, a new culture, and a new Arab society.”

[. . .]

“Imagine that Arab societies had no Western influence. What would be left? The Muslims must . . .”

Interviewer: “What would be left?”

Adonis: “Nothing. Nothing would be left except for the mosque, the church, and commerce, of course.”

[. . .]

“The Muslims today–forgive me for saying this–with their accepted interpretation [of the religious text], are the first to destroy Islam, whereas those who criticize the Muslims–the non-believers, the infidels, as they call them–are the ones who perceive in Islam the vitality that could adapt it to life. These infidels serve Islam better than the believers.”

   

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