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No. 92 SUMMER 1968

 


 

Editor: IAN BARNET
Sub-Editors:
School Notes-PS V. LEACH Society Notices-G. M. CARPENTER Sports Section-A. BERRIMAN Literary Section-D. BOOTLE

SPEAKING EDITORIALLY

It is, I imagine, inevitable that the job of supervising the School magazine and writing an Editorial for it should fall to a member of the Arts Sixth. Besides conforming with the general notion that scientists, despite Use of English, still emerge semiliterate from their school education; a notion, I would hasten to add, that is substantially false, it allows at least one Arts student to put his studies to some practical use. Perhaps if I take this opportunity to discuss generally the role of the artist in society, I will be excused by my scientist colleagues. With the advent of the modern commercial and materialist state the standards by which artistic values are judged have changed radically. The present day debate over the advisability of government subsidies to the Arts in this country is an indication of this: if it costs money and produces none in return, then it is not an investment that can be considered sane or safe. This appears to be the maxim. The never-ending battle between the Sunday papers and some of the more working-class dailies over the grants to the Arts Council proves the existence of a strong body of opinion that refuses to help subsidise art for the enjoyment of a small minority. It is unfortunate that the appreciation of art has indeed become the preserve of a minority in our society today. For its existence, art relies upon communication, and where its audience dwindles it will surely fade too. Although the audience for established music remains comparatively large there is still a tendency for anything later than Debussy to be treated with the utmost suspicion and for Webern, Bartok and Schoenberg amongst others to be condemned by reputation alone amongst the majority. It would be foolish to pretend that the audience for poetry, particularly of the moment, is larger than a section of the under-thirties, or that modern art is taken seriously by any but a few. Television, the universal hallucogenic, has taken away a large section of the theatre's potential patrons; although it is true that reputable productions rarely lack good attendances, theatres hold a very small section of the community indeed and the notion of art for the whole people, not as a piece of Socialist ethics, but as a fundamental of life appears to be quite extinct. In a mass, materialistic society, the only effective way of restoring art and giving it the relevance to contemporary life it so badly needs is by transferring it to the mass media, television, radio or record. During the last few years a minor revolution has taken place within the realms of "pop" music and the activities of the Underground have succeeded in breaking the shackles of commercialism and expressing some of the feelings that motivate modern society in a manner relevant to it. As a result, standards have tended to rise. It would be untrue to suggest that there is no longer a very strong element of commercialism behind the record industry, naturally there is, but the influence of the music of other cultures together with the natural maturing of the "originals" has produced a music, a sub-culture almost, concerned with life and its purpose that has attracted those who were despairing of such considerations ever reaching a substantial number of people. In poetry, too, there is a sense of revival; many would decry the Beat Poets and many more the Liverpool Group, but it cannot be denied that more interest is being generated in the new poetry than before. In the visual arts the activities of Warhol and his group remain accessible, indeed comprehensible to the select few, but the recent craze for the appallingly named "Psychedelia" and light shows, as well as the rise in the sale of posters that offer a dazzling association of line and colour, are symptoms of a growing demand for a closer integration of visual art and life. The problem that remains is that the burst of popular culture in the middle 1960s has taken place amongst the young, the themes that it deals with concern the attitude of a young mind to life and those who create and present it are generally held in contempt by the older element. Different generations with outlooks upon life that their differing experiences have all helped to forge make different demands on life and react to it in ways that are incomprehensible to outsiders. There is suspicion of the young and mistrust because they question the standards their elders have fought hard to uphold, and in their cynical, almost insolent outlook, they seem to want to wage war upon those who have brought them up. If there is to be a reconciliation between art and our modern lives, it must come at all levels of society and be confined to no particular group, social or ethnic. The artist is fundamentally an individual similar in physical and psychological structure to all those around him, yet differing in one respect: his reactions to his emotions and to the environment he finds himself in are sufficiently strong to seek expression. In Classical society the artist was revered and elevated; largely as a result of the Romantic movement. The mystique around the process of artistic creation still persists. An artist is not someone to be set apart and considered as outside the real experience of life, on the contrary, he is to be accepted as fulfilling a function within society as vital, but as normal as the most menial of operatives. Poems are not pieces of delicate writing that are to be considered as entities for a period and then forgotten; music is not a succession of sounds to be appreciated and then cast aside; visual art is not an attractive arrangement of pattern and colour to provoke idle conversation for an hour or two. In a materialistically minded society such as ours we cannot afford to allow the role of art to become merely that of a pleasant. but rather irrelevant, entertainment. Art entertains, this is undeniable, but it does more than this. A society may amass great wealth, it may conquer the moon, it may pierce the deepest mysteries of the origins of life hut unless it uses its artists as living vital interpreters of its own relationship to its natural environment, its own reaction to the world it is obliged to live in, it own internal relationships, its own personal set of aspirations, it will remain fundamentally deficient. The movement towards self-expression amongst the young has been given a bad reputation by those who prefer to take an easier way to Nirvana, via drugs. The initiative has to come from those of our generation and if we could end the prejudices that our elders by instinct bear towards us the struggle would be half-won. Whilst youth remains outside society, its art cannot benefit the whole, rebelling will achieve nothing, yet integration will be difficult: to restore art to its proper position in our materialist society will require a minor miracle. Meanwhile, we can only ensure that the standards by which we judge art remain high enough to escape general condemnation and try to bridge "the space between us all".

Ian Barnett.

 

 

No. 93 Winter 1968

Editor: IAN BARNETT
Sub-Editors:
Society Notices-C. M. CARPENTER
Sports Section-A. BERRIMAN Literary Section- BOOTLE

SPEAKING EDITORIALLY

Towards Revolution?
A letter which appeared in the November 15th issue of "International Times" nicely points the fundamental conflict of ideas within the thinking, idealistic young, at the end of a violent and confusing year: "Peace and love are just the dream worlds of a tender mind while our society is kept in its state of competitive and acquisitive barbarism . . . we have to change the society that's messing everyone up . . . this involves a Revolution. The question of violence is not in our hands; if you are prepared to effect this kind of change you must be prepared to defend yourself from the backlash of those with vested interests in exploitation, authoritarian structures, injustice, inequality and controlled ignorance". In 1967, with its love-ins, its Haight-Ashburys, its gospel of love and universal warmth, such a message would have been quite inconceivable. It is clear that the events of 1968 have brought into the open a new breed of forceful, articulate and violent revolutionaries who are prepared to actively change the society they condemn rather than follow what they consider to be an irrelevant course towards peace, love and self-realisation. For it has been a momentous year. From France in the spring to Mexico in the autumn students have stood in opposition to the established forces of authority and it is now quite clear that any educational grievances merely provided an easy initial outlet for far more radical and wide-sweeping views on the nature of society itself. The Western democracies are merely repressive autocracies masquerading as free societies; they argue. Liberty of the individual is suppressed by totalitarian regimes in countries where the constitution has finally broken down and abandoned its democratic principles. Their Marxist leanings urge them to point out the exploitation of the many by the few to the ultimate disadvantage of all. In France the alliance between students and workers seen in May, although short lived, was hailed as the precursor of the new Socialist Revolution. Everywhere, democracy has failed. In France, where even the most Conservative observer could hardly describe the Gaullist regime as anything less than Fascist; in America, where the backstage political manoeuverings at the Democratic Convention brought the real issues to light and showed the Chicago police at least in their true colours; in Mexico, where the fifty years cycle of revolution seems to be repeating itself yet again, and even in Britain, where the sense of frustration at a government that relentlessly pursues policies directly contrary to the wishes of much of the electorate has led more to a total loss of interest in politics than to any militant campaigns for action; we have our national character to blame for that. Even the severest critics of the militants would acknowledge the fundamental injustices that are features of the society we live in. A country that is prepared to court its own economic ruin in order to maintain a distant military campaign unpopular amongst its own people and becoming increasingly less justifiable to the world at large, for a principle which it has taken to be honourable, is at fault. Any society that can offer a racialist its foremost office of power and support him on a platform of universal hatred. violence and separation, is essentially corrupt. A government that can spend heavily on defence and leave insufficient money for the execution of educational reform it feels bound to implement, if only for the sake of Socialism, or fail to adequately house its indigenous population, is following an inexcusable policy. There is no doubt that a very real case for Reform exists. Yet it is extremely unlikely that the militants offer the solutions. They draw parallels between 1968 and 1789, without realising that the French Revolution actually began in the hands of the aristocracy and was continued by the middle-classes: it was not a working-class revolt against the misuse of absolutist power by the monarchy. They talk of Russia without appreciating the state of the nation in 1917, defeated and humiliated at war, crying out for food, or the nature of the Bolshevik coup, which ushered in the new regime before the mass of the population knew Tzardoni had even collapsed. They are well-versed in Marxist theory, yet not even their most articulate spokesmen can suggest what they hope to replace the overthrown society with. Indeed they categorically refuse to be drawn into discussion of the subject, events must take their course, we are told, whatever emerges will be better than what is destroyed. Presumably a Communist absolutism in Russia is preferable to a Tsarist, although the distinction seems ridiculously fine and the condition of the people of the country, taking into account natural social evolution, probably little changed. Unless the extremists win the support of a majority of the people, they will merely replace the system they oppose with a new system opposed by a large proportion of the nation: they will be obliged to impose their divine, idealistic revolution by force and ultimately to create an absolutism very similar to the one they destroyed. If they are sincerely concerned about the society in which they live, they must be sure they are acting on behalf of those who will make up the society they propose to establish in its place. The only alternative is wholesale elimination of opposition and the ironic transformation of the fervour of revolutionary Marxism into the cold, sober realism of military Fascism. If a system is not accepted by the majority, its success relies upon its being imposed by sheer force. This is the intractable problem that defeats cries for militant revolution and indeed means that such violence will never achieve anything. Since there are those still who hold faith with the view that the sanctity of human life is worth more than political dogma on a purely ethical plane, it is doubly certain that, defeated practically and doubted morally, violence cannot hope for permanent success. Force perpetuates itself by force, and the regime that establishes itself violently must be prepared to defend itself from future attack. War is a spiral that never ceases to grow, militancy is a policy that never offers an end to struggle. The only hope is for further violence, the only certainty is the destruction of human beings en route. The alternative is constitutionalism, a process that has operated in Britain for 300 years; yet today, this must scarcely seem a viable policy at all, when the channels for constitutional reform are clogged and the governments are operated by forces that would stand opposed to such changes in society. But all regimes come to an end: de Gaulle must die; there must be a General Election eventually and some alterations must be wrought. Obviously the whole solution does not lie there; pressure must be brought to bear for the reforms that are so necessary, but violence will earn for the vociferous minority the contempt of the majority whose support they need if they are to be at all successful. Would the intractable government still persist in ignoring the wishes of its people if an alliance of middle-class, students and workers managed to stage some kind of co-ordinated activity, a general strike for instance? Could any Western regime still maintain its authority faced with the mass insubordination of all its people? It is all too easy for a government to condemn and put down the actions of a few if the many remain uninvolved, but less simple to apply force to an entire population. These are all necessarily vague solutions to the problems that must be tackled: the only certainty is that violence will succeed only in replacing one dictatorship with another and alienating a large section of the population in the process. It is easy to see how the Hippie movement has earned the contempt of those who feel involved in the fate of society at large. However pleasant it is to make love quite freely, take drugs quite liberally and generally practise universal benevolence within a restricted, enclosed environment such as Haight-Ashbury undeniably was, it is essentially unhelpful and impractical to "drop out". If the entire population followed suit, the same social tensions would appear within the new society and if a large proportion chose to remain as they were, the Hippies would still be faced with a cold, inhospitable world outside their fantasy lives, a world they would eventually be obliged to return to, or die, having altered nothing. It is so terribly easy to shut oneself off from the world; religious devouts have been doing it for centuries, but it is all so terribly unhelpful. The Hippies despise the society they have been born into but are prepared to do nothing towards making it more  acceptable, preferring to leave it slowly stagnating while they trip off happily to their communal beds. This is no fault of their philosophy, rather a defect in the implementation of it. For the Hippies have contributed much that is of real and permanent value to modern society. Out of the uneasy tensions of a world brooding over two devastating wars and the everlasting prospects of a third they have moulded the first real twentieth century philosophy of life, calling upon many religious concepts and a deep sense of the innate dignity of the individual as their precedents. "Love" in its widest sense is the most valued, the most precious human emotion, and although it may sometimes include bizarre sexual experimentation, it also embraces religious ideas of universal brotherhood and international fraternity. "Peace" is the ultimate aim of all, government and people, peace to live, think and act freely, peace simply to "be". There are vague suggestions that the pursuit of material gain is somehow less relevant than the achievement of personal serenity, and many concepts of Eastern mysticism are brought into the very unspiritual world of the West. Violence is rejected completely as something alien to the human personality; pacifism becomes a fervent principle, not a belief that can sometimes be swayed, but a passionate creed to be applied under all circumstances. All this is remarkable from a generation nurtured on codes of violence and force and represents an idealised, but infinitely desirable approach to life. There will be love and friendship in the world, existing alongside respect for the individual: "Men may blend, but still be what they are".
In their art too the Hippies have contributed much. The search for perception has been a recurrent theme in world literature: Timothy Leary stands in a long line of distinguished drug takers. Attempts to expand consciousness by means of hallucenogenics have not always been successful, but music particularly has moved closer towards an expression of the feelings of the society it takes its being from. It is unfortunate that many of the leaders in this field last year have been proved less artistically involved in the search for relevance than at first appeared, and it is difficult to name more than a few who have not returned sheepishly to the crude, vulgar and unintelligible mires from whence they came. Neither the Hippies nor the student militants provide all the answers. "Dropping out" solves as little as inciting violent revolution even though it causes less suffering. It is the philosophy of the Underground, voiced a little pretentiously by IT and its fellows, that has more to offer than the rather predictable Marxism uttered by Tariq Ali and his associates. To destroy a social structure without any real idea of what to replace it with is as useless as being permanently under the influence of LSD and unable to think coherently at all. In such a confrontation of equally impotent extremes, each party has something to offer to the other, something to give and something to learn. The Hippies can teach love, pacifism and the realisation of self as the chief aims of the individual; the student can demand that these qualities are taken out into the world and used for the betterment of all, for we could all benefit from them. The wisdom of experience has proved illusory, the young can teach society how to organise itself in a better way, provided they set about it in the correct manner. Do not withdraw and earn the scorn of those whose support is needed: do not react with violence and alienate the mass of the population. Rather teach the world that it needs reform, reform that will have to take place constitutionally, prove to it that "peace" and "love" are not simply convenient platitudes behind which to hide from reality. Until we can achieve this within our own generation, it is foolish to hope to have any sound basis from which to dictate terms to society as a whole. The key lies in ourselves: "And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you".

Ian Barnett, 6ii