Talks and Debates
Culture Wars online review covers public talks, debates lectures and conferences in and around London, and beyond, in order to get to grips with the ideas behind the headlines.
Like every art form, music should continue to provoke and explore different ways of getting under our skin, but though I would hate to have a world without dissonance, I believe that rock music stole classical music’s thunder when it took over the role of providing society’s songs and dances, not least by absorbing the power of electricity to provide the level of energy that an increasingly sex and technology obsessed society needed.
Ben, a teacher, was the first to get passionate: ‘I disagreed with everything you said. I can feel myself getting angry!’ he said. ‘I think that what you’re saying shows an absolute lack of compassion.’
What united the three panellists who argued against public consultation was their impassioned support for the autonomy of the artist. They defended the freedom of the artist to create their art without the meddling of politicians or, more to the point, the need to answer to the public. In doing so, they framed the debate not in terms of a tired establishment versus the public stance but in terms of being pro-artist.
Durkheim’s warning against expecting education to be a magic wand capable of resolving social problems seems especially apt today, as the government loads ever greater responsibilities onto schools – nutrition, emotional well-being, citizenship, environmental awareness – without seeking to transform the social and economic problems that give rise to the problems these initiatives are naively expected to resolve.
The nineteenth century viewed the mind as a machine, reflecting the Industrial Revolution; the late twentieth century saw it as a computer, expressing the Information Revolution. The view of the human mind operating through instinctive emotion prior to reason is perhaps no less specific to today’s ‘therapy culture’.
The financial crisis taught us that it is dangerous to leave decisions about our economy to self-appointed ‘experts’. To hold politicians and business leaders accountable, the public needs to be educated, informed and engaged in a high level of economic debate. It’s time to take the battle of ideas out of the conference hall, and on to the streets.
The conference was a fringe event of Tate Britain’s Tate Triennial, and asked questions such as: can contemporary art provoke democratic participation? How can contemporary art reclaim the public realm through play?
’We realised that we had to look much more carefully at energy and its uses and production. The politicisation of climate change is a serious issue because it stands in the way of solving problems and stifles debate,’ said Joe.
Projects that involve children in learning how to be a DJ or how to write rap and dance to hip-hop are no doubt enjoyable for the children involved, but will not transform their reality. In many instances, this is the only reality they know. The El Sistema approach, by contrast, would have forced them to engage with a different more rigorous tradition than the one they have grown up with
It is a shame that it seems to be reactive fear of a dystopic future – be it totalitarianism, environmental catastrophe, corporate consumerism or a militant sharia state – that motivates a defence of liberty; and not a more generous project for freedom, stressing ongoing human liberation and what it’s good for – what we can make with it as a society – in a way that can inspire others.
In many ways the mood was similar to that at the early stages of the 1 April G20 protests: there was a strong mix of curiosity and anticipation, but no-one really knew why they were there. As one attendee exclaimed to her friends, ‘with a crowd like this, with the economy as it is and with Zizek, Badiou, Negri, Ranciere all talking about Communism… Something’s got to happen’.
Unlike a typical documentary photograph, making reference to an event which has already occurred, these images can be seen to inhabit a more flexible, perhaps even timeless, space, allowing the viewer to contemplate both a possible past and future.
Therapeutic apparatuses have particularly insidious ways of reincorporating dissenters as people who are ‘in denial’, as Nolan’s disturbing paper showed. However, we should never overestimate the power of officialdom to manage society and recast subjectivity by fiat.
There is, Livingstone declared, ‘no right to follow the Atkins diet’, and consume ‘excessive amounts’ of meat.