Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Seriously folks...

A Voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion
James Gillray (1792)

One of the problems I have with blogging is the many things I don’t take too seriously. Art is one, cinema another, TV, sport, politics and celebrities four more. I also have a deep-seated suspicion that unfathomable complexity rules the roost and we may as well get used to it.

So if one has at best a somewhat genial attitude to matters which others take seriously, then it isn't easy to write with gravitas on that subject. It’s not wholly impossible, but it’s difficult.

That’s why I don’t have much to say about for example, the visual arts. There is enough obvious silliness in the arts to begin with, without any need for me to point out the daubs and dreck. It also comes better from those who care – which I don’t.

Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin for example. Shooting fish in a barrel so why bother? Either it is obvious that these two deal in trashy celebrity stunts or it isn’t. If it isn’t obvious then there is absolutely no hope. Go and look at what they do is the most constructive thing one can say to close the debate.

All this is quite trivial though, when compare with the big one which is politics.

The inner me, the core of what I am doesn’t really take politics seriously. I don’t mean there is nothing of importance to say, because without doubt there is. The problem we all have is that politicians are serial liars with that inevitable hint of the farceur which lying brings to the party.

All we have to go on is what they do and what they say. Because of the lies, dissimulation and exaggeration, what they say is worthless. As for what they do, well part from obvious self-interest which covers most of it, the residue is often too complex to analyse, simply because life is complex and forecasting impossible.

What we appear to be left with are moral verities. They do give us a handle on politics, but don’t actually influence politicians to any great extent. So the overall effect is to trivialise political life. Which oddly enough is the one weak point in our political establishment.

It is easy to parody.

I’m sure that parody is still the best way to tackle politics. It’s been around forever. From the cartoons of Rowlandson and Gillray to the savage visual wit of Gerald Scarfe and the delightfully lacerating prose of Mark Steyn and P J O’Rourke.

We are able to say things through parody which would otherwise be too dry, pedantic, long-winded or simply too partial. Parody has both emotional and intellectual influence and the effect can be remarkably subtle and wide-ranging.

For example. The recent Philpott tragedy was as appalling and tragic as only the death of children can be.


In another sense the Philpott case is a parody of the benefits system and the man himself is a parody of our emasculating culture. It doesn't necessarily suggest what we should do to correct the situation, but at the very least we might note the parody. A particularly savage parody at that.

Analysis and reasoning take us so far, but almost always we end up with either pedantry or we are cast adrift on a sea of complexity, uncertainty and endless battles with self-interest.

Whereas oddly enough, behind all the ridicule, parody often shines the cool blue light of reason on human folly. It gives reason something to chew on behind a wry, detached smile.


Sackerson said...

Actually, your word "detached" seems core to me.

When Blair took over, I had a persistent feeling of being in some kind of almost chemically-induced dream from which I could not wake; and just as one strange dream can follow another in a night's sleep, we have had Brown and the Coalition.

It's horribly unreal, yet you know that there is such a thing as reality, cannot apprehend it while locked in dream-logic and won't be able to make sense of it until you wake.

Macheath said...

At the age of 18, I was set an extended essay on logic in Lewis Carrol's 'Through the Looking Glass' (I went to a very old-fashioned school).

The following year at university, mixing for the first time with Left-wing aspiring politicians (some of whom went on to join the Blair establishment)

Macheath said...

oops; continues....

I was struck by the resemblance of their arguments to the world of Carroll's Humpty Dumpty and the White Knight - the same obfuscation and inconsistencies combined to ensure the ground was constantly shifting beneath your feet.

Sackerson, I think you're right; it's deliberate (we even had embryo Labour spin doctors visiting the university to teach us the techniques), and they managed to pull it off on a national scale.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'

Sam Vega said...

Excellent post, AKH, which seems to sum up a lot of your writing here. I think one important aspect of parody (and its near relatives) is that it avoids the bludgeoning use of reason and rhetoric which is part of the problem itself. It is like Wittgenstein's distinction between telling, and showing.

Anonymous said...

Excellent and agree re Emin & Hirst. But politics seems interesting for the intriguing puzzles it produces - what to do or how to cover up the impossibility of action.

Apropos Philpott, the case epitomises the administrator's dilemma - just how many extra civil servants would it take to control the Philpotts? Answer - too many, just not worth it and exactly how anyway. So make the rules steer the majority toward such work as there is and put up with the Philpotts. The front-men know this but dare not say so.

Over at Stumblingandmumbling a quote that crystallises parody - "She wanted the British people to be like her father, but they turned out more like her son."

A K Haart said...

Sackers - you won't wake from this one I'm afraid. Blueberry gin helps though. With or without the blueberries.

Mac - yes, in a way we've been given permission to float away on clouds of unreality - as long as we don't offend anyone except sceptics.

Sam - thanks and yes - showing over telling fits well with the more literary approach Santayana favoured. The more I think about this approach, the more I like it.

Roger - "how many extra civil servants would it take to control the Philpotts?"

It's why we get tragedies blamed on social workers. Impossible job and not difficult to see why.