To Hell With Culture
eBook - ePub

To Hell With Culture

Herbert Read

Partager le livre
  1. 240 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (adapté aux mobiles)
  4. Disponible sur iOS et Android
eBook - ePub

To Hell With Culture

Herbert Read

DĂ©tails du livre
Aperçu du livre
Table des matiĂšres

À propos de ce livre

Herbert Read was a maverick character in the cultural life of the twentieth century. A radical leader of the avant garde in the 1930s, and an anarchist revolutionary during the war years, by the time of his death in 1968 he had become a key figure at the heart of the British cultural establishment. To Hell with Culture offers readers an ideal overview of the ideas that marked out this seminal and hugely influential thinker. It is a controversial work that engages the reader in a wide range of topics, from revolutionary art to pornography.
Adept at challenging assumptions and penetrating to the heart of any issue, Read's deft prose encourages the reader to think critically, to question and to subvert the voice of authority, of whatever political or cultural creed. Only through such a critical evaluation of culture, Read believes, can one appreciate the art that arises from the 'unpolitical manifestation of the human spirit'. At a time when authority and value are questionable terms, and when culture itself is a contested concept, Read's is both a challenging and an enlightening voice.

Foire aux questions

Comment puis-je résilier mon abonnement ?
Il vous suffit de vous rendre dans la section compte dans paramĂštres et de cliquer sur « RĂ©silier l’abonnement ». C’est aussi simple que cela ! Une fois que vous aurez rĂ©siliĂ© votre abonnement, il restera actif pour le reste de la pĂ©riode pour laquelle vous avez payĂ©. DĂ©couvrez-en plus ici.
Puis-je / comment puis-je télécharger des livres ?
Pour le moment, tous nos livres en format ePub adaptĂ©s aux mobiles peuvent ĂȘtre tĂ©lĂ©chargĂ©s via l’application. La plupart de nos PDF sont Ă©galement disponibles en tĂ©lĂ©chargement et les autres seront tĂ©lĂ©chargeables trĂšs prochainement. DĂ©couvrez-en plus ici.
Quelle est la différence entre les formules tarifaires ?
Les deux abonnements vous donnent un accĂšs complet Ă  la bibliothĂšque et Ă  toutes les fonctionnalitĂ©s de Perlego. Les seules diffĂ©rences sont les tarifs ainsi que la pĂ©riode d’abonnement : avec l’abonnement annuel, vous Ă©conomiserez environ 30 % par rapport Ă  12 mois d’abonnement mensuel.
Qu’est-ce que Perlego ?
Nous sommes un service d’abonnement Ă  des ouvrages universitaires en ligne, oĂč vous pouvez accĂ©der Ă  toute une bibliothĂšque pour un prix infĂ©rieur Ă  celui d’un seul livre par mois. Avec plus d’un million de livres sur plus de 1 000 sujets, nous avons ce qu’il vous faut ! DĂ©couvrez-en plus ici.
Prenez-vous en charge la synthÚse vocale ?
Recherchez le symbole Écouter sur votre prochain livre pour voir si vous pouvez l’écouter. L’outil Écouter lit le texte Ă  haute voix pour vous, en surlignant le passage qui est en cours de lecture. Vous pouvez le mettre sur pause, l’accĂ©lĂ©rer ou le ralentir. DĂ©couvrez-en plus ici.
Est-ce que To Hell With Culture est un PDF/ePUB en ligne ?
Oui, vous pouvez accĂ©der Ă  To Hell With Culture par Herbert Read en format PDF et/ou ePUB ainsi qu’à d’autres livres populaires dans Kunst et Kunstgeschichte. Nous disposons de plus d’un million d’ouvrages Ă  dĂ©couvrir dans notre catalogue.





There are no abstract truths—no Mass-Man, no proletariat. There is only Man. When the Pulse has been nailed upon the crossbeams, lo, Reason gives up its viable breath and becomes a wandering ghostly Error. Truth and folly are ever about to expire, so that we, like our beloved Sancho Panza kneeling at the death-bed of Don Quixote, must always be ready to go out to receive the holy communion of cudgels and distaffs, for the rebirth of the Pulse, living anew, in our veins and bones, as the quickened Truth.
Edward Dahlberg, Do These Bones Live? (New York, 1941).
Ever since democracy became a clear political conception in the city-state of Athens, democratic philosophers have been faced with the anomaly of the artist. It has seemed to them that the artist, by his very nature, cannot be accommodated within the structure of an egalitarian community. He is inevitably a social misfit, to normal people a psychotic, and for rational thinkers like Plato the only solution was to banish him from the community. A modern rationalist would probably recommend that he should be cured of his psychosis.
There are two main problems: (1) What is it that seems to separate the artist from the rest of the community, making him unique among men? (2) What is it that nevertheless reconciles the community to this separatist individual—that is to say, what values does the artist contribute to the community that make the community accept or tolerate his presence among them?
The essays which are collected in this volume return again and again to these problems, and by way of introduction I should like to attempt a general summary of the view I have put forward.
We ought first to decide whether the artist is physically unique. We know that mankind is divisible into various distinct psychological types, and that these types have a basis in physiological factors. Is the artist such a type? There is a certain amount of evidence which suggests that he is. We know that some musicians possess what is called ‘absolute pitch’. It is a natural disposition which is inherited and which cannot be acquired. A similar faculty in poets and plastic artists is not so commonly recognized, but nevertheless it exists. In poetry it is an absolute awareness of the identity of word and image, and in the plastic arts it probably takes the form of what we call ‘an intuitive sense of proportion’, with or without an intuitive sense of colour harmony, and these ‘senses’ are strictly analogous to the musician’s absolute pitch. These facts, although incompletely investigated, must, I think, be admitted. But it must also be admitted that they are not essential. Several famous composers have been without absolute pitch, and there have certainly been poets without absolute identity of word and image—in fact, to insist on such an identity, in view of the limitations of language, would considerably restrict the range of poetry. One can also easily think of great painters whose colour sense has been defective, and of great architects who have had to rely on consciously applied canons of proportion. In the end, the most that one would be able to claim is that the possession of such unique gifts merely gives special quality to the work of a particular artist.
Apart from the occasional possession of such physiological peculiarities, it is obvious that the artist is not a separate psychological type. There are introvert and extravert artists, schizophrenic and manic-depressive artists. In fact, every psychological type is potentially an artist—which is only another way of agreeing with Eric Gill that every man is a special kind of artist.
The acceptance of this fact—and I for one do accept it—involves us logically in an admission that art is skill: a man does something so well that he is entitled to be called an artist. We are still left with a wide scope for argument, for we must ask what that something is: what is the purpose of that skill?
It was at this point that Gill and I, in our prolonged discussions, used to diverge, for I would insist that art is not merely skill to make, but also skill to express. Express what? Gill would ask, and if I was careless enough to use a phrase such as: ‘To express his personality’, Gill would be at me with the mallet and chisel he kept in his mind no less than in his hands, demanding if I had ever seen a personality, and how in God’s name it could be expressed except in the making of something useful. And so the argument went on, to its inconclusive end. But I still maintain that there is a sense in which art is expression as well as making, and it is important that I should maintain my point, because it bears directly on this problem of the artist and society. For it is not sufficient to say that the artist is a skilled worker, and that he will always be valued by the community because his skill is useful. The truth is that the artist is very often (oftenest when he is greatest) offering something to the community which the community does not want to accept, which the community at first finds very unpalatable.
The mistaken presentation of my point of view, of which I have myself been guilty in the past, is to describe art as self-expression. If every artist merely expresses the uniqueness and separateness of his self, then art might be disruptive and anti-social. A lot of art in the past has been of that kind, and has given rise to the whole problem of ‘dilettantism’. A social art can never be dilettante—dilettante art can never be social.
Obviously the great artist who is not merely making something, like a carpenter or a cobbler, but expressing something, like Shakespeare or Michelangelo or Beethoven, is expressing something bigger than his self. Self-expression, like self-seeking, is an illusion. It is the action of an individual who pits himself against the community, who says I am bigger, or better, or stronger than other men, and will therefore enslave them, make them serve my individual purposes. But a democracy would be right to resent the presence of such individuals in its midst, for democracy starts from the proposition that all men are equal—if this dogma is not accepted, then the word democracy is being used in a sense which I do not regard as legitimate. The word democracy should always imply, not only liberty and fraternity, but also equality.
Society expects something more than self-expression from its artists, and in the case of great artists such as those I have mentioned, it gets something more. It gets something which might be called life-expression. But the ‘life’ to be expressed, the life which is expressed in great art, is precisely the life of the community, the organic group consciousness. It is the artist’s business to make the group aware of its unity, its community. He can do this because he, more than other men, has access to the common unconsciousness, to the collective instincts which underlie the brittle surface of convention and normality. I cannot say why the artist should have this gift, any more than I can say why he has absolute pitch, etc. It is probably a consequence of his early upbringing, the actual course of his adaptation to society in earliest infancy—the complicated process which psychoanalysis is slowly reconstructing. Whatever the explanation, the function of the artist in modern society is much the same as that of the medicine-man or magician in a primitive society: he is the man who mediates between our individual consciousness and the collective unconsciousness, and thus ensures social re-integration. It is only in the degree that this mediation is successful that a true democracy is possible.
This office of mediation cannot be forced upon the artist. His function is catalytic—he aids the social revolution without himself undergoing any change, without being absorbed by the social substance. That, it seems to me, is the central doctrine of Wordsworth’s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, which is probably the most careful definition of the poet’s function ever made. I do not think there are any essential problems of the artist in a modern society which we do not find anticipated there. The Preface was first published in 1800—at a time, that is to say, very comparable to our own. Two years earlier, in 1798, Wordsworth’s political consciousness had reached a crisis—he had experienced a final disillusionment with the French Revolution. The crisis for so many poets and artists of today is of exactly the same nature. The signing of the pact between Germany and Russia was probably the breaking-point, but the Moscow trials and executions, and a gradual realization that the Russian Revolution had followed precisely the same course as the French Revolution, had created a psychological tension which was bound to break sooner or later. Hundreds of poets and artists of every kind found that their idealism was suddenly dead—betrayed by the cynical politicians who had for so long deceived them. Poets who now turn in on themselves, to discover the truth about the poet and society, begin to tread the same labyrinth as Wordsworth. They might save themselves much trouble by re-reading the Preface, weighing it phrase by phrase.
Two particularly relevant phrases to which I should like to draw attention are based on the words ‘pleasure’ and ‘tranquillity’. The second phrase is the more familiar, though it is nearly always distorted in quotation: ‘poetry takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity’. The first phrase has not caught the popular imagination so readily, though it is no less striking: ‘We have no sympathy but what is propagated by pleasure.’
This second phrase, explains Wordsworth, refers to ‘the grand elementary principle of pleasure, by which (man) knows, and feels, and lives, and moves 
 we have no knowledge, that is, no general principle drawn from the contemplation of particular facts, but what has been built up by pleasure, and exists in us by pleasure alone’. Further, ‘wherever we sympathize with pain, it will be found that the sympathy is produced and carried on by subtle combinations with pleasure’.
This statement, which might have been derived from Epicurus or Lucretius, is also remarkable as an anticipation of Freud’s pleasure-principle. (Cf.: ‘We may put the question whether a main purpose is discernible in the operation of the mental apparatus; and our first approach to an answer is that this purpose is directed to the attainment of pleasure. It seems that our entire psychic activity is bent upon procuring pleasure and avoiding pain, that it is automatically regulated by the pleasure-principle.’1) But we are concerned now with the function which Wordsworth gives to this pleasure-principle in the process of poetic activity.2
It is a function that enables us to return to the artist the uniqueness which we began by taking away from him. Gill went so far as to suggest that there is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan—between, shall we say, Shakespeare and the carpenter who made his second-best bed. And he came to the conclusion that there may not have been much difference in the quality of their skill: the carpentry of the plays is not above criticism, and the second-best bed was well enough made to be specified in the poet’s last will and testament. What, then, did Shakespeare possess that was denied to this carpenter?
There is no mystery about it: it was the capacity to work in psychological material, to make a work of art out of more than words: out of human desires and emotion, fears and fantasies. And that is where the peculiarity and what we recognize as the ‘greatness’ of the artist comes in: for these materials cannot be worked superficially, on the surface. The artist must be ready to delve below the level of normal consciousness, the crust of conventional thought and behaviour, into his own unconscious, and into the collective unconscious of his group or race. It is a painful experience: creative work on this level is only done at a cost of mental anguish. This is where Wordsworth’s perception of the realities of poetic composition becomes so acute; for there is no doubt that the poet’s creation, his sympathetic penetration into the tragic significance of life, however painful, ‘is produced and carried on by subtle combinations with pleasure’. The artist is always something of a masochist.
He is also an escapist. Wordsworth does not define what he means by tranquillity, but his meaning is obvious enough if we remember his social behaviour and his practice in composition, as described by his sister Dorothy and other witnesses. Tranquillity, for Wordsworth, meant literally a flight from society; and the actual moment of composition meant a flight from even those members of his household with whom he habitually dwelt.
Wordsworth’s precept has been powerfully reinforced nearer our time by Rilke, in those Letters to a Young Poet which are so full of profound wisdom. ‘I can give you no other advice,’ said Rilke to his correspondent, ‘than this: retire into yourself and probe the depths from which your life springs up.
 For the creative artist must be a world unto himself and find everything in himself and in Nature, of which he is part and parcel.’ And again: ‘Love your loneliness, and endure the pain which it causes you with harmonious lamentations (schoenklingender Klage).’ The word Einsamkeit (loneliness, solitariness, tranquillity) recurs like a refrain through all these letters, and indeed through all Rilke’s work. It will be remembered that Milton also spoke movingly of ‘a calm and pleasing solitariness’.
Rilke, it might be objected, was writing in 1903, when solitariness could be found, if not easily, at least possibly. But that artificial isolation, which I have called fortress-solitude, is not the same thing as Rilke’s Einsamkeit or Wordsworth’s tranquillity or Milton’s solitariness. It is not, in Rilke’s phrase, bound to Nature—by which he means a natural way of living. In such fast seclusion the poet cannot be, in Wordsworth’s phrase, ‘a man speaking to men’. It may seem unreasonable to non-poetic people, but what the poet nevertheless demands is a kind of society in which tranquillity, withdrawal, is a natural right. He must be able to go into the press and out of it as easily as he passes from his own house into the street. The charge he makes against the modern world is that it has invaded his house of quiet, invaded it with cares and rumours, insistent politics and totalitarian wars.
The poet is therefore compelled to demand, for poetic reasons, that the world shall be changed. It cannot be said that his demand is unreasonable: it is the first condition of his existence as a poet.
The changes promised by the existing political parties have no appeal to the poet. They do not guarantee his solitude. They all imply a more exacting social contract, a more complete surrender of individual liberty: surrender to the state, surrender to the curiosity of the Press, surrender to mass opinions and mass standards. If poetry is ever again to be more than ‘self-expression’ the direction must be reversed—political power must be distributed and broken down into human, tangible units. Economic responsibility must be accepted by the worker. Financial power divorced from production must be altogether excluded from society. Productive labour must be recognized as the basic reality, and honoured as such. That is why the poet must be an anarchist. He has no other choice. He may temporize with liberalism, with democratic socialism, with state socialism; and in peaceful times any of these political systems may be persuaded to patronize culture, including poetry. But they cannot guarantee the creative activity of the poet. They cannot admit the solitude of any of their citizens, for solitude is a withdrawal from the social contract, a denial of the principle of collectivism. It is a bitter lesson to learn, for those poets who have put their faith in the non-poetic prophets—in Marx, in Lenin, in Stalin. Poets should not go outside their own ranks for a policy; for poetry is its own politics.
Shelley called poets the unacknowledged legislators of the world, and the epithet was well chosen. The catalyst is unchanged, unabsorbed; its activity therefore not acknowledged. It is peculiarly difficult for the artist in society to accept this thankless task: to stand apart, and yet to mediate: to communicate to society something as essential as bread or water, and yet to be able to do so only from a position of insulation, of disaffection. Society will never understand or love the artist, because it will never appreciate his indifference, his so-called objectivity. But the artist must learn to love and understand the society that renounces him. He must accept the contrary experience, and drink, with Socrates, the deadly cup.


1 Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, London, 1933, p. 298.
2 According to Wordsworth, the following stages are involved:
(1) The o...

Table des matiĂšres