A interesting essay in The Times by James Marriott (Deputy Books Editor) “Are we stuck in a time loop reliving the 60s and 70s“ discusses whether the ‘cultural wasteland’ theory, that our society is incapable of new ideas and trends which is gaining ground on the left and right, seems overly pessimistic” It got me thinking and I agree with his optimism: thanks for the stimulation James!!
Is the culture of capitalism killing cultural progress? Converting followers and likes to cryptocurrency is the democratisation of patronage, which was previously paraded only by those historical “pale leaders”, with their acolytes, pompadours and paramours, who paid for more power. Power seeking people always desire attention because popularity secures and enhances power.
Poets, musicians, writers, actors and artists though have often struggled for their art, with their fragile egos and developing capabilities always bounded by “Plato’s” problem which they see, feel, and act upon; an unconscious drive, powered by an constant ache to break free from their own blindness, to achieve the sublime. The very act of creating is the struggle and the work, popularity and the transformation of culture becomes only secondary to the act, yet is embedded in the act.
The act is culture, as it is of the moment and the movement. In the moment the past, present and future live; T.S. Eliot’s obsession voiced in “The Three Voices of Poetry”, “The Four Quartets“, and “The Waste Land.” Cultural expression never lives in a vacuum it is in and of its time. In the act of creation there is a coming together of; praise, homage, respect, and duty to the past expresses of culture; an emotional dissonance courageously and respectfully exploring the present; a considered, yet unconscious, engagement for and with the people who speak and see the same way, those who will hear, see and respond to the passionate expressions of the artisans.
Academic cultural writers also know of the struggles of breaking free of dogma, best described in one of most often cited, but least read books, “The structure of a scientific revolutions” (Thomas Kuhn). However the “modern” science of sociology appears to be still finding its feet, compared to older scientific disciplines, and is stuck with ideas based upon “top” down oppression and power attainment, so obsess about the political and miss the emotionally sublime moments of the everyday. They seem in need of a “Paradigm Shift.”
If artistic endeavor, sport and other social activities define our culture then the technology driven world, which has democratised participation, is as transformational as any previous cultural paradigm change. However, like any major change, when you are in it it is difficult to see the moment and the movement. Only Kant has ever named one, whilst been in it and shaping it (What is Enlightenment?) Other phases of change our historians have named.
Through the eyes of historical “culture” today’s democratic expressions, the self-hood seeking acts of creation, may not seem sublime. However, in popularity, they are transformative and have patronage. The “Sistine Chapel” is sublime but how many people saw it for its first 200 years, or even see it today? Today’s cultural artisans, who not only work with media invented hundreds of years ago but also use “media” continuously improving and created by our capitalist, consumer driven, economics, are popular. Their art is also now instantly available for the “demos” to decide upon.
To say we live in a “cultural wasteland” is to fundamentally misunderstand cultural creation due, in part, to some “old” ideologies, (both to the left and right) which need rethinking if the “demos” is ever to be re-engaged by the political elite. We live in, for artistic expression at least, a democratic golden age where there are vastly more creative “actors” (to use a sociologists word) in the world today than there has ever been. The melting pot of creativity is joined through capitalist technologies and is the cultural change of today and in its vastness it is sublime.
If you are willing to see it and feel it we are in the middle of a cultural transformation which is thoroughly enjoyable. It may not appear to be creating the sublime individual objects, which have been historically used to define a period, but that change maybe is the change: each of us sees the sublime differently and may find it in the simpler and more available artistic expressions, “a cultural democratisation of the sublime” driven by capitalist tools.
So maybe, just maybe, the ‘evil capitalist’ intent on oppressing the masses, the dogma of the left, or the ‘evil radical’ intent on overthrowing society of the day, the dogma of the right, does not express the views of the “Demos” on culture and lives in the “Academic Wasteland”. And maybe, just maybe, both do have a part in our “culture” as do the new artisans who are creating the vibrancy and aliveness within our infrastructural inadequacies: a new culture which helps us all to survive and remain happy within our modern struggles.
Maybe it is the “Academic Wasteland” that needs more stimulus as the “a cultural democratisation of the sublime” appears to be happily transforming the world.