Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Stephen Hawking- Modern Intellectual Symbol

The intellect is not the friend of the modern culture of mass-produced inanity. However, it would be nice to have the illusion of giving the intellect its fair due-we are an enlightened age after all. And so, enter Stephen Hawking. People get to feel a kind of awe for Hawking's pure mind, immersed as he is in matters that are for the overwhelming majority of us purely esoteric & of no personal consequence. Crucially, along with this reverential awe, lies the pleasures of condescension at Hawking's physical condition. The intellect may be all well and good but would one really want to be Hawking? He is the perfect symbol of a neutered intellect that one has the generosity to patronise. DH Lawrence echoes here somewhere.
So Hawking a kind of Elvis figure for the age; were he not born he would have had to have been created. To add: his merits as a thinker are relatively irrelevant- it's the image that counts.

As an aside, isn't it interesting that in a time of such unprecedented human numbers there isn't one great genius striding the public landsacape. Not a Picasso, Dostoevsky, Beethoven, Tarkovsky...in these terms- nothing. Probably just as well; one wouldn't want someone contradicting the defiled equation of the spirit of democracy. Everyone is equal.
If everyone is equal, what is it they are equal to?
The lowest common denominator.

15 comments:

Neil Forsyth said...

Nobody is claiming everyone is equal. We strive for equality in a number of spheres, but not in the arts. That would be plain absurd.

Andrew said...

That is exactly what is being silently claimed, Neil. That's what Warhol's 15 minutes of fame is all about. And prior to that, it's waht Dostoevsky was more or less talking about in thing slike The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor. Genius is the great undesirable...the exalted reflection of being shown by a Tarkovsky or Beethoven is exactly what is not wanted in the present age. It's also waht Huxley's Brave New World is partly about...the reduction of man to a miniscule version of himself. It seems to me that if we looked at things closely we'd see a convergence of points towards a narrowing of vision of being. Look at how painting essentially committed suicide as a meaningful focal point around 50 years ago. Literature is also vastly dminished as a viriile intellectual, moral force. Generally modern film is a very pale reflection of what even a Dickens was doing in his time. What kind of music is more likely to get played on a relatively intelligent person's show like Pat Kenny...he's fine on serious matters, switch to music & on an adults show on comes the likes of Boyzone or whoever is the current version.
The reality pointed to by the likes of Beethoven is a polar opposite of that reflected by millions watching National Lottery shows, & all that tedium. I's essentially a conflict of consciousness. There's a Buddhist line, "O nobly born, let not your mind be distracted." The pushed doctrine of the moment could be said to be, "O ignobly born, let your mind always be distracted."

Andrew said...

I'm not saying there can't be great art made now. I'm saying the current ethos of the age doesn't want genuinely great art as it gives the lie to itself. As Picasso said, "Painting is an instrument of war." I think art needs to be fought on that front. Similarly I saw Tarkovsky's sister describe him as an artist warrior.

Neil Forsyth said...

There is no doubt that the volume of low-brow, poor quality art has increased manifold in the past fifty years or so. And then of course our access to it and appetite for it has never been greater. The emergence of the cult of the self has played a crucial part in triggering this avalanche of mediocrity. And it is a deeply depressing situation, Andrew, I agree. However, that is not to say that beneath the mountain of bilge there is not to be found some great art. It may be harder to find, it may be appreciated by relatively fewer people (compared to the numbers who watch Eastenders or Big Brother, who read Hello magazine and think The Da Vinci Code is a challenging work of literature but Harry Potter is more on their level), but it is assuredly there. I think I have encountered some of it myself along the way. And anyway, we need great art in order to make life bearable and the truth recognisable. Without great art we are lost for sure. So it is my contention that artistic genius will survive, although it may have to take a slightly longer detour than it has done in previous eras.

Andrew said...

I'd agree with your optimism on the genius & art front, Neil...the human spirit is indomitable after all. I'd even see the possibility of a kind of Renaissance equivalent if thinkgs were to go in a certain direction. The explosion of creativity in music in hte 60s, to take one example, was pretty staggering. Just shows what the right drugs can do. Though, those kind of results & people experiencing their own minds wasn't desirable so those catalysts illegalised. So, in a sense it's fair to say that the mind, or even God, is illegal.

elberry said...

if you want to see a film of staggering cinematography, a soundtrack like heaven, and a script that's as close to meaningless as you can get, check out Terrence Malick's wonderful The Thin Red Line, from 1999.

Whenever i feel depressed to be living in an age of Ian McEwan-like non-entities, i think "ah, but The Thin Red Line only came out 8 years ago, we're still capable of greatness, or were 8 years ago..."

It's a film generally derided as 'pretentious', which (since i'm a pretentious person) means 'genius'.

Andrew said...

I thknk I may have seen it without paying it due attention. A very recent Russian film I thought was astounding was The Return.

Jonathan said...

What relation is there between the spreading of 'education' and 'democratic freedoms' in the past 100 year and the decline of art? I wonder to what extent the creation of quality art is related to an 'aristocratic intention of the spirit', as it were. Concerns for egalitarianism on the everyday, physical plane have surely rivalled that mental poise? But need it, should it have? The spirit is capacious and can happily accommodate a billion separate elitist visions. Unlike in economics, where scarcity rules, there is only abundance in the inner realms so we neednt feel that by pursuing excellence in art others are being deprived (as they are more likely to be if some pursue excellence on the physical plane). It seems to me that a Marxist critique was imposed incorrectly on the productions of the artisitc spirit and that this critique lives on today, which is why it can be felt that non-ironic excellence or exaltedness in artistic productions can be considered snooty, condescending or over-priviledged, and not common or universal enough...an abstract attempt at the return of the Lord to the Manor.

Andrew said...

I don't think there's signs anyone misunderstood but I better clarify the defiled equation of democracy & all being equal. I'm attacking the perversion of the truth of all being equal that is emebedded in the modern ethos; not the democratic ideal itself. However it's hard to see how democracy fits into the behemoth of the modern nation-state. Democracy surely depends as in its original Greek form, on small autonomous self-governing entities.
I'd say, Jonathon, there is no reason education should be damaging to the aristocracy of the spirit & the art that ensues. The should depends though on the kind of education taught, &naturally the state run education system will reflect the notion of reality of the state.
I'd say the reason for the apparently bizarre dearth of genius in the modern era is the kind of consciousness that is formed in the aftermath of things like the Industrial Revolution, materialism, & the instruments of technology like television especially actually create a kind of hallucinatory sense of reality. Linked to your Marxist point, the religious awareness is the source of the greatest art, & all these things push a contrary narrow vision of reality which actually denies this very reality. They are all contrary to truth & therefore truth isn't experienced & expressed.

Jonathan said...

Agree about education, No reason why it shouldnt be widespread of course but the spirit of man mustn't be levelled and education isnt necessarily always a good. A lot of education can knock us off our essence in a way that results in our being far more stupid than children, even though we know more information. From what u r saying you are praisng religion for its asssociation with high art. I agree but its dogmatism can also repress, so it depends what kind of religious inspiration. But at least by defending the trasncendent religion didnt rob man of his own higher self in quite the way secularism has despite, ironically, its self-conscious attempt to liberate us from the oppressiveness of God. So much for good intentions.

Andrew said...

Though I should stress that the source of the highest art is consciousness itself experienced as religious rather than religion as belief. I suppose the virtues of religions then can be measured in how good they are at aiding this direct experience.

MNW reject said...

Andrew,

I'm glad I bumped into your blog. All this talk is music to my ears, and thought provoking too.

But is not genius always unrecognised in every era? In fact didn't you say as much in your post about Tolstoy not winning the noble prize.

There's so much rubbish about I am happy to agree. But I do still see genius and great works of art. For me Eric Newby -- recently deceased -- is an astounding writer. As is Tom fontana the writer of the amazing TV show Oz. In fact I saw a movie the other day -- Foreign Moon -- and I genuinely loved it which is rare.

I would never change democracy for the old ways, but it's certainly bred a generation of inverted snobs who can disregard the great works of art if they like simply because they were produced by nobles, and in their cod philosphy view of the world nobles dont know anything about reality.

Mind you the same people will also dismiss the likes of Chekhov and D H Lawrence for precisely the same reason.

At the end of the day the masses will never apreciate art. Best to do what D H Lawrence did and take yourself off to New Mexico and live a secluded life in the mountains.

Andrew said...

Hi MNW. You're right, no doubt, about the trials & tribulations of genius in an ungrateful world across much of time, but I'm talking about something a little different, namely that genius itself is undesirable to the modern mainstream ethos. In previous eras where the religious nature of life was a given, no matter how tainted this sense might have been, genius & its works particularly in the realm of art was the expression of this exalted state of being; the great artists were patronised by the Church & someone like El Greco could express an intense, mystical spiritual vision while working within the mainstream. However in the modern era, especially since the Industrial Revolution, the mainstream's sense of reality is incompatible with this intensified sense of reality...As one of the World Controllers explains in Brave New World, God & great art have been excised from view as these contradict the ethos of the modern age. An era that pushes an ethos of mass-consumption & inanity has no desire for Beethovens expressing that life is about the divinity of being.

Andrew said...

So, in a sense, genius, particularly genius that is intrinsically concerned with an absolute value to life, is a crime against humanity!

MNW reject said...

Yeah Andrew,

I see your point.