Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts of activism
Part VI: Guerilla theatre: comedy and revolution, pp. - PDF (5.6 MB)
bureaucracy, and the dehumanizing effects of technology" (the list of what youth is in revolt against, in the prospectus provided by this journal, notably omits private property) there is nothing left to say except how to change them. Artists who consider themselves in the vanguard, and most do, must assume the responsibility of the vanguard, which is to lead. This most will find impossible to do without radical changes in their ideas about art. They will have to abandon objectivity in favor of morality and metaphysics in favor of history. Granted that too few of us know what politics we want, that most of the New Left does not know what it wants, there is a general extreme aversion to direct statement in art that prevents most artists from even asking themselves the question, and a preference for metaphysical concerns that relieves them of historical responsibility. The twin pillars of our high culture are positivism and relativism. If there is anything at all we can be sure of, it is only the isolated messages our senses receive: all larger truths are provisional. "What does 'what does it mean' mean?" replied Pinter to a questioner. The work of art should not interpret: it should transmit, or re-create, or be experience. Statements of direction and value are intrusions on art: Martin Esslin treats Brecht's Marxism as a vision impediment. The history of modern art can be outlined as a series of attempts to destroy rational constructions and break through to raw experience. Think of thousands of symbolists, surrealists, abstract expressionists, alone in their studies and studios like so many alchemists, breaking experience down into its parts, all searching for the ultimate concreteness. This mass purist quest has brought tremendous results: revealed, explored, and invented rich forms of expression for huge previously forbidden tracts of consciousness; neither art nor consciousness will ever be the same. Many people will never be the same since acid; in either case we arrive with consciousness enriched, after long trips and many changes, at the question, "All right, my mind's blown - now what?" Awareness is a means that has so far been mistaken for an end; without an end it becomes inversion. Who can profit from seeing more than one play of Beckett's or lonesco's? (Who can profit from seeing one play of Albee's?) To refuse to interpret, to judge and to direct, 417 is to confer the sanction of inevitability on the world as we know it, by conveying pieces of it as the ultimate reality. The same effect of implicit sanction is produced by focussing, as our playwrights and novelists prefer to, on the metaphysical situation rather than the historical one: our oarticular troubles are seen as symptoms of irreparable flaws in the eternal fabric, and made to seem trivial, anyway, by comparison. Who cares who owns the factories, when Sam Shephard, Thomas Pynchon, Claude Van Itallie -all the bright young men, as well as the somber old ones - are announcing that entropy is about to take over? We have few books about curable evils: CATCH-22, probably the solidest, best sustained satire of our period, is a model for the way the specific evil, in our fiction, eludes resolution by opening onto the general uncertainty. The unrelieved accumulation of terrible details gradually makes the insanity of the army appear as the insanity of the universe, in the light of which there is no point in trying to do anything, except maybe find a comfortable hole. (Carl Oglesby pointed out in a 1967 lecture, "The Deserter, or the Contemporary Defeat of Fiction" that Heller "cops out to despair" by sending Yossarian to Sweden instead of having him assassinate General Cathcart, a possibility entertained at several points in the book.) Similarly, in Burrough's satire, addiction and buggery accumulate meanings and swell until they swallow the universe. To have a blacker vision than Burroughs is a widespread ambition. With God dead, the metaphysical outlook is naturally bleak; on the historical plane, however, there are a few things left to try, and the reluctance of most artists to promote them invites the suspicion that they prefer the evil which guarantees them a subject to the revolution which might leave them without one. To rejoin history art must become didactic, moralistic, propagandistic: all bad words to the sophomore English major but assumed motives of art at most times other than our own. It must also be visionary. It must also be good, or it will fail as propaganda.