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November 20, 2014


'If art cannot change the world, it can help to change the consciousness and drives of the women and men who would change the world'. So says Herbert Marcuse in 'The Aesthetic Dimension'.

My man Brecht is a tad bolder! 'Art is not a mirror held up to reality,' he declares, 'but a hammer with which to shape it'. And he characterised the principal differences between what he saw as the seductive, decadent, anti-revolutionary tendencies of naturalistic 'Dramatic' theatre & his own revolutionary, non-naturalistic 'Epic' theatre thus:

'The theater-goer in conventional dramatic theater says: "Yes, I've felt that way, too. That's the way I am. That's life. That's the way it will always be. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is no escape for him. That's great art — everything is self-evident. I am made to cry with those who cry, and laugh with those who laugh". But the theater-goer in the epic theater says: "I would never have thought that. You can't do that. That's very strange, practically unbelievable. That has to stop. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is an escape for him. That's great art — nothing is self-evident. I am made to laugh about those who cry, and cry about those who laugh".

So by distancing the audience from the immediate, petty, bourgeois concerns of individual characters & focussing on the great tidal shift of a narrative within which character is secondary to the lessons of the play, theatrical art becomes a weapon of revolution.

That, anyway, is the theory..!

You know I do!

This week, I attended a tri-faith workshop service at McGill, at which the writer and activist Heather Menzies (not the actor with the same name) shared her experience of returning to her roots (Scotland) and spoke about her new book, "Reclaiming the Commons for the Common Good". I find such testimony moves me more these days than abstraction and argument. We need powerful examples from both past and present communities so that we are not lulled into assuming certain forms are immutable.

Thanks so much for sharing Ursula Le Guinn's brilliant speech here and on FB. Some time when you feel like losing yourself in a big novel, Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain is pretty wonderful.

"Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art." This insight has *particular* relevance for poetry, from which pretty much *no-one* can ever make a living, but that doesn't seem to stop us trying, and trying, and trying. To the detriment of poetry and its broader mission, in my view. Per my continuing bleat: "Be clear why you are doing this: are you trying to make money by selling your poems, or are you trying to get your poems read as widely as possible? Remember that the first objective undermines the second." http://thenanopress.wordpress.com/nanopress-mechanics/ Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Beth.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.