Reflections on Roger Scruton’s – A Culture of Fake Originality (pt. 1)

You can read the short Guardian version here, and the full article on Aeon.

Now, I found this article very interesting because it gives a voice to some of the concerns I’ve had during my course of study – at both institutions. The fact that these same concerns came up at both the UEA and Aberystwyth seemed to suggest to me that this wasn’t a teacher or department-centric issue, but more of a general one.

The fact of the matter is, there were times when I’d look back on my work, on a lecture, or on some conversations I had had with other students and thought, ‘what did I just say?’ It wasn’t that I’d been using overblown adjectives and had confused myself with jargon (which happened quite regularly), or that I’d had some sort of euphoric ‘eureka’ moment in which I had somehow channelled the intellectual spirit of Freud – or Baudrillard – instead, it was a real moment of intellectual/academic unsteadiness. A kind of existential crisis but with a lean towards the academic.

I’d wonder how applicable these theories were to everyday life. Some of them weren’t meant to be applied to everyday life, in fact, I think most of them distanced themselves from the everyday, but, if they were so important in understanding art, then should they not say something about life and the everyday as well? I’d often huff a little here; I like writing, making things, viewing art, so perhaps art is only as involved in the everyday as much the everyday is involved in art – in that the man that goes home from work and watches television every evening begins to feel, perhaps, that television is an integral part of his being.

I’d often get stuck here and end up wallowing instead in the relationships between art, the individual, the public, and the idea of ‘culture’, but occasionally I’d put it to one side; working with the assumption that art and life, or living, have a close relationship.

So then, why were these theories so difficult to understand? If art reflects on the world and vice versa, how come the world itself fails to speak the ‘truths’ espoused by critics, philosophers and theorists? Why do we have to generate these ever-increasing long words for things that were not readily there – that existed all too often as a concept rather than a physical entity? What use really is theory, rationality, psychology in a world that could simply live? And then I’d get stuck again, because for me thinking conceptually, and thinking in general was as much living as instinctual living. Hand to mouth to hand to mouth and fucking to prolong the human race seems like a very simple existence for an animal that has the gift of consciousness…

So I felt like I was finding problems with the relationship between theory and the real world. There were also problems with theory in relationship to theory. How could Postmodernism exist without Modernism? Could it exist without Modernism? Is it simply that the way in which we have thought about art, culture, and the concepts of truth, beauty etc have moved in a way that meant Modernism came first, by accident? Postmodernism would not, then, be post-modernism but would have been named something altogether different. Modernism had to occur for Postmodernism to come into being, but did it ever have to occur as ‘Modernism’? The logistics of it swamped me, and all too often I felt as if I were swimming in a syrupy nothingness – a swirl of philosophical custard that  could only ever answer questions with more questions, where philosophers hurriedly fill in any gaps in their favourite philosophies with a kind of rhetorical/theoretical spackling paste.

And I was in the middle of it all…

Not in the middle as in I was somehow an important figure in theory or philosophy; the middle as the furthest you can be from any edge. I would feast on the syrup around me until I was full and then (and only then) I’d feel a kind of sickness, like I hadn’t asked the right questions in the beginning. I’d been lured into the witches house by my own lust for sweet sweet theory, with it’s spires of Freudian phallogocentrism set on Stoic foundations, its windows inducing a childish apperception, and it’s only after I’ve eaten my fill I realise the bars around me.

arthur-rackham-hansel-and

I’d be stuck. I’d want to escape – so I’d try to bend the bars. I’d poke them with difficult questions, but every poke would be a kind of poke at myself. I’d got myself into this mess, and now I was trying to break my way out.

Metaphors aside, there were times I’d laugh whilst taking a break from essay writing. I’d be slaving over a particular paragraph for half an hour, or an hour, and then I’d take a break and come back to it. When I came back to it, I couldn’t help but find it hilarious. As soon as I approached it from an outside point of view it seemed so meaningless, so obscure as to seem to have no relevance to the world around me. Did the world outside really care about logos and mythos? If I were able to ask my cat about the importance of balance between techne and physis would he really answer me? Is it really important? Does it really mean anything? And I’d laugh, laugh at myself. Often for a very long time.

It was at these points that I felt as if I had no idea what I was doing. Sentences would form in front of my eyes as if I hadn’t even written them. They made sense within the language of the essay, and the language of those I was quoting, but at the same time it felt so very distant. I was completely engaged with that activity, and yet had never felt so far away. I felt as if I were constantly misrepresenting myself and my thoughts, that there was no way in which the words could be arranged on the page as to explain what I really wanted to explain. I was barely touching the on the topic I had wanted to explore, and yet, if you asked me now what all the logos and mythos was about I could tell you only very little.

I’m sure a lot of us can agree that literary theory and philosophy can often be somewhat removed from the everyday, but this is where I return to this ‘assumed’ close relationship between art and life because I often shared the same thoughts about creative writing that I had with the critical…

Poems, for me anyway, exist in this strange half-physical half-imagined plane. There is plenty of inspiration to be found in the world around us, but inspiration and the creation of a poem afterwards is like dreaming. It never comes quite as I’d expect it too. This makes the ‘commentary’ part of an academic portfolio very difficult. How are you to argue where a poem has come from and what influenced it if you don’t really know it happened? We can’t really justify our dreams, so how then can we justify a poem? What’s to stop us making it up afterwards?

More later.

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