The question of reality

I’m not such a fan of ‘pretending’ any more. The style of naturalism in performance, that prevails particularly on TV is ultimately deceitful, in that it cloaks its own artifice. While it’s clever, and enjoyable in its way to lose yourself as an audience member in the piece, I often feel a little disconnected somehow, however stunning the performance. There’s a quote I saw somewhere, that artists are lying to tell a greater truth.

With the power of the Interwebz, I tracked the quote to Alan Moore, in V for Vendetta

“Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.”

Quite apt. I’d intended to write about the connection between performance and politics, and comment on post-modernism. And the quote is from a comic-book series and film that has spawned imitation in so many political protests, in the form of the Guy Fawkes mask. Life imitating, or being inspired, by art – certainly one of the functions of art.

There is a strand of thought in contemporary philosophy that reality is being constructed which is somehow unreal, or rather, ‘hyperreal’. Looking at Disneyland or Las Vegas, they are whole cities created in imitation of other places, or even of artworks, but fundamentally serving only their own commerce;  mere ‘simulacra’ in Baudrillard’s term. One starts to question as Umberto Eco does, whether American culture itself is losing its mooring in reality.

“The real has become our utopia, that we dream of as if of a lost object. An entire culture now labours at counterfeiting itself.” (Andrew Robinson’s essay on Baudrillard cited in the hyperlink)

Pondering the practical realities of winning elections, and on the movement that brought Jeremy Corbyn the Labour leadership, I’m struck that the terms of the debate are often set within economics and class. On the doorstep, the offer being made (and more often, the fears being raised) were about income and tax. The questions being raised were often in the territory of culture, particularly in regard to migration. This allowed the inroads that the SNP and UKIP were able to make.

Power tries to defend itself against the collapse of meaning by reinjecting the real and the referential everywhere. It tries to convince people that the social world is still objectively real. It prefers to refer to crisis, or even to desire, than to admit its own collapse.   …….   And with the responsible subject no longer there, people try desperately to impute responsibility. The excessive reservoir of ‘floating responsibility’ through finding scapegoats or guilty parties is just waiting to be invested in any particular incident. The Katrina or Christchurch disasters get projected onto looters; social insecurity is projected onto Muslims, immigrants, minorities.

The challenge for progressives, I believe, is to create a programme which is not only valid, but also meaningful; and therefore ‘real’, within the changed conditions of a postmodern society. New Labour was one attempt; and to some degree successful in allying the notion of culture to its political programme.  The high point of that project was probably the expression of ‘Britishness’ created by Danny Boyle for London 2012, that was broadly supported across social divides; establishment challenges were very muted.

The second challenge is how to create that broad alliance, without descending into factional tribalism.  I recognise the temptation to retreat into a historical identity, based on heavy industry and trade unionism, class struggle and organised labour. Not that these are either obsolete or unimportant; but the knowledge industries don’t work like that; service industries aren’t organised that way either. Modern experience of life is much more atomised than the conditions which created the political system we inherit.

How to respond, to create real community, to work in the ‘real’ world, and what is the reality we reproduce? Does that reproduction stop it being real?

Image:  “V for vendettax” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia


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