Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Artist, Aristotle, Kingdom, Polis: Random bits born of two abstracts

The papers represented by the following two abstracts were presented at the 2005 FIRT/IFTR conference in Washington, D.C. The theme of the conference was Citizen Artist: Theatre, Culture and Community. Both abstracts speak to the evolving investigation on this blog of modernity and its effect on the self and on the liberal arts, in which is included that sphere called “religion.” By discovering diagnoses of the problem similar to those found in sociological and theological texts, I want to demonstrate the pan-dimensionality of the problems besetting the Western church and its members, and open the door to dialogue among all those involved, perhaps discovering thereby a prognosis worthy of one's life's work.

A recovery of the public role of religious language in the West is a recovery of the public role of all the liberal arts. It is an end to the privatization and elimination of the self – and even of that suffocation represented by the word “self.” This is also a contribution to my own project, as in my mind theology is best discovered outside of the ghetto and in the street. Theology is too young, too sanguine, too full of the joy of life (la joie de vivre) to be shut up or shut in. At its heart, after all, is a dance.
A recovery of the public role of
religious language in the West is simultaneously
a recovery of the public role of all the liberal arts.
I, with the rest of the believing West, have imbibed personalistic and existentialist theology from my mother’s milk. The exile is over, the King has assumed his proper station. It is time for his subjects to enter the polis. To quote David Thunder:

Aristotle also appeals to human nature to show that people cannot be happy (or good, since happiness and goodness are, for Aristotle, inextricable) without friends, being ‘political’ and ‘tending by nature to live with others.’ (1169b 18-19). Let us recall that Aristotle began his enquiry into the human good by asking what the function of a human being was (Book I, Ch. 7, 1097b 24-25) Since the end of human life is to attain happiness, or excellent human activity, man’s nature, that is, the structure of his existence as a given, must be an important factor in the ethical life. Since man has a natural tendency to be with other people, part of his function or purpose must be precisely to be with other people well, or, in plain English, to get on well with others. R. G. Mulgan’s (Aristotle’s Political Theory (Oxford, 1977)) interpretation is that community life for Aristotle is at the very heart of the individual’s life.

The polis can exist without the individual, but the individual cannot exist without the polis...If men are separated from the polis, they cease to be men in the same way as a hand ceases to be a hand if cut off from the body...the function of man, the realisation of his essence, lies in the achievement of the good life which cannot be lived except in the polis.

At any rate, here are the abstracts:

The Artist & Society – A Portrait of the Artist as Next-door Neighbor
Fyfe, Hamish (University of Glamorgan)

In this paper I want to argue that the most of our operative notions of art and artists are the inherited remnants of nineteenth-century romantic individualism. Despite the post-war project of cultural democracy there persists an image of the artist as being outside the realm of the ordinary. My contention here is that this view tends to militate against any role for the artist as citizen, or even neighbor, of any specific city, nation, or for the artist as part of any global movement. The extreme version of the ‘modernist’ perspective is contained in a quotation from Georg Baselitz, writing about his work as late as 1983:

The artist is not responsible to anyone. His social role is asocial; his only responsibility consists in an attitude to the work he does. There is no communication with any public whatsoever. The artist can ask no question, and he makes no statement; he offers no information, and his work cannot be used. It is the end product which counts.

I want to suggest that hidden behind those comments is a personal and cultural myth that has formed the modern artist’s identity – the model of the egocentric, ‘separative’ self, whose perfection lies in absolute independence from the world, apparently beyond all ethical and social considerations. It places the arts as a closed and isolated system requiring nothing but themselves to be themselves, demanding an autonomy, which disregards relationships, demands independence from others and derives its power from association with authority and apparent invulnerability. In this model the arts are organized around the primacy of the product rather than relationships, and are set apart from reciprocal or participative interactions.

Immersed in Narratives: Citizen Artist and the Provisional Site
Riccio, Thomas (University of Texas, Dallas)

The world is increasingly composed of fragmented communities, the individual defined by a composite of overlapping, negotiated identities. Traditional associations with place, sense of individual and collective identity, responsibility, and affiliations have become fluid, provisional, contradictory, and complex. “Reality” is a theoretical construct; the material inexplicably concomitant with the virtual. Simultaneously, we are more intelligent and aware of one another, the multiplicity of histories, cultures, contexts, similarities, and differences the world over. We are increasingly sensitized to the environmental, technological, political, and economic holism to which we belong yet tentative about exactly where and how we belong. Place, once the sure and central germinating core of a cultural, and in turn, individual identity, has been bent to the will of capitalist-driven, transnational bureaucracies and corporations. What was indigenous has become manipulated nostalgia; the narrative of place usurped by an overlay of agenda constructed narratives. We are immersed within a multiplicity of narratives becoming metaphors of ourselves.

It is within this context the challenge of contemporary theatre occurs. Process and expression are one in the same, the artist is the harbinger of a new kind of citizen, one who is able to read and, by necessity, navigate the invisible, surrounding currents to organize a provisional “community”. The citizen artist creates a provisional place, a site of divination, exhortation, affirmation and healing. Theatre is no longer the object it is the means, a medium, the ephemeral fulcrum by which to manifest, expose, and affect the multiple narratives we live within.

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