Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Artists for Artists Sake

Mark Steyn can now be read in two Canadian Publications, Western Standard and Macleans Magazine. Excerpt ...

Poets, said Anatole France, are "the unacknowledged legislators of the world." But, grim as it is, the world would be a worse place if they were actual legislators. Like most folks, for a long time I vaguely accepted the idea that "artists" had unique insights into the human condition: that's why the CBC will invite a novelist to expound on, say, the Iraq war while rarely extending the opportunity to a sergeant with the Princess Patricia's to expound on, say, the Booker Prize short list. I gave up on the notion of artistic insight after watching the British novelist Fay Weldon twittering away with her "concerns" about Gorbachev's modest reforms of Communism: "But who's going to bring in the harvest?" she fretted, conjuring visions of bucolic collectivization unseen since those posters of burly tractor-hurling Soviet women 50 years earlier. Few groups have been so wrong on so much as the free world's literary class of the 20th century.

The cartoon jihad is a good reminder of that. In the sense that it's Salman Rushdie revisited, it's the umpteenth example of Marx's observation on history repeating itself: first tragedy, then farce. Or, in this case, first the unreadable literary novel, then the funny pages. One notes, though, that the Danish cartoonists were at least sufficiently plugged in to understand what they were doing. Rushdie wound up on the receiving end of a fatwa because the metropolitan English novel had become almost entirely disconnected from anything beyond itself. To read the original reviews of The Satanic Verses, in which the offending passages weren't even noticed, is to enter a sort of strange sunlit drawing room, comfortably insulated from the real world. Contemporary English letters were surely far too trivial to be at the eye of such a great socio-historical geopolitical storm. Unfortunately, the Ayatollah Khomeini didn't see it that way.

Italics Mine


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