Ed Vaizey & Eugène Ionesco. One of these is a bell-end.

Mar 20, 2013 by

FIRST! A Bit Of Preamble
Fin Kennedy has conducted painstaking research, interviewed, surveyed, been scrupulously impartial and prepared an excellent report into the effects of cutting theatre funding.  Called ‘In Battalions‘, it is important reading for anyone with an interest in the arts, and theatre in particular. He’s prepared this report with the intention of challenging Ed Vaizey’s deeply-held belief that ‘everything is fine’.  The trouble is that, although everything clearly isn’t fine, various cognitive biases ingrained in the human brain make us minimise the importance of things that conflict with our beliefs, and attach more weight to those that reinforce what we already hold to be true.  Ed Vaizey has rejected this thoroughly-researched criticism.

Fin needed to convince, because important people were going to read his report.  No-one reads this damned blog, not even my mum, so I feel no need to avoid calling Ed Vaizey a bell-end. 

Now, then.  Reasoned argument. 

Ed Vaizey, Minister for ‘Culture’

We need a liberal State, befriending thought and art, believing in their necessity and the necessity for laboratories. Before an invention or a scientific theory is made known, it has long been prepared, tested out and thought out in the laboratories. I claim that dramatists should have the same opportunities as scientists for making experiments

Eugène Ionesco, ‘A talk about the avant-garde’, 1959 [trans. Donald Watson]

Eugène Ionesco

I didn’t choose the above quotation by accident.  We are used, when campaigning for something, to hearing influential members of a group making the case on behalf of a large number of supporters. They often make predictions about what will happen if these things do (or don’t) happen, and warn of dire consequences that spread beyond those people directly affected.

The trouble is, of course, that whoever’s listening to your case can say ‘Well, you don’t know that these terrible things will happen, do you?  You’re just guessing’.  And, while you can make very good guesses, it’s impossible to state that the future is predictable, and so those who don’t want to listen will always have an excuse not to listen.

Now look at Eugène Ionesco.  One of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century, and of all time.  He railed against the insidious rise of Fascism in Rhinocéros. He revelled in the absurdity of everyday interaction, and made a new theatrical language to explore the very nature of human existence. And, crucially, we can look at what he said and see how his principle worked out.

Martin Crimp has produced new versions of his plays; one of the great devising companies of our time, Complicité, has produced new interpretations of his work with one of the most celebrated theatres of the late 20th century, the Royal Court. His ideas continue to inspire writers and artists of all stripes.  His work continues. He said what believed to be needed: We need a liberal State, befriending thought and art, believing in their necessity. And his work continues.

His work continues. And that is Culture.  Culture isn’t a giant summer festival once a year, where the latest TV-elected pop band are showcased.  Culture isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime spectacular where the best things from the last 500 years get to be shown off.  Culture isn’t a new west-end musical production of twenty-year-old book for children that can make a fortune for its private backers overseas.  Culture isn’t even a brand new opera about the Internet. Culture isn’t one thing.

Culture is dialogue: all the art of the past informing all the art of the present. The works of long-dead creators being taken up by modern day re-interpreters, artistic creation taking place on a continuum, a great long line stretching back to cave paintings, sculpture, photography, engraving, the constant creation of stuff. That is Culture.  You don’t make Culture overnight, or in time for the next election.  It takes place all around you, and it can be impoverished and battered, and the effects will last forever.

If your idea of culture begins with the opening ceremony to The Olympics, and ends with the closing ceremony of The Olympics, then you’re not a Minister for Culture: you’re nothing more than an events organiser.

And you’re a bell-end.

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