Sunday, January 08, 2006

these debates they are not new


"The quarrels about “pure art” and about art with a tendency took place between the liberals and the “populists”. They do not become us. Materialistic dialectics are above this; from the point of view of an objective historical process, art is always a social servant and historically utilitarian. It finds necessary rhythm of words for dark and vague moods, it brings thought and feeling closer and contrasts them with one another, it enriches the spiritual experience of the individual and of the community, it refines feeling, makes it more flexible, more responsive, it enlarges the volume of thought in advance and not through the personal method of accumulated experience, it educates the individual, the social group, the class and nation. [A pre-toast to Matthew Arnold here.] And this it does quite independently or whether it appears in a given case under the flag of a “pure” or of a frankly tendencious art. In our Russian social development tendenciousness was the banner of the intelligentsia which sought contact with the people. The helpless intelligenstia, crushed by Tsarism and deprived of a cultural environment, sought support in the lower strata of society and tried to prove to the “people” that it was thinking only of them, living only for them and that it loved them “terribly”. And just as the “populists” who went to the people were ready to do without clean linen and without a comb and without a toothbrush, so the intelligentsia was ready to sacrifice the “subtleties” of form in its art, in order to give the most direct and spontaneos expression to the sufferings and hopes of the oppressed. On the other hand, “pure” art was the banner of the rising bourgeoisie, which could not openly declare its bourgeois character, and which at the same time tried to keep the intelligentsia in its service. The Marxist point of view is far removed from these tendencies, which were historically necessary, but which have become historically passé . Keeping on the plane of scientific investigation, Marxism seeks with the same assurance the social roots of the “pure” as well as of the tendencious art. It does not at all “incriminate” a poet with the thoughts and feelings which he expresses, but raises questions of a much more profound significance, namely, to which order of feelings does a given artistic work correspond in all its peculiarities? What are the social conditions of these thoughts and feelings? What place do they occupy in the historic development of a society and a class? And, further, what literary heritage has entered into the elaboration of the new form? Under the influence of what historic impulse have the new complexes of feelings and thoughts broken through the shell which divides them from the sphere of poetic consciousness? The investigation may become complicated, detailed or individualized, but its fundamental idea will be that of the subsidiary role which art plays in the social process...

[T]he Formalist school...leads to the superstition of the word. Having counted the adjectives, and weighed the lines, and measured the rhythms, a Formalist either stops silent with an expression of a man who does not know what to do with himself, or throws out an unexpected generalization which contains five per cent of Formalism and ninety-five per cent of the most uncritical intuition."
–Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, trans. Rose Strunksky, 168-172

3 comments:

Keith said...

Cattelan's "The Ballad of Trotsky".

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matt said...

I suppose that was somewhat inevitable. Thanks though, Keith. Enjoying your new blog.