Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thirsting for the Superfluous

One of the best defenses of art I've ever read is in the September/October issue of Orion Magazine. In "The Exile of the Arts," Jay Griffiths argues that, "one of the reasons for the hostility against the arts today is precisely that they are implacable witnesses against this terrible lie of our times: that money is the measure of all. Art refutes this lie, disentangles 'money' from 'values,' and argues with its deepest authority that there is another sky, intimate and boundless, open to all, where the poet can tow a star across the liquid river of night, like a child with a toy boat on a string."

This is all eloquent enough, but the genius of the article lies in Griffiths positing of art as a kind of moral alternative to consumerism. "Consumerism and the arts are both answers to the same yearning," Griffiths writes. "The human spirit thirsts for the superfluous, for overflow and abundance. Literalism wants that abundance made material, though, whereas metaphorical abundance resists any need for literal overconsumption. Metaphors of extravagant liveliness reduce a hunger for extravagant lifestyles. Stuck in literal abundance, however, a society is credulous to the monostory of money. While metaphor and the arts offer pluralities and different voices, literalism, from Plato onward, speaks in a political monotone, the one state ruling, top-down."

This is the thing that the liberal technocrats and politicos don't seem to understand: it isn't possible to convince people not to thirst. It is possible, with the right kind of education, parenting and community, perhaps, to persuade them to crave stories and photographs and poems instead of palaces.

1 comment:

  1. Nice one. Thanks for sharing. Let’s spread the word!