Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Art vs. Politics

“Redescribing a world is the necessary first step towards changing it. And particularly at times when the State takes reality into its own hands, and sets about distorting it, altering the past to fit its present needs, then the making of the alternative realities of art, including the novel of memory, becomes politicized. ‘The struggle of man against power,’ Milan Kundera has written, ‘is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’ Writers and politicians are natural rivals. Both groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight for the same territory. And the novel is one way of denying the official, politicians’ version of truth.” (14)

Reflecting on the inevitable “struggle” between art and politics Salman Rushdie describes in “Imaginary Homelands”, I began to question what the “truth” really is. He asks, “What right do we have to speak at all?” but I ask who doesn’t have a right to speak, which is echoed as Rushdie says that “literature is self-validating”. (14) All art is an expression of one’s own truth, what one learns about life, love, another, himself, etc. Must all art truly strive to “change” the “world”? I feel like there is a distinction between expressing the truth of what is and expressing what one sees the world could be. I think art can do either. I think politics can too, but I don’t necessarily see that those expressions must be in opposition to each other. Rushdie says that politics “distorts reality” and calls their “version of truth” a “lie” that literature exposes through its truth, but I cannot agree. I cannot succumb to the idea that Abe Lincoln’s devotion to the idea of equality opposes literature coming out of the Civil Rights Movement or out of the Holocaust. Lincoln’s political “reality” became a vision for a better world that was and is echoed in various art forms more than a hundred years later.
Within Love and Longing in Bombay it is apparent that Chandra makes a very political, religious and philosophical point or toleration and acceptance. We talked in class about the fact that the integration of the new and the old, the young and the old, the traditional and the modern, the Indian and the English cultures clearly advocated the interweaving of seemingly opposing cultures, religions, and beliefs. I think that’s moderation; I think that is the realization that the world isn’t black and white and that a clear path of right and wrong doesn’t exist in reality. Rushdie writes that “literature is in part the business of finding new angled at which to enter reality,” (15) that “art is a passion of the mind,” (20) that “imagination works best when it is most free,” (20) and concludes with Saul Bellow’s exclamation, “’For God’s sake, open the universe a little more!” (21) but I challenge Rushdie to open his eyes. No positive “change” will come out of rejection, exclusion and judgment. Just as Chandra points out the need for interfaith and intercultural dialogue, politicians and artists are more than capable of joining sides, hand in hand, fighting for the same cause.

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