Political vs. Poetical
It is difficult to completely separate politics from art1 as any work focussing on human relationships and/or social constructs is political2. However, not every work of art is Politically3 motivated, i.e. they do not all have an intentional Political stance. The reason I’m raising this issue is to challenge the view of the functionality of art that some members of The Rhexis seem to hold. For example, the recent writings and music of Mr Black, which may I say I rate very highly, do seem to be (dare I use the word) obsessed with Politically re-educating his audience. From what I have read, Mr. Veins also seems to have a strong political stance in his writing (I am thinking about that remarkable piece, currently absent from The Rhexis, with chapters titled (a), (b), (c), etc.). My problem is not actually with the fact that works of art have a political message. It is, of course, important in a society with so many disparate opinions to have literature and music which is polemical. I am instead concerned with the explicitness of the polemic. If memory serves me correctly, Mr. Veins piece is disguised as a manifesto and therefore through its form, it justifies its somewhat unsubtle content. I am sorry to say, however, that I find that some of Mr. Black’s pieces of music suffer as a result of their lack of subtly. It is all very well to have a surprising and amusing line such as "I can detonate Nuns with the force of my mind", but I find that it is weakened in juxtaposition with the all too explicit "Counter culture’s coming to get you"4. [Music file here for reference - Ed.]
Moving away from this potentially devastating critique of The Rhexis editorship, I’ll try to show how other writers have conveyed a political message effectively, without being unsubtle and overtly explicit. Virginia Woolf’s The Years is set apart from the political arena but shows its support for Irish Nationalism by exposing the narrow viewpoint of a character who delights in Charles Stewart Parnell’s death. In another Woolf novel, Mrs Dalloway, Lady Bruton, a woman who believes that man, "but no woman", holds a "mysterious accord... to the laws of the universe", is subtly ridiculed. It is only through this subtle ridicule that the novel suggests Lady Bruton’s opinions to be similarly ridiculous, and Parnell is only briefly mentioned in The Years. To a careful reader, Woolf’s novels carry an equivalent political weight (at least for the time they were written) to many more explicit polemics. I personally find this technique more effective in exposing flaws in society. Is an ambitious political statement really more effective than a subtle one? "To a careful reader" – I presume the retort will make something of the issue of audience. In order to make an audience fully understand a political issue, does one really need to hit them in the face with it? Does Mr. Black’s intended audience really deserve this lack of subtlety? Surely his intended audience have similar perceptive abilities to Woolf’s "careful readers". If not, then perhaps his attentions would be better directed at activism rather than the creation of esoteric music
There are, of course, some works which are explicit and effective both as art and polemic: Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, for example. However, Moore’s graphic novel is far more subtle than this reading would give him credit. Whilst it is true that the graphic novel seems to sympathise with the anarchic actions of its protagonist, it never explicitly condones them. Moore instead allows his readers to decide for themselves.
The use of comedy as a Political tool in contrast to an obvious and explicit message is frequently more effective as its audience is generally wider and less suspicious. Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show delivers a powerful anti-Republican message which is not impeded by unsubtlety, where as The Clash’s Know Your Rights delivers a much stronger message, but in order to do so is considerably less subtle: "Murder...is a crime. Unless it was done by a/Policeman or aristocrat". The Clash’s audience are mostly people that want to listen to the music, people who probably share the political views of the musicians. I am actually being a little harsh on The Clash here, as the song is delivered with much humour in an appropriately ironic tone. In contrast to Mr Black, however, The Clash were not writing for quite as esoteric an audience and so by making their lyrics less subtle they are more easily understood by the masses.
There is also the issue of context, i.e. when the works were written. Moore and The Clash were writing in opposition to Thatcherism, where as Mr Black is writing in a time of Thatcher - oh, wait! Maybe his unsubtlety is justified after all...
I await with anticipation the responses on the merits of subtle and unsubtle polemic. Perhaps you could also elucidate the merits of political writing over aesthetic writing, or vice versa. Also, quite a big topic here, how effective is art as a means of conveying a political message as opposed to just activism?
Apologies to Mr Black for some the above comments. I do not necessarily agree with all of them. My purpose in directly questioning his works was to get a response from the horse’s mouth (not that he actually looks much like a horse). [Bastard lovechild of Wilde and Bowie is the standard estimation - Subed.] You will have also noticed, attentive reader, that my argument does not always follow through on the claims which it makes. This could be one of two things, that the argument is wrong, or that I am too lazy to complete it... *also I want to apologise for the number of notes below.
1Read as an umbrella term for literature, fine art, music, etc.
2See the last chapter of Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory – An Introduction.
3I use a capital "P" to denote the difference between socio-cultural politics, and issues surrounding what might be described as organisational or governmental Politics. (I hope this makes sense. ‘Politic’ has multitudinous denotative meanings and I have only selected two in order to make my argument more workable. In any case, my two meanings overlap heavily.)
4I know this is an old song and Mr. Black’s style may have changed by now, but I am afraid that I cannot remember any of the lyrics to his new songs. It should also be noted that not all of the songs are like this.