May 1, 2017


You Are Not Important: Defund Identity Culture (Reilly Smethurst, 5/01/17, Quillette)

The Australia Council for the Arts, state Arts ministries, Humanities faculties, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) should not force taxpayers to fund work that explores the desert of identity and rejoices at mirages. Today, one encounters examples of identity culture in multiple artistic fields. "Join us to explore the meaning of identity," wrote the Director of the 2016 Melbourne Writers Festival on the program's welcome page. The Director of the Melbourne Conservatorium, Gary McPherson, lists identity among his principal research topics. Pamela Burnard, a Cambridge professor and Melbourne University alumnus, considers identity of supreme importance. According to Burnard, academics and music teachers must "understand the voices and the multi-voicedness of students" and celebrate "diverse creativities" for the sake of an "emergent ecology." (I do not know what this means.) John Gray, the well-known critic of liberal humanism, referred to Burnard's ilk as members of "increasingly marginal universities." The more that twenty-first-century societies lose interest in the Humanities, the more Humanities academics pretend to address everyone, promote social participation, and claim to make the world a better place, as if vying for a job on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Christine Liu labelled these people the "new elite of ordinariness" - academics on six-figure salaries that promise each and every identity, "You, too, are worthy of the limelight! You are important!" This is empty flattery.

Identity culture is not new. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, it began with Euripides. "Euripides brought the spectator on to the stage," the young philologist explained. Thanks to Euripides, "people from everyday life pushed their way out of the audience and on to the stage; the mirror which once revealed only great and bold features now became painfully true to life, reproducing conscientiously even the lines which nature had drawn badly." Euripides, in other words, is responsible for Gogglebox and participatory art. Euripides initiated the turn from the grand Hellene to the Graeculus - the "little Greek" that Juvenal loved to mock and that Nietzsche defined as a good-natured, domestic slave. At present, the Graeculus is the figure that Australian taxpayers are commanded to identify with and support - the supposedly good-natured struggler. British taxpayers face a similar problem. According to Gray, they too are forced to pay for the "right" of all citizens, most of whom are middle-class, "to assert what they take to be their identity," especially if their identity can be represented as pitiful or oppressed, just like the Graeculus.

Identity culture is an offshoot of narcissistic philistinism. If one ceases to believe in the existence of profound truths, sublime terror, Art, gods, muses, or geniuses (defined classically as inhuman spirits), then one's self or identity acquires a hyperbolic sense of importance. Contrary to what is said in Cultural Studies departments, Art's supreme function is not the expression of a middle-class self or the construction of a millennial identity; it is the forgetting of the self. In ancient Greece, Dionysus's followers lost themselves through music; today, Selena Gomez's followers find themselves. This does not count as progress. [...]

If taxpayers from both the Right and the Left refuse to fund identity culture, what exactly will remain of the arts? I shall briefly note two well-known alternatives - one Christian, one Greek. According to Dante Alighieri, Art is the grandchild of God. It is not principally a consumable that benefits one's emotional well-being or scores in brain-training apps. Art is not a tool or a servant. The self, in its best possible form, serves Art. One is thereby committed to the mystery of Creation. This is a variant of Timaeus's poetic sophistry. As Timaeus pointed out to Socrates, when creating a myth or a new image of the cosmos, sensible men invoke the gods. Timaeus did not dedicate his cosmology to Graeculuses. Gods and muses were figures of significance; the ordinary spectator was not, and neither was the master of technique that served as a paid entertainer (such as the wind player from Plato's Symposium). Put simply, when art is Art, it involves something in excess of the spectator and the professional, the inexperienced and the skilled, the consumer and the producer. As soon as this mysterious 'something' is lost, one is cursed with self-belief and/or faith in one's fellow Graeculuses, philistine identity culture and/or participatory art; hence the present predicament.

Posted by at May 1, 2017 6:23 AM