Monday, February 01, 2010

"realism is a poor excuse for degradation"

I loved this article from Selwyn Duke at American Thinker:

Culture in the Rye

1 comment:

kenji said...

There was a false dilemma in there: art representing only the ideal (whose ideal?) vs. representing only what's actually the case.

"After all, in real life, we all must answer nature's call, but does this mean we must show television characters using the toilet?" Yes it does, if we have some comment to make for which using the toilet might be a relevant symbol or example.

The writer disparages as a "tired old defense of rap music" the claim that it represents the reality of black urban life in a way that other music doesn't, or at least hasn't. He claims that showing reality as it is is the job of news, not art. But rap isn't just meant to show the reality of a particular social group. It's also meant to build solidarity between people in that group, to participate in a discussion of that reality, and to motivate action. "Just tellin' you what's goin' on out there [in the streets]" aims at those goals. If it were less frank, if it only aimed at morally uplifting the listener by the depiction of ideals and not present reality, it would ring false. It wouldn't work. That's not to say that all rap music is effective at those goals or even that all rap music aims at them, but it is to say that the frank depiction of urban reality is essential when it does.

"Once this is understood, it becomes clear why moderns can benefit from reading millennia-old Greek classics, works about long-dead people written in antiquated ways. Truth transcends time, place, and people."

Some truths transcend time, place, and people. Others don't. Both kinds are important. And while moderns definitely can benefit from reading Greek classics, we can also benefit from reading literature of any kind from any time or group of people. I wonder why the writer picks Greek classics as his sole example of "works about long-dead people written in antiquated ways". How about long-dead people from other parts of the world in addition to Europe? This is what a lot of people are after when they want school literature curricula not to be limited to the works of "dead white males". The idea isn't that dead white males have nothing useful or important to say. It's that they are not the only ones who do.

I think this guy is romanticizing the past. People's moral ideals have been very different at different times and places. The ancient Greeks with their literary classics, for that matter, had numerous moral assumptions that a modern American Christian would find totally repugnant (and maybe, contrary to the Truth-with-a-capital-T that allegedly transcends time, place, and culture).