The cover story of today’s Sunday Times indicates a plan on the part of the UK government to reduce fees in higher education.
According to the story:
He [Education Secretary Damian Hinds] revealed that future fees would be determined by “a combination of three things: the cost [to the university] to put it on, the benefit to the student and the benefit to our country and our economy”.
Ministers expect this to lead to dramatic cuts in fees for arts and social science courses, which universities have expanded because they are the cheapest to run and make them the most money.
Under the plans, universities will be told to offer: more two-year degrees; sandwich courses, where students spend time in the workplace; and “commuter courses”, where they live at home to cut costs.
Various television interviews today with Hinds and also with Universities Minister Sam Gyimah have done nothing to dispel such suggestions, though precise details are vague. A statement from the Prime Minister is promised tomorrow, though it is unclear how much has yet been decided, how much will be the outcome of a review.
There are various outcomes I could envisage, few of them likely to be positive for those working in the arts and humanities in British universities. The items on the following list are not mutually exclusive.
- A re-introduction of the pre-1992 divide (though ministers will be at pains to stress how different it is), whereby the sector will once again divide into a series of universities in the traditional sense (probably the Russell Group and a handful of others) and others offering more vocational and technical courses (most of those which became universities after 1992 and maybe some others as well). This will be spun as entailing a new level of support for technical education, with the second group of institutions intended to be akin to German Technische Universitäten. The latter institutions will receive little or no support for research, and most lecturers will be on teaching-only contracts. The government money thus saved will be used to finance a cut in some tuition fees.
- A push for many degrees, especially in the arts and humanities, to be able to be undertaken in two years, delivered by a mixture of lecturers on teaching-only contracts (whose increased teaching burden would leave little time for any research), casual academic staff without permanent contracts, and postgraduates.
- A limitation of practically all government research money to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects, with nothing for the arts and the humanities, though the social sciences may keep some.
- A variant of 3, in which all or the bulk of arts and humanities research money is only available to those in Russell Group institutions.
- The introduction of a direct link between ’employability’ (as measured by the Teaching Excellence Framework) and the level of fees which an institution is allowed to set.
- An insistence that the majority of academic jobs be teaching only. Having a research position will then become one of the most sought-after things in HE.
Most of these measures, or some variants thereof, will be designed to enable the government to cut fees without having to pledge any more money for HE. I believe strongly in the abolition of tuition fees and re-installment of maintenance grants for all, but realise at present this is unlikely to be on the cards (even with a Labour government which pledges to abolish fees, but will be hit by the dire economic consequences of a Brexit they are doing little to stop).
The outlook for the arts is bleak, and especially for degrees in performing arts such as music, theatre, dance, or various types of spatial arts, which include a practical element requiring significant resources for appropriate facilities. Already, as a result of the introduction of the Ebacc (English Baccalaureate), there was a five-fold fall in the numbers of pupils taking arts subjects at secondary school in 2015-16, while other evidence points to a special fall in take-up and provision of music. When combined with other likely problems relating both to recruitment and access to research funding following Brexit, this will put various music and other arts departments in a highly precarious position, as some already are.
The arguments for the employment benefits of arts and humanities degrees have been rehearsed often, as for example in response to politicians such as former Conservative Education Secretary Nicky Morgan dismissing arts and humanities subjects and urging pupils at school to concentrate on STEM if they want a better career. I do not wish to dwell on these further here, not because I do not believe them to be true, but because I resent the debate always being framed in such narrowly utilitarian terms. Rather, I want to ask why many – including some in academia – have lost such faith in the value of the study of the arts and humanities as an end in itself, and are submitting to terms of reference which will always place them at a disadvantage?
In many continental European universities, there are battles to save rare subjects in the face of declining student numbers, but at least some measures are being taken to prevent these from extinction. It would be nice to imagine that the UK government (or the opposition) were backing similar measures, but evidence of that is in short supply. I wonder in how many other developed countries one would find a vice-chancellor of a major university declaring the irrelevance of the study of sixth-century history, as the late Patrick Johnston, of Queen’s University Belfast, did in 2016. I refuse to accept that the study of early medieval (or ancient) history is somehow automatically less ‘relevant’ than modern history – or that the study of Guillaume de Machaut is less ‘relevant’ than that of Madonna. Any measure of the relevance of history in proportion to the temporal remoteness of the period in question ultimately undermines the case for the study of history at all. There has also been, in the UK, a marked decline in foreign language degrees, no doubt linked to a decline in their study in schools. It is dispiriting and more than a little arrogant when those in Britain no longer feel it important to engage with any of the world’s many other languages.
There have been, and will be for a long time, heated debates about the value to individuals and society as a whole of various types of art, and especially regarding their purported humanising or civilising potential. Overwhelming evidence exists from the fascist era that individuals with a love for and firm schooling in high culture could still commit crimes against humanity. At the very least, this renders automatic assumptions of such culture’s civilising potential impossible to maintain. But one need not subscribe to the views of Matthew Arnold (themselves more complex and nuanced than sometimes credited) in order to believe that a society with only minimal support for and education in the arts and humanities to be one which is deeply impoverished.
So what should be included in teaching and research of these disciplines? I would argue that at the very least, students should be encouraged to explore not only the forms of culture that they would encounter anyhow, but also those of different times and places, not to mention less familiar or commercially successful genres. Such culture can benefit from being examined in its social, historical, geographical, political, ideological contexts, without in any way neglecting its specifics and technical details, which are not merely the by-product of such contexts. The relationships between different cultural forms (between music and theatre, between theatre and performance art, between literature and film, just to give a tiny few obvious examples) are also greatly important, as are the relationships between culture and the intellectual environment of its time/place/social milieu, the societal functions of various cultural forms, the nature and demographics of those who partake of such culture and their responses (i.e. the study of reception), the economic situation of cultural production, the role of changing technology, and much else.
Yet so often I encounter the dismissal of many of these things, including by some academics, in ways which mirror government ideologies, despite being presented in somewhat different language. In the case of my own field, music: government emphasis on STEM subjects is mirrored in increasing emphasis on technological skills in music over other varieties of musical study and musicianship (and in the case of research, favour bestowed upon anything which has a contemporary technological dimension), as if musical study is somehow more acceptable when it has some of the veneer of science. Positions become available for the teaching of commercial music, or functional music for another commercial medium (such as popular film or video games), more frequently than those requiring expertise in a historical field, or in musical cultures outside of the Western world. I was recently informed by one Professor of Theatre that historical study of that discipline has all but disappeared except in Russell Group institutions (though am interested to hear of any evidence to the contrary).
I accept that some of this is pragmatic, borne of desperate attempts to recruit and maintain students who have less and less of a foundation in music and the arts at primary and secondary school than ever. But I am dismayed at how many embrace rather than tolerate this situation. There was a time when the study of popular music (see this debate from two years ago on this blog) could reasonably be argued to inject increased diversity into rather rigid curricula. At best, this can entail the study of many different popular musics from various times and places, critical interrogation of the concept of the ‘popular’, consideration of various social contexts, means of production and distribution, not to mention relationship to other cultural traditions, languages, and so on. But when it means limiting a good deal of musical study to Anglo-American popular music of a restricted period (essentially that music which is already familiar to students), then the net effect for diversity is negative rather than positive. Ethnomusicologists (see another debate on this blog) eager to decry not only relatively traditional approaches to teaching Western art music, but also older approaches to their own disciplines which involved Western scholars spending considerable amounts of time in remote places, absorbing as best as they can the language, cultural practices, and so on, might reflect upon how precarious their own discipline might become if there is less of a place or welcoming environment for those interested in such things. The more musical study becomes simply about the application of a selection of methods derived from sociology or cultural anthropology to fields of musical activity close to home, the less reason there will be for institutions to support music as a separate field of study. The sociology and anthropology of music are vitally important sub-disciplines with multiple intellectual trajectories of their own, but if those engaged with them are housed solely in sociology and anthropology departments, they will then be in direct competition for students, funding and positions with the rest of those fields.
More widely, in many fields of cultural studies, especially the populist varieties which, as I have argued in some recent papers, are rooted in the work of the Birmingham School and especially that of Stuart Hall, commercial utility is equated with relevance, musical engagement is viewed as just another consumer activity, and research can amount either to conducting focus groups, or dressing up familiar informal chat about popular culture with a modicum of jargon. Any deeper critical engagement with popular taste, the latter empirically measured at one particular time and place, is dismissed as elitism. This amounts in many ways to an eschewal of arts education itself, and can lead to rather patronising ways of patting students and ‘the masses’ on the back simply for having the tastes they do, rather than encouraging them to venture beyond their comfort zones.
I do believe, after working in HE for 15 years (in multiple institutions), that most students who study arts subjects at university do so after having read some literature, heard or played some music, seen and acted in some theatre, looked at or produced some visual art, etc., and care about these and want to know more. They often seek help and guidance to navigate an overwhelming range of available culture, and also learn technical skills so as to be able to engage with this more incisively. Certainly not all will become equally drawn to all the manifold areas of study, methods, or emphases involved, nor could any realistically study all in detail in the limited time available for an undergraduate degree (for which I think we should be looking towards four- rather than two-year degrees, ideally) which is why we offer some degree of elective options. But I do believe it is important, indeed vital, that educators attempt to broaden students’ horizons, encourage them to explore beyond what they already know, and also consider the familiar from unfamiliar angles. Those educators, with years of experience in their own fields, are in a position to facilitate all of this. Not through spoon-feeding, teaching-to-test, or rote learning, but introducing what to students will be a plurality new ideas, new cultural forms, new contexts, and encouraging them to consider these critically.
I also realise this type of humanistic approach may not be attractive or feasible to some potential students, and this situation is unlikely to change without wider changes in primary and secondary education. With this in mind, I would not rule out questions as to whether the removal of the pre-1992 divide has been wholly beneficial, and whether a need to maintain the pretence that all degree courses are roughly equal just entails a race to the bottom for all. But technical colleges are not universities in the traditional sense, and it benefits nowhere to pretend otherwise, as argued well by Marxist scholar Terry Eagleton:
Just as there cannot be a pub without alcohol, so there cannot be a university without the humanities. If history, philosophy and so on vanish from academic life, what they leave in their wake may be a technical training facility or corporate research institute. But it will not be a university in the classical sense of the term, and it would be deceptive to call it one.
Neither, however, can there be a university in the full sense of the word when the humanities exist in isolation from other disciplines. The quickest way of devaluing these subjects – short of disposing of them altogether – is to reduce them to an agreeable bonus. Real men study law and engineering, while ideas and values are for sissies. The humanities should constitute the core of any university worth the name. The study of history and philosophy, accompanied by some acquaintance with art and literature, should be for lawyers and engineers as well as for those who study in arts faculties.
I would not like to live in a narrow, utilitarian, technocratic society in which there is little wider societal interest in other times and places, in all the questions which the humanities raise, or one in which such interest and knowledge is limited to the upper echelons of society. Nor a society in which art has no meaning other than as a form of commercial entertainment, as some right-wing politicians in the UK have been urging for many years (see the notorious 1990 Westminster speech by then-Tory MP Terry Dicks, and the spirited and witty response by then-Labour MP Tony Banks). And I doubt that this type of society would be attractive to many, especially not those working in arts and humanities fields. But if many of them are not prepared to defend the ideals of the arts and humanities, acting instead as advocates for narrowly conceived notions of social ‘relevance’, defined in terms of being contemporary, technocratic, and generally restricted to the place and milieu of them and/or their students, what are the chances of any meaningful opposition to governments who would happily slash most of these?
Universities, the arts and the humanities, are not just means to ends but valuable in their own right. Cultures and cultural histories are far from unblemished things, to say the least, but it would still be negligent in the extreme to let them fade into oblivion. And allowing students to retreat into the comfort zone of the already-familiar is damaging to global citizenship. In some ways, those who advocate such an approach to education are already doing the Brexiteers’ work for them.
The worst fears of many about a Trump presidency are coming to fruition, especially with the implementation of the federal orders banning entry to anyone from born in one of seven Muslim countries (though not the worst, like Saudi Arabia or some of the Gulf states, with strong business links), or who holds dual nationality. Not to mention the ongoing plans for the Mexican Wall. And Britain’s excuse for a Prime Minister has offered Trump a full state visit, before tootling off to sign a lucrative arms deal with another dictator, President Erdoğan of Turkey. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…..
But getting angry may not achieve anything, least of all convince the millions of Americans who strongly support Trump’s actions, and previously have shown ferocious support for capital punishment, horrendous rates of incarceration of those convicted of petty offences, an insane gun culture which causes annually over 10 000 more deaths of Americans (at the hands of other Americans) than any other cause, use of gas-guzzling cars for small journeys and contempt for the very idea of climate change, not to mention neo-imperial military action against many other countries who are not necessarily compliant towards the US.
The issue is, to me, why we continue to legitimise a tacit view which assumes that the United States stands at the centre of the world, but only economically and militarily (both of which might be able to be shown with some degree of objectivity), but in cultural and intellectual terms too?
With this in mind, I have a proposal, which I will implement in a hard-line form for the duration of February, and recommend to others in milder manifestations. How about, first of all, going a week without partaking of any culture produced in the US? I do not want to limit this in terms of ethnicity, allegiance, ideology, and so on, simply down to where it was produced, as far as this can be ascertained fairly. So, just put on hold for now, any novel, poem or play from an American writer, any music produced by American musicians, any American visual art, any American films or TV, and so on. Then see how many times this becomes an issue, and this may give some indication of the extent to which your cultural habits are dominated by US culture. Try and make a point of seeking out something from elsewhere instead. For example:
- If you were going to watch South Park or Family Guy, how about looking into some comedy and animation from elsewhere? There has been loads of such work from Eastern Europe over an extended period – this blog should give some pointers.
- If you were going to listen to any African-American popular music, how about trying something from one of the 54 countries in Africa instead (or by African diaspora communities in countries other than the USA)? Try some of the work of Afrisa, or Prince Nico Mbarga, Hugh Masekela or King Sunny Ade, just to take a few of the most obvious examples?
- If planning to listen to American minimalist music, how about trying some non-American alternatives? For example, the work of Louis Andriessen, Michael Nyman, Kevin Volans, Gavin Bryars, Arvo Pärt, Karel Goeyvaerts or others? Some might dispute the use of the term ‘minimalist’ for some of these, but assertions of unity amongst even the classic American ‘minimalists’ look less and less tenable all the time. Nyman himself just today pointed out to me that when he coined the term ‘minimal music’, it was when reviewing a performance at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1968 of Springen by Danish composer Henning Christiansen, played by Charlotte Moorman (US) and Nam June Paik (Korea, moved to US in mid-30s).
- If planning to watch an American film, think of the many other countries with such important film industries as well, and how about watching an Italian, Russian, Iranian, Chinese, Nigerian or Argentinian film instead? From these and many many other countries, there is a vast amount to see, of all types. Just avoid the easy option of watching one of the usual blockbusters, and seek out something different.
- Post-1945 American art is endlessly celebrated and anthologised – why not check out what was being produced in France, Sweden, Italy, Japan, during the same period?
And so on and so forth. I intend to do this for the whole of February, but my suggestion to others is this – try doing it for a week, and then the following week, limit US culture to no more than a third of what you watch/read/listen to/etc (which is still a huge percentage), and stick to that for the rest of the month. Do this for the sake of diversity and to challenge the notion that the country which now has Trump as President, and refuses entry to millions of people of Muslim origin, should continue to exert cultural hegemony as well.
This is not kneejerk anti-Americanism – I have in my office at work hefty volumes of poetry of William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker and Charles Reznikoff which I had hoped to get round to soon, but they can wait. Instead, I will have a read of the new volume of the poetry of Basil Bunting which I received recently. I will have some works of John Cage and Morton Feldman to practice in advance of a concert in Oxford in early March, but as far as listening more widely to these, I have spent vast amounts of time before – I would sooner spend more on Franco Evangelisti or Henri Pousseur or Bent Sørensen or Yuji Takahashi. And lots and lots of recordings of Sardinian, Iraqi and Japanese traditional musics on which I’d like to spend more time. And films I have and have been meaning to watch from Dziga Vertov, René Clair, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Dušan Makavejev, Zhang Yimou, Abbas Kiarostami, Nagisa Oshima. And many others which are lighter fare. Sam Fuller, David Lynch, Harry Smith, Kenneth Anger, Sidney Lumet and John Cassavetes can wait, great though they all are.
An further, an invitation: do leave a comment here with recommendations, of any period, genre or whatever, of any type of books, plays, films, music, art, etc., from all the other countries in the world. Imagine, as John Cage said, that the US is just one country in the world, no more, no less.
None of this will stop Trump, for sure, nor is it a substitute for pressing political action. But just perhaps, if a great many made a conscious effort in this respect, the hegemonic power of the United States in general upon people’s minds might be diminished and become more proportionate to its undoubted cultural achievements.
Bright Futures, Dark Pasts: Michael Finnissy at 70 – Jan 19/20, Conference/Concerts at City UniversityPosted: January 13, 2017
On Thursday January 19th and Friday January 20th, 2017, City, University of London is hosting a conference entitled Bright Futures, Dark Pasts: Michael Finnissy at 70. This will feature a range of scholarly papers on a variety of aspects of Finnissy’s work – including his use of musical objets trouvés, engagement with folk music, sexuality, the influence of cinema, relationship to other contemporary composers, issues of marginality, and his work in performance. There will be three concerts, featuring his complete works for two pianos and piano duet, played by the composer, Ian Pace, and Ben Smith; a range of solo, chamber and ensemble works; and a complete performance (from 14:00-21:00 on Friday 20th) of his epic piano cycle The History of Photography in Sound by Ian Pace. The concerts include the world premieres of Finnissy’s Zortziko (2009) for piano duet and Kleine Fjeldmelodie (2016-17) for solo piano, the UK premiere of Duet (1971-2013) and London premieres of Fem ukarakteristisek marsjer med tre tilføyde trioer (2008-9) for piano duet, Derde symfonische etude (2013) for two pianos, his voice/was then/here waiting (1996) for two pianos, and Eighteenth-Century Novels: Fanny Hill (2006) for two pianos. There will also be a rare chance to hear Finnissy’s Sardinian-inspired Anninnia (1981-2) for voice and piano, for the first time in several decades.
Keynote speakers will be Roddy Hawkins (University of Manchester), Gregory Woods (Nottingham Trent University, author of Homintern) and Ian Pace (City, University of London). The composer will be present for the whole event, and will perform and be interviewed by Christopher Fox (Brunel University) on his work and the History in particular.
The composer and photographer Patrícia Sucena de Almeida, who studied with Finnissy between 2000 and 2004, has created a photographic work, continuum simulacrum (2016-17) inspired by The History of Photography in Sound and particularly Chapter 6 (Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets). The series will be shown on screens in the department and samples of a book version will be available.
Patrícia Sucena de Almeida, from continuum simulacrum (2016-17).
The full programme can be viewed below. This conference also brings to a close Ian Pace’s eleven-concert series of the complete piano works of Finnissy.
A separate blog post will follow on The History of Photography in Sound.
All events take place at the Department of Music, College Building, City, University of London, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB.
Thursday January 19th, 2017
09:00-09:30 Room AG09.
Registration and TEA/COFFEE.
09:30-10:00 Performance Space.
Introduction and tribute to Michael Finnissy by Ian Pace and Miguel Mera (Head of Department of Music, City, University of London).
10:00-12:00 Room AG09. Chair: Aaron Einbond.
Larry Goves (Royal Northern College of Music), ‘Michael Finnissy & Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: the composer as anthropologist’.
Maarten Beirens (Amsterdam University), ‘Questioning the foreign and the familiar: Interpreting Michael Finnissy’s use of traditional and non-Western sources’
Lauren Redhead (Canterbury Christ Church University), ‘The Medium is Now the Material: The “Folklore” of Chris Newman and Michael Finnissy’.
Followed by a roundtable discussion between the three speakers and composer and Finnissy student Claudia Molitor (City, University of London), chaired by Aaron Einbond.
12:00-13:00 Foyer, Performance Space.
13:10–14:15 Performance Space.
Concert 1: Michael Finnissy: The Piano Music (10). Michael Finnissy, Ian Pace and Ben Smith play Finnissy’s works for two pianos or four hands.
Michael Finnissy, Wild Flowers (1974) (IP/MF)
Michael Finnissy, Fem ukarakteristisek marsjer med tre tilføyde trioer (2008-9) (BS/IP) (London premiere)
Michael Finnissy, Derde symfonische etude (2013) (BS/IP) (London premiere)
Michael Finnissy, Deux jeunes se promènent à travers le ciel 1920 (2008) (IP/BS)
Michael Finnissy, his voice/was then/here waiting (1996) (IP/MF) (UK premiere)
Michael Finnissy, Eighteenth-Century Novels: Fanny Hill (2006) (IP/MF) (London premiere)
Max Ernst, Deux jeunes se promènent à travers le ciel (1920)
14:30-15:30 Room AG09. Chair: Lauren Redhead (Canterbury Christ Church University).Keynote: Roddy Hawkins (University of Manchester): ‘Articulating, Dwelling, Travelling: Michael Finnissy and Marginality’.
15:30-16:00 Foyer, Performance Space.
16:00-17:00 Room AG09. Chair: Roddy Hawkins (University of Manchester).
Keynote: Ian Pace (City, University of London): ‘Michael Finnissy between Jean-Luc Godard and Dennis Potter: appropriation of techniques from cinema and TV’
17:00-18:00 Room AG09. Chair: Christopher Fox (Brunel University).
Roundtable on performing the music of Michael Finnissy. Participants: Neil Heyde (cellist), Ian Pace (pianist), Jonathan Powell (pianist), Christopher Redgate (oboist), Roger Redgate (conductor, violinist), Nancy Ruffer (flautist).
19:00 Performance Space.
Concert 2: City University Experimental Ensemble (CUEE), directed Tullis Rennie. Christopher Redgate, oboe/oboe d’amore; Nancy Ruffer, flutes; Bernice Chitiul, voice; Alexander Benham, piano; Michael Finnissy, piano; Ian Pace, piano; Ben Smith; piano.
Michael Finnissy, Yso (2007) (CUEE)
Michael Finnissy, Stille Thränen (2009) (Ian Pace, Ben Smith)
Michael Finnissy, Runnin’ Wild (1978) (Christopher Redgate)
Michael Finnissy, Anninnia (1981-82) (Bernice Chitiul, Ian Pace)
Michael Finnissy, Ulpirra (1982-83) (Nancy Ruffer)
Michael Finnissy, Pavasiya (1979) (Christopher Redgate)
‘Mini-Cabaret’: Michael Finnissy, piano
Chris Newman, AS YOU LIKE IT (1981)
Michael Finnissy, Kleine Fjeldmelodie (2016-17) (World première)
Andrew Toovey, Where are we in the world? (2014)
Laurence Crane, 20th CENTURY MUSIC (1999)
Matthew Lee Knowles, 6th Piece for Laurence Crane (2006)
Morgan Hayes, Flaking Yellow Stucco (1995-6)
Tom Wilson, UNTIL YOU KNOW (2017) (World première)
Howard Skempton, after-image 3 (1990)
Michael Finnissy, Zortziko (2009) (Ian Pace, Ben Smith) (World première)
Michael Finnissy, Duet (1971-2013) (Ben Smith, Ian Pace) (UK première)
Michael Finnissy, ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me’, from Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88) (Alexander Benham)
Michael Finnissy, APRÈS-MIDI DADA (2006) (CUEE)
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912).
21:30 Location to be confirmed
Friday January 20th, 2017
10:00-11:00 Room AG21.
Christopher Fox in conversation with Michael Finnissy on The History of Photography in Sound.
11:00-11:30 Room AG21.
11:30-12:30 Room AG21. Chair: Alexander Lingas (City, University of London).
Keynote: Gregory Woods (Nottingham Trent University): ‘My “personal themes”?!’: Finnissy’s Seventeen Homosexual Poets and the Material World’.
14:00-21:00 Performance Space.
Concert 3: Michael Finnissy: The Piano Music (11): The History of Photography in Sound (1995-2002). Ian Pace, piano
14:00 Chapters 1, 2: Le démon de l’analogie; Le réveil de l’intraitable realité.
15:15 Chapters 3, 4: North American Spirituals; My parents’ generation thought War meant something
16:35 Chapters 5, 6, 7: Alkan-Paganini; Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets; Eadweard Muybridge-Edvard Munch
17:50 INTERVAL (wine served)
18:10 Chapter 8: Kapitalistische Realisme (mit Sizilianische Männerakte und Bachsche Nachdichtungen)
19:20 INTERVAL (wine served)
19:35 Chapters 9, 10, 11: Wachtend op de volgende uitbarsting van repressie en censuur; Unsere Afrikareise; Etched Bright with Sunlight.
What characterizes the so-called advanced societies is that they today consume images and no longer, like those of the past, beliefs; they are therefore more liberal, less fanatical, but also more ‘false’ (less ‘authentic’) – something we translate, in ordinary consciousness, by the avowal of an impression of nauseated boredom, as if the universalized image were producing a world that is without difference (indifferent), from which can rise, here and there, only the cry of anarchisms, marginalisms, and individualisms: let us abolish the images, let us save immediate Desire (desire without mediation).
Mad or tame? Photography can be one or the other: tame if its realism remains relative, tempered by aesthetic or empirical habits (to leaf through a magazine at the hairdresser’s, the dentist’s); mad if this realism is absolute and, so to speak, original, obliging the loving and terrified consciousness to return to the very letter of Time: a strictly revulsive movement which reverses the course of the thing, and which I shall call, in conclusion, the photographic ecstasy.
Such are the two ways of the Photography. The choice is mine: to subject its spectacle to the civilized code of perfect illusions, or to confront in it the wakening of intractable reality.
Ce qui caractérise les sociétés dites avancées, c’est que ces sociétés consomment aujourd’hui des images, et non plus, comme celles d’autrefois, des croyances; elles sont donc plus libérales, moins fanataiques, mais aussi plus «fausses» (moins «authentiques») – chose que nous traduisons, dans la conscience courante, par l’aveu d’une impression d’ennui nauséeux, comme si l’image, s’universalisant, produisait un monde sans differences (indifferent), d’où ne peut alors surgir ici et là que le cri des anarchismes, marginalismes et individualismes : abolissons les images, sauvons le Désir immédiat (sans mediation).
Folle ou sage? La Photographie peut être l’un ou l’autre : sage si son réalisme reste relative, tempére par des habitudes esthétiques ou empiriques (feuilleter une revue chez le coiffeur, le dentist); folle, si ce réalisme est absolu, et, si l’on peut dire, original, faisant revenir à la conscience amoureuse et effrayée la letter même du Temps : movement proprement révulsif, qui retourne le cours de la chose, et que l’appellerai pour finir l’extase photographique.
Telles sont les deux voies de la Photographie. A moi de choisir, de soumettre son spectacle au code civilise des illusions parfaits, ou d’affronter en elle le réveil de l’intraitable réalité.
Roland Barthes, Le chambre claire/Camera Lucida.
Eadweard Muybridge – A. Throwing a Disk, B: Ascending a Step, C: Walking from Animal Locomotion (1885-1887).
Patrícia Sucena de Almeida, from continuum simulacrum (2016-17).
Much read in Denmark is the tragic writer Tove Ditlevsen (1917-1976), whose work drew heavily upon an unhappy and materially and emotionally deprived life, culminating in her suicide in 1976. Here is a detailed article on Ditlevsen’s life and work, and here is an article on Ditlevsen’s 1967 autobiographical books Barndom/Childhood and Ungdom/Youth, which were translated into English as Early Spring.
I hope very much to be able soon to read Ditlevsen’s novel Ansigterne/The Faces (1968), about a disturbed children’s author with suicidal urges, tormented by her housekeeper and her family, haunted by hallucinatory visions, but ultimately finding her way towards peace through her art . Reviews of this can be read here and here.
One of Ditlevsen’s best-known poems is ‘Blinkende Lygter’/’Flickering Lights’, a translation of which I have copied from here:
In childhood’s long night, both dim and dark
there are small twinkling lights that burn bright
like traces memory’s left there as sparks
while the heart freezes so and takes flight.
It’s here that your pathless love shines clear,
once lost in nights misty and chill,
and all that you’ve since loved and suffered most dear
has boundaries set by the will.
The first-felt sorrow’s a frail, thin light
like a tear that quivers in space;
that sorrow alone your heart will hold tight
when all others time has effaced.
High as a star on a night as in spring
your childhood’s first happiness burns,
you sought for it later, only to cling
to late-summer shadow’s swift turns.
Your faith you took with you to great extremes,
the first and the last to your cost,
in the dark now somewhere it surely gleams,
and there is no more to be lost.
And someone or other draws near to you but
will never quite manage to know you,
for beneath those small lights your life has been put,
since when everyone must forego you.
One of the most profilic of modern Danish writers was Klaus Rifbjerg (b. 1931), whose output included over 100 novels and poetry, short stories, plays, etc, often involving formal and linguistic experimentation. His novel Anna (jeg) Anna/Anna (I) Anna, which was translated in 1982, is the story of a diplomat’s wife suffering neurosis, who elopes with a hippie to a new Bohemian world, but discovers the fragmented and multifaceted nature of her character in the process. His best-known novel, Den kroniske uskyld/Terminal Innocence (1958) has recently appeared in English translation. An enticing review can be read here.
Poet Inger Christensen (1935-2009) explored formal devices, some drawn from mathematics, to defamiliarise language and reveal other underlying patterns. This obituary gives more detail about her work.
Inger Christensen, from alphabet (1981), (as translated here)
apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist
bracken exists; and blackberries, blackberries;
bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen
cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum
doves exist, dreamers, and dolls;
killers exist, and doves, and doves;
haze, dioxin, and days; days
exist, days and death; and poems
exist; poems, days, death
early fall exists; aftertaste, afterthought;
seclusion and angels exist;
widows and elk exist; every
detail exists; memory, memory’s light;
afterglow exists; oaks, elms,
junipers, sameness, loneliness exist;
eider ducks, spiders, and vinegar
exist, and the future, the future
Two internationally well-known elder Danish composers, both somewhat aloof from the wider Western avant-garde, but no less original, are Ib Nørholm (b. 1931) and Per Nørgård (b. 1932). Little of Nørholm’s early work, which dabbled with serialism, graphic notation, aleatory devices, and the use of mecahnical toys, is available to listen to online, but one can read about it here. From the late 1960s, Nørholm would become associated with the so-called ‘New Simplicity’, in opposition to certain manifestations of the avant-garde, and gradualy moved back towards a form of Nordic expression with roots in the earlier symphonic tradition, whilst maintaining a degree of stylistic pluralism, as in the Third Symphony, A Day’s Nightmare (1973).
The trajectory of Nørgård’s compositional development was not dissimilar. Coming from an early influence of Sibelius, with whom he corresponded. His particular combination of microtonally-inflected exploration of natural harmonics, and textural composition, have led to his being cited as a forerunner of musique spectrale. These qualities can be heard in his Iris (1966-1967):
In his symphonic work, Nørgård demonstrated the possibility of some reconciliation of his earlier compositional achievements with the symphonic tradition to which he was earlier drawn, as demonstrated in the Third Symphony of 1975.
A composer associated with considerably more radical tendencies was Henning Christiansen (1932-2008) who was associated with the Fluxus movement and worked closely with Joseph Beuys. Here is a detailed article on his work, while a range of Christiansen’s work can be listened to here. Here is the score of his Audience Eve (1964), published in the Fluxus Performance Workbook:
In the evening, during the performances:
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
continue through the whole program.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
If possible, then fade the light in and out,
as beautiful as possible. [like the sea]
Here is a selection of Christiansen’s remarkable and disorienting work:
Henning Christiansen, Op. 50: Requiem of Art (1970)
Henning Christiansen/Bjørm Nørgaard, The Horse Sacrifice (1970)
Henning Christiansen, Symphony Natura Op. 170 (1985)
Henning Christiansen, Abschiedssymphonie, Op. 177 (1988)
A leading figure in electronic music in Denmark was Else Marie Pade (1924-2016), a former resistance fighter who worked with Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and also visited Darmstadt on various occasions.
Gunner Møller Pedersen (b. 1943) is best known a film composer, but also wrote a number of self-standing electronic works.
Of the generation born after the war, Hans Abrahamsen (b. 1950) , a student of Nørgård and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932), was also viewed as part of the ‘new Simplicity’, in reaction against the avant-garde, though as with German composer Wolfgang Rihm, associated with the same movement, time has revealed this work to entail a modification and shift of emphasis within a broad European modernist tradition rather than a clean break as one might find amongst Anglo-American neo-romantics, say.
Hans Abrahamsen, Schnee (2006-2008)
But I cannot recommend highly enough that all listen to the extraordinarily beautiful and intimate music of Bent Sørensen (b. 1958). Here are several contrasting works.
Bent Sørensen, The Shadows of Silence (2003-2004)
Bent Sørensen, Serenidad (2011-2012).
And here is a trailer for a selection of Sørensen’s vocal works.
An important younger figure is composer and sound artist Sandra Boss (b. 1984), whose website is here. Here is a track from her 2015 album Perfekt Termisk.
Here is a sample from her sound installation En Håndfuld Støv (Copenhagen, 2014).
A range of Boss’s other work can be heard here.
One of the leading Danish free jazz musicians was saxophonist John Martin Tchicai (1936-2012), who worked with John Coltrane and Albert Ayler.
And the following are a range of varied Danish bands and other artists:
The classic Danish film director Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968) continued to make films after the war up until his death, maintaining his austere, stark and redemptive visions, as in Ordet/The Word (1955):
Otherwise, though, post-war Danish cinema was mostly dominated by light comedies and from the 1960s films rather obsessed with sex , such as Annelise Meineche’s Sytten (1965).
Lars von Trier (b. 1956) is best known for his work with the Dogme 95 collective and international hits such as Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000) and Dogville (2003), but already had a profound effect upon the Danish film scene from the early 1980s, as with his stylised and world-weary crime film The Element of Crime (1984), made soon after graduating from the National Film School of Denmark. This can be viewed complete here.
Followed by Gabriel Axel’s Babettes gæstebud/Babette’s Feast (1987)
A group of film directors came together in Copenhagen in spring 1995 to issue their new Dogme manifesto, entitled ‘The Vow of Chastity’, whereby directors would swear to adhere to ten principles, mostly avoiding any type of overtly stylised cinema, in favour of a new type of exaggerated realism (which became every bit as much of a ‘style’ as any other), concentrating on personal and emotional matters. The first film of the Dogme movement was Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen/The Celebration (1998), a distressing story of a family reunion for a father’s 60th birthday, at which his son reveals how he used to sexually abuse both him and his sister when young.
A full list of the 35 Dogme films, some made in Italy, the USA, Chile and elsewhere as well as Denmark, can be viewed here.
As regards animation, the 1988 Den offentlige røst/The Public Voice by Lejf Marcussen (1936-2013) is something of a classic.
One of the more renowned Danish painters, Richard Mortensen (1910-1993), drew upon the work of Kandinsky and Malevich:
Richard Mortensen, Garches-Suresnes (1947)
Richard Mortensen, Opus 11 (1980-81)
More individual was Asger Jorn (1914-1973), a detailed article on whose work can be read here (see also this article). Jorn had been involved with the communist resistance during the occupation of Denmark and continued into the Danish Communist Party, though he soon broke with them, finding the experience constraining. Jorn met Guy Debord in 1954, and from 1957 to 1961 was associated with the Situationist International.
Asger Jorn, Stalingrad, No-Man’s Land, or the Mad Laughter of Courage (1957-1960, 1967, 1972).
Asger Jorn, The Disquieting Duckling (1959)
Asger Jorn and Guy Debord, Fin de Copenhagen (1957)
A quite different type of approach is found in the work of Merete Barker (b. 1944), whose paintings draw upon sketches and drawings from many travels, and also produced computer-generated data landscapes. Her website is here; see in particular some essays by Barker and others on her work here.
Meret Barker, Byen under, byen over/My Own Town (1989)
Merete Barker, The Landscape Underground (2012)
The Danish artist Michael Elmgreen (b. 1961) works together with Norwegian artist Ingar Dragset to produce defamiliarising artworks employing or resembling familiar objects, as a form of social critique. Their website is here
Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig. 11 (1997)
Elmgreen & Dragset, The Future (2014)
Sculptor Jens Galschiøt (b. 1954) is most renowned for his Pillar of Shame project, erecting sculptures as types of guerilla actions, to protest against violations of human rights.
Jens Galschiøt, Pillar of Shame, Hong Kong (1996) – painted red in 2008 by democracy activists.
Still the most renowned of modern Danish architects is high modernist functionalist Arno Jacobsen (1902-1971):
Arno Jacobsen, Rødovre Town Hall (1952-1956)
Arno Jacobsen, St Catherine’s College, Oxford (1964-1966)
Later architects have applied many similar modernist principles but in more eclectic and adventurous fashion.
Bjarke Ingels/PLOT, VM Houses, Copenhagen (2005)
Lundgaard & Tranberg, Royal Danish Playhouse (2008)
Furniture design also has a remarkable modernist tradition in Denmark, not least through the work of Hans Jørgensen Wegner (1914-2007) and Jacobsen.
Wegner Shell Chair
Jacobsen Shell Sofa
A more recent physical theatre company is the Copenhagen-based Out of Balanz, founded in 2006 whose website is here. Stressing themes of community in the face of consumerism or death, here is a trailer for their work Next Door.
And here is a page on their Georgette va au Supermarche (2007), about a young woman’s odyssey into the supermarket.
The largest modern dance company in Denmark is the Danish Dance Theatre, founded in 1981. Here are a few clips from their work:
A different approach is to be found in the work of the Aarhus company Granhøj Dans, founded after the meeting in 1989 of dance Palle Granhøj and set designer Per Victor, who developed the ‘Obstruction Technique’, in which one dancer is physically held back by another, but still has to carry out as much of their intended phrase as possible, in the process creating a new phrase.
Writing some of these blog posts is in many ways a discovery for me, and sometimes involves laying down pointers to work about which I have read interesting things, but not read itself (but intend to do so). Reading poetry in translation is always problematic, but I am struck by the following poem, ‘Gece otobüsü/Night Bus’ by Turkish-Cypriot Mehmet Yaşın (b. 1956), translated by Taner Baybars:
Women were lying with horrible knife wounds
the bus drove on without stopping
those living on the floors above
had bolted their doors to the screams below.
I watched the same reel, shivering lightly
night after night,
secretly learning my part every day,
and I waited my turn
to see my own face on the screen,
I’ve paid the entrance fee to enter myself.
The night kissed him on the brow, on the lips,
opened the door and ushered him to his seat,
— neither man, nor woman —
mass produced dollies to tickle the flesh
blood-red drinks in hand
went round and round the house of lust.
They asked us who we were, but we forgot our names,
we had been severed from ourselves
by horses with dark wings…
The night changed our clothes
and fastened sequins on our hair
then carried us off to a sunken land.
Women were lying with horrible knife wounds
and the bus drove on without stopping.
Other poetry of Yaşın in translation can be read here.
Equally worth checking out in translation is Greek-Cypriot Kyriakos Charalambides (b. 1940). Here is a 1989 poem of his, taken from this blog which contains a range of translations and links:
CHILD WITH A PHOTOGRAPH
A child with a photograph in hand,
a photograph in the profundity of his eyes,
held upside down, was staring.
Around the child a crowd; and he
had in his eyes a small photograph,
a big one on his shoulders and vice versa —
a big one in his eyes, upon his shoulders a smaller one,
and in his hand one even smaller still.
He was amid a crowd screaming chants
and he was holding it upside down; it troubled me.
I approach him bypassing signs
of loved ones or arcs and voices
frozen in time and all completely inert.
The photograph bore some resemblance to his father.
I set it straight, and still I saw
the missing man with his head upside down.
Just like the king, the jack and the queen,
which, seen upturned, are found to be straight,
this man, as well, when looked at straight,
turns upside down and stares.
Many of Charalambides’ poems have been translated into English, some of them published by Dionysia Press.
An example of something I would like to read, but have not yet, would be the novel Üzgün Kızların Gizli Tarihi/The Secret History of the Sad Girls, about an affair between a Greek-Cypriot man and a Turkish-Cypriot woman, written by Turkish-Cypriot writer Neşe Yaşın (b. 1959). It appears as if a translation is at least underway.
Yaşın has apparently been attacked in the right-wing Turkish press for this book, called a ‘traitor and prostitute’ – more details can be read here. I cannot say any more about the book, but will also point to a small and striking selection of Yaşın’s poetry in English translation here.
Also of great potential interest is the work of Greek-Cypriot writer Panos Ioannides (b. 1935), much of whose work has been widely translated into many languages. Here is a short review of the collection Gregory and other Stories, published in English in 2014.
The Nicosia-born poet Christodoulos Makris (b. 1971) moved to live and work in the UK. Here is a very interesting interview following the publication of his collection The Architecture of Chance, speaking of issues of language, languages (and the model of Beckett as a multilingual writer), form and his relationship to his home country, and here is Makris’s blog.
A paper by Petro Phokaides suggests that architectural modernism came to Cyprus in the 1930s, but gained a new symbolic value after independence in 1960. Here are some notable examples he gives:
Neoptolemos Michaelides, Neoptolemos Michaelides House, Nicosia (1965).
Ahmet Baheddin, Suleyman Onan House, Nicosia (1961-1966).
Neoptolemos Michaelides, AlexandrosDemetriou apartment building, Nicosia (1963-1965).
Neoptolemos Michaelides, Grecian Park Hotel,Famagusta (1965).
A composer who also studied architecture is Fedros Kavallaris (b. 1950):
Compositional directions drawing more widely upon international avant-garde tendencies (and popular musics) can be found in the work of Yannis Kyriakides (b. 1969):
Or Tasos Stylianou:
Or Christina Athinodorou (b. 1981):
Or Haris Sophocleous (b. 1977):
And here is a diverse selection of popular music from Cyprus:
The artist Adamantios Diamantis (1900-1994) travelled around Cyprus to study many peoples, in a type of anthropological approach to painting, producing his massive work The World of Cyprus between 1967 and 1972, which portrays, and arguably celebrates, a traditional way of life. Here is an article on the work, with links to illustrations, and here is a news feature on the return of the work to Cyprus in 2013.
From a later generation, a more forward-looking approach can be found in one of the leading Cypriot artists was Stass Paraskos (1933-2014), who did spend most of his working life in the UK. Some of his paintings can be viewed here. Paraskos founded the Cyprus College of Art in 1969, which came to attract many international figures both to study and teach.
Stass Paraskos, Lovers and Romances (1966).
A very different type of work is that of Savvas Christodoulides (b. 1961), who manipulates everyday objects in distorted fashion. His website is here.
Savvas Christodoulides, My Precious II (2011)
Another general article on Cypriot art can be viewed here.
Even more boundary-breaking is the work of Cypriot-born performance artist Stelarc. His work deals with robotics and bodily modification, placing cameras in his lungs, colon and stomach, and most notoriously having an ear created from biocompatible material attached to his left arm.
Nina Sellars, Oblique – Images from Stelarc’s Extra Ear Surgery.
Here is the main website for Stelarc, and here is an interview with him:
And here is a film of his 1997 performance Parasite.
In 1970, the Theatre Organization of Cyprus (THOC or ΘΟΚ) was founded. This consisted of multiple ‘stages’: a Main Stage for large ancient, classical and modern plays, a New Stage: for smaller plays in smaller spaces, a Children’s Stage, and (of most interest to me!) an Experimental Stage promoting more radical new work. Here is an article on the playwright Giorgos Neophytou (b. 1946), influenced by Brecht, who worked extensively in THOC.
Here is some of the work of Cypriot theatre troupe One/Off, performing Cypriot work in Avignon in 2011:
There are two major studies in English of Cypriot cinema, which are the following:
Little of the earlier wave of post-independence Cypriot cinema, such as the work of George Filis, Vangelis Oikonoimides’s O Paras o Maskaras/Money, Mischievous (1969) or Orsetis Laskos’s Diakopes stin Kypro Mas/Vacation in Our Cyprus (1971) is available to view online.
From Turkish-Cypriot filmmaker Derviş Zaim (b. 1964), Tabutta Rövaşata/Somersault in a Coffin (1996), a film about a homeless criminal and a car thief, can be viewed in full, with English subtitles here:
Another film of Zaim, Filler ve Çimen/Elephants and Grass (2001)
A controversial film was Nikoladis Theodoros and Floridis Adonis’s Kalabush (2002), portraying the story of an illegal immigrant arriving in Cyprus, which he mistakes for Italy, but comes to inhabit a world on the margins of Cypriot society.
Equally controversial was Panicos Chrysanthou’s Akamas (2006), portraying a love affair between Turkish and Greek Cypriots (as in Neşe Yaşın’s novel mentioned above).
However, a collaboration between Chrysanthou and Zaim, the film Paralel Yolculuklar/Parallel Trips (2004), attempts to show the conflict in the island from both sides.
Finally, here is a selection of the photographs of Jack Iacovides: