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.
As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.
I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.
I will begin with one of the most important of all artists of the twentieth century, poet, post-Duchamp artist and filmmaker Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976). Here is a site with lots of information on his work and illustrations.
Marcel Broodthaers, Citron-Citroen, réclame pour la Mer du Nord (Advertisement for the North Sea) (1974).
And here one can listen to his ‘Interview with a Cat’.
Furthermore, here is Broodthaers’ 1968 film Le Corbeau et le Renard.
Here is a discussion of his work at the time of a 2016 retrospective at MOMA.
And here is a reading of Broodthaers’ poetry:
This site gives information on the experimental Belgian poet Hugo Claus (1929-2008), including some important links. Furthermore, at this site one can read and listen to a variety of Claus’s work.
Amongst other important Belgian writers are Françoise Mallet-Joris (b. 1930), about whom one can watch a feature here (only an excerpt available to those who have not subscribed). A biography and list of works (in French) is here. And some information on translations of highly-regarded writer Monika van Paemel (b. 1945) can be found here. Here are details of a translation of her story ‘The Accursed Fathers’. Some information on writer Kristien Hemmerechts (b. 1955) can be found here.
A useful page on Christian Dotremont (1922-1979), who brought together poetry and painting, is here.
This site gives much detail on the work of Gent artist Marthe Donas (1887-1967).
Marthe Donas, Intuition No. 19 (1958).
Arno Quinze, Cityscape Wooden Sculpture.
The senior figures of post-war Belgian music were Henri Pousseur (1929-2009) and Karol Goeyvaerts (1923-1993), both of seminal importance in the history of serial music.
Another figure who is a prominent and generous presence in Belgian musical life is André Laporte (b. 1931):
A very different type of music can be found in the minimalist work of Wim Mertens (b. 1953), known in particular for his music for the film The Belly of an Architect by Peter Greenaway, and for an extremely important book on American minimal music.
Amongst numerous younger figures, one should listen to the music of Serge Verstockt (b. 1957):
And also the remarkably fluent and effortless composer Luc Brewaeys (1959-2015), who was tragically lost to cancer last year.
An important institution for the promotion of new music in Belgium is the Logos Foundation, which is currently threatened with closure.
Amongst the numerous early music groups in Belgian, one of the most important is Collegium vocale, under the general direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Here they are singing Jean Langlais:
Here is a range of significant Belgian popular music, ranging from noise music to trip-hop.
Here is the 1966 animation Chromophobia by Raoul Servais (b. 1928):
A hugely important feminist work is Chantal Akerman’s 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975):
Whilst the disturbing 1992 film Man bites Dog, directed by Rémy Belvaux, André Nobzel and Benoît Poelvoorde (the latter in the main role), received some international attention upon release:
One of the most significant post-war theatre directors in Belgium is Michel Dezoteux (b. 1949). Here is is Le Revizor (2008), based on the work of Nikolai Gogol:
And here is an interview with another hugely important figure in contemporary Belgian theatre, Frédéric Baal (b. 1940):
The choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (b. 1960), created the dance company Rosas, who were resident at La Monnaie from 1992 to 2007. Here is a video of their work: