Wednesday, December 03, 2008

THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER JONAH GOLDBERG. Ross Douthat takes off from Jonah Goldberg's idiotic post about how "The Wire" is a "conservative" show, and does much better:
It's a testament to the genius of the show that its depiction of Baltimore (and by extension, America) offers fodder for liberal, conservative, leftist and libertarian readings - much like reality itself! In this sense, The Wire is the rarest and most precious of beasts: A work of art that's intensely political but rarely devolves into agitprop. But to the extent that any specific political vision undergirds its portrait of contemporary America, that vision is radical and revolutionary - though shot through with despair - rather than conservative.
Naturally Goldberg thinks this exonerates him.
But I don't think anything Ross has thrown up contradicts what I wrote . . . and neither does Ross! Lots of great artists and filmmakers and television producers have incorrect, debatable, wrongheaded, or just plain idiotic political views. George Bernard Shaw had real artistic talent and he held profoundly wrong and evil ideas about politics. D. H. Lawrence proclaimed, "three cheers for the inventors of poison gas" and insisted that: "If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly. Then I'd go into the back streets and bring them all in, all the sick, the halt, and the maimed."

Compared to these guys David Simon's a hero-saint with the wisdom of Solomon in my book. The relationship between art and artists is a rich topic of discussion, though hardly my strength. Suffice it to say the fact that Simon draws incorrect conclusions about the proper public-policy solutions for the world he describes gives me little reason to respect that description any less.
At least his awareness that Douthat's reasoning is superior leads him, however clumsily, to pretend that it was his own all along -- the tribute idiocy pays to intelligence. It was also a good idea for him to avoid going any further on the subject of art and artists (any post in which he announces, loudly, in the title that "I Don't Care" presages a bolt for the exits), though in touching on it he leaves an unfortunate impression.

He's right that artists will often have ideas that are much harder to love than their works of art. But his examples suggest that the art-making is completely divorced from the ideas of its makers -- he tips it when he mixes Shaw's Fabian socialism with Lawrence's misanthropic outburst, as if they represent the same thing because he doesn't agree with either. He seems to believe "real artistic talent" insulates the playwright from his plays as if they were cabinets, which may in inspired cases show some of the soul of their creator, but not really as overtly as, say Heartbreak House does Shaw's.

The thoughts and instincts of great artists are distilled in their works. If these works are more universal and accessible than their makers' ideas, it's because making art is like solving an equation: speaking very generally, you start with a problem, and have to make the thing "come out" so that it explains itself after you've walked away from it. That burns away a lot of dross -- usually the stuff that you can better explain by merely talking.

Though Shaw preached political systems, the people and relationships in his plays (though some of them preach too) are necessarily more complicated than his ideas -- or, for that matter, any idea. He created heroic capitalists and dim-witted socialists not because he thought that way about capitalism and socialism, but because he was sensitive and attracted to the complexities of life and knew that paradox more effectively captured them than diatribe. Goldberg probably thinks Shaw was masking his "profoundly wrong and evil ideas" for his benefit, but artists can't be held responsible for the density of some of their patrons.

Some artists really are political. Shakespeare believed in monarchy. It doesn't much interfere with my enjoyment of his plays, for some reason.

No comments:

Post a Comment