maandag 28 juni 2010

jeanette winterson - the cup, the knife, the coat, the remedy

I called this lecture the Cup, the Knife, the Coat, the Remedy, so that I could talk about 4 simple, practical ways in which art is relevant to the way we live now – relevant to a world confronting climate change and faith wars. Relevant to a world where the super- rich are beyond the reach of political upheavals in their own countries, or any country, and where the poor have no hope of politics changing anything – at least for them. Ours is a world where Google is valued at 200billion dollars, and the Amazon rainforest is valued at nothing at all.
In a world like this, art is not a luxury, if a luxury is something we can do without. Art is essential equipment for the task of being human.
Does that sound like a big claim? Well, Marx said that Socialism was necessary to provide for Man’s animal needs so that Man could get on with the job of providing for his human needs. That’s an important distinction, and a profound one.
I often hear people – good clever interesting people – complain that finding money and time for art is almost decadent in a world where people are starving or homeless, made refugees, or helpless in the grip of war or disaster. But art cannot solve Man’s animal needs – that really is the job of politics, and it is politics at its most basic, even though we seem completely incapable of it. What art can do and does do, is engage with our human needs – those imaginative, emotional, spiritual and philosophic yearnings that ask the big questions about purpose and destiny, about love, self-sacrifice, ambition, desire, suffering.
Human beings seek meaning. We seek meaning beyond our immediate goals, beyond personal ambition, even beyond love. In the past we have called this search for meaning, God. The Enlightenment called it Perfectibility. The nineteenth century called it Progress. Science searches for a Grand Unified Theory of Everything. Only in very recent times has a society been as gross as ours, and called it money. ‘It’s the economy, stupid’. Well, no, in fact, it’s not.

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