What is the role of art? Is it, as Lenin and his fellow thinkers believe, a tool to shape minds? Must we reject art that is impure, that comes from sources we hate or preaches messages we find distasteful? I cannot support this; indeed, I strongly reject it. It is a variation on the politicized life, that deeply harmful worldview that demands we consider all aspects of our being by some ever-shifting political standard. I can’t help but think of Kingsley Amis’ snubbing of this view in “Girl, 20.” In that 1971 novel, the narrator, a music critic, is confronted by an editor angry with him for “advertis[ing] these bastards” — “these” being the East Germans.
“You do realize, don’t you, that this chap’s only allowed abroad because he’s a loyal and trusted servant of that bloody awful regime?” the editor asks.
“Whether I do or I don’t doesn’t come into what I’m supposed to be at,” our hero replies. “The job you hired me for was to cover the most important events, and important judged by musical standards.”
Intriguingly, this fictional defense of the right to cover a communist who made beautiful music came even as Amis was drifting rightward. A few years previously, Amis had published an essay entitled “Why Lucky Jim Turned Right.” In it, he jokingly complains of being “driven into grudging tolerance of the Conservative Party because it is the part of non-politics, of resistance to politics. I have seen how many of the evils of life — failure, loneliness, fear, boredom, inability to communicate — are ineradicable by political means, and that attempts so to eradicate them are disastrous.”
—Sonny Bunch, “We’re losing sight of what art is really for,” the Washington Post, today.
“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
—George Orwell, via Terry Teachout.