Text and discussion-Reclaiming our thinkers

The following texts have been suggested by members of Free School as subjects for discussion:

John Berger ‘The White Bird’ (1985)

Bertold Brecht ‘Writing the Truth Five Difficulties’ (1935)

Paul Chan ‘Sublime Humility’ (2003)

Linebaugh & Rediker ‘The Many Headed Hydra (extract)’ (2000)

7 responses to “Library

  1. So the first text, by bertold brecht and suggested by andrew is up. i have had a quick read of it but have not had time to think about it yet…

  2. Andrew Cooper

    I think Brecht’s essay makes a lot of things clear.
    “It is, of course, very hard not to cringe before the powerful, and it is highly advantageous to betray the weak. To displease the possessors means to become one of the dispossessed.
    To renounce payment for work may be the equivalent of giving up the work and to decline fame when it is offered by the mighty may mean to decline it forever. This takes courage.”
    A statement few would disagree with I think, just as many agree that education needs to be defended and global poverty needs to be addressed. I think though what Brecht makes clear is the importance of our functioning in the detail. How do we betray the weak? In the field of art this seems glaringly obvious. How much time is given over to courting and supporting projects that have the rubber stamp of cultural capital over projects that really try to link in with the populations around us. A culture of box ticking social agendas is now the norm in many institutions but this practice has been interpolated in the minds of many artists as good business practice. How can a truly radical culture emerge without burning and destroying forever the obsessions with marketing strategies for artists and find your bloody talent culture?
    How much time is given over to creating stupid sub cultures that have more to do with the desire to be sadly special in our glorious x factor culture?
    “Their function, seen from a political point of view, is to form not a Party (a real alliance to address economic and social injustice), but a clique, seen from a literary point of view, not a school but a fad, from an economic point of view not to become producers but agents. Agents or hacks who make a great show of their poverty (radical chic) and congratulate themselves on the yawning void. It would be impossible to carve a more comfortable position out of an uncomfortable situation.’ Benjamin the Author as producer.
    How do we go about creating new cultural structures that offer spaces where we can operate in a way where we move towards social justice at a time when every right fought for by our parents and grand parents generation is being snatched away? These are the questions that we need to ask, it will involve redefining the space and substance of what “art” can be. If I have expressed myself crudely here I’m sorry.

  3. it is not untrue that chairs have seats and that rain falls downward. Many poets write truths of this sort. They are like a painter adorning the walls of a sinking ship with a still life. Our first difficulty does not trouble them and their consciences are clear.
    Those in power cannot corrupt them, but neither are they disturbed by the cries of the oppressed; they go on painting. The senselessness of their behavior engenders in them a “profound” pessimism which they sell at good prices; yet such pessimism would be more fitting in one who observes these masters and their sales.


    i find myself stuck on this recognition of the truth because i am unsure as to what it is – i don’t know whether this equivocation comes from the lack of courage that brecht refers too or from a distrust of Truth As It Has Been Revealed. it smacks too much of religion for my liking (i have similar problems with the rediscovery of st paul by writers such as badiou, zizek, but that is another story). i prefer maybe a dynamic truth, one that changes and equivocates – this is harder to grasp and harder too promulgate.

    i suppose there are three truths – the banal – the chairs that brecht refers to; the big – global capital is a direct cause of injustice; and the little – the university for whom i work does not pay the cleaners the london living wage (i don’t actually know if this is true or not). we, as a whole, even if we know the big truth do not wish to engage with it if it affects our life, so i suppose that we need to work on a succession of little truths but keep the bigger one in mind?

    so to whom do we tell these truths, and how..?

  4. Andrew Cooper

    Firstly I think it is vital to define what we mean by truth. It is not a revealed religious truth, it is something we have to discover and continue to discover, but once we do, we have a commitment to that truth as we understand it. I think we have to act with that knowledge because one thing’s for sure, those in control of capital with all their vested interest in tying up the population in an ideology of competitive individualism will not rest. This is why I think this text is worth looking at. Also, unfortunately we are going to have to think much more strategically in the future. So as you say ‘to whom do we tell these truths, and how..?.’ is important to ask.
    I think one of the things Brecht says is that the details are important, he expresses this so well. Little details which we see around us today like how a liberal institution treats its cleaners say a lot. Little details about planning to close a drug and alcohol detox ward in the middle of a round of job cuts says a lot. As does the bleating of ‘social mobility’ instead of equality and a fare wage for important work like cleaning. Of course everyone should have the chance to study if they want and at any age, but lets be careful we don’t give those in power the ammunition to create another scenario in history that divides people into worth while and not worth while. ‘Ill-treat the Untermensch, because they are worthless scum and deserve it’, which will be most of us! That could be the flip side of a meritocracy combined with capitalism in deep crisis.
    Brecht’s description of the American earthquake and the headline STEEL STOOD is remarkable in that it offers direct method for positive reporting in the face of disaster capitalism and boats of ‘celebs’. How many people in Port Au Prince would be alive today if the buildings were put up properly, in an area known for earthquakes. Cheap labour requires cheap homes. And as we saw in the film “Fault Lines” getting T shirts out before the bodies buried under the rubble of a huge factory screams out a truth.

    And there is truth, and it is this, so many people in world are already seen as Untermensch, they are just to be maintained as long as they can produce.
    As to the monolithic ‘religious’ version of truth it can be compared to a view of education that sees knowledge as a fixed body, privileging the image of knowledge over the activity of learning.

  5. Andrew Cooper

    ‘We have to convince ourselves that there is nothing ridiculous or criminal about having a great idea. The world of global and arrogant capitalism in which we live is taking us back to the 1840s and the birth of capitalism …. Too many people now think that there is no alternative to living for oneself, for one’s own interests. Let us have the courage to cut ourselves off from such people.’ (p. 67) Alain Badiou The Communist Hypothesis.
    I put this up because I feel this can’t be said enough at present. The process of discovering or cognizing truths must be taken on and reinvented by us, this is a political act.
    How do we tell our truths/encounters and to whom? Surely if this is important how and where we communicate will change and be open to examination, not just within a narrow claustrophobic art discourse but one that takes into account the whole social landscape within which the work operates. The process of thought in art needs to move from a descriptive (marketing model) to a real social methodological approach. Real in the sense that it has nothing to do with the culture of self referencing within art and use of theoretical text to dress up empty art careering driven by the forces of capital.

  6. Pingback: Literature/Film/Art |

  7. I have uploaded a .txt version of Bertold Brecht ‘Writing the Truth Five Difficulties’ (1935).
    I struggle with the role of the military; if their role is defence, shouldn’t they be helping provide the means of producing food to protect against hunger, digging wells to protect against thirst (for sanitation, and to water the crops), building shelters to protect against the elements, improving communications: roads, bridges, telecommunications, and taking medicine to inaccessible places. They are trained in all these skills, and have the machinery, time and money. Actually, you would think that even the most myopic military dictator could see the benefits of this.

    “Think Global, Act Local” Patrick Geddes

    I have this feeling of all kinds of knots unravelling after reading the text; a clarity that wasn’t there before.

    Like Jon, I will read the text diligently, with less awe of Brecht, and come back

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