22 Nov 2007

An op-ed about the advent of Ghost-modernism

Mirror, mirror on the wall… (Self-)Censorship vs. Creativity:
An op-ed about the advent of Ghost-modernism

Most right-wing Eastern European intellectuals and artists in post-communist countries such as Romania, for instance, tend to distance themselves from the view which holds that censorship may actually have had a positive effect on people's creativity, and in that respect, its demise ought to be regretted somehow.

Instead, there’s plenty of nostalgia for the mostly digested creativity cake, which has since been voided of its primary meaning – as there is hardly any need anymore for controversy to be smuggled into the public domain. The only (current and ongoing) struggle consists in keeping up the appearance of continuity – in terms of their still championing a cause as celebre as anti-communism was – despite a public discourse fit for the McCarthy era!

As in that ‘50s B-movie “The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers”, the conundrum facing pod-communist (as in pod-cast) intellectuals and artists – who are still hunting for extinct (communist) fossils as if “the past never went away” – mirrors the imaginative involution of a child being spoilt by too many toys. Such artists’ creativity appears to have been softened by this constant barrage of imagery that was merely supposed to ensure unfettered access to information yet, it now appears this excess of creative freedom, alongside a complete lack of self-censorship – that ought to have harnessed this new-found power to say meaningful things – has been turned into an identity crisis, which manifests itself in vengeful and wasteful witch-hunting…

The Big Bang of 9/11 is the moment in time when history has been kick-started yet again - with those (two!) nails in the coffin where that half-baked "end of history" theory rests! Hence the reason why I strongly believe that this period which we are currently traversing is one during which we will see the re-birth of many things – both good and bad, such as art, on the one hand, or politics (unfortunately) on the other – replacing, at last, a post-modern era that has long passed its sell-by date… This extra-time period is to be replaced by a penalty shoot-out, which I believe it fully deserves to be termed as ghost-modernism – a period during which history, art and many other things (not least, the environment amongst a host of other things) will be looking to regain their composure and meaning…

Surely, such statements need evidential backing if they are to survive longer than the “15 minutes” we are all due. Notwithstanding the fact that I am forced by the format chosen to get to the point a.s.a.p., I will come up with just a couple of examples in the two most far-apart fields that come to mind: no, not the environment and profit-making, but art history and politics. The only things they have in common is that they both relate to this European out-post (read that as the back of beyond if you so wish!) called Romania!

Thus, one of the good things that have happened to this God-forsaken place – which, judging by the next example wishing to give credence to the theory, appears not to be ready for its belated yet, still premature admission to this Union of European nation-states – was the recent visit made by Julian Bell - arguably Britain’s most influential contemporary art historian – to Romania, bidding to promote his latest book “Mirror of the World” – the first ever co-edition of an art history book of such magnitude appearing simultaneously, in both London and Bucharest.

It may seem strange how this rather contentious (political) statement would have been triggered by an art history book, which barely touches on Eastern Europe’s art, or history. Yet, it seems that he achieved something he may never have intended by this omission. This gentle Englishman’s attempt to objectify this most particular view of the world, via his Swanborough Coomb perspective – spanning from the sole of his feet, so firmly entrenched in the soil of the British isles, to the wide horizons of the human intuition – is but the ultimate odyssey during which this unassuming hunter-gatherer-of-artistic-imagery invites one to discover what else could have been said about art’s history by handing people the tools that will eventually allow the transcendence of personal points of view, thus enabling a perspective of the art world as a whole.

To end this on an uplifting note, here is the bad news. Though this time, the two places are not as far apart as London is to Bucharest – not only geographically speaking, but linguistically too, because of a lot of rather close resemblances between the two people who find themselves at odds in this unfortunate controversy – I will briefly point to the unsavoury upsurge in the kind of politics that brought those final two nails I was referring to earlier… This time, the trend is one that brings with it a tension likely to ruin Bell’s unifying perspective on the world.

It is the very same tension which sets people apart according to their religion, ethnicity, or anything else that may seem fit to justify a Stalinist-come-McCarthyist discourse uttered in a newspeak of ignorance, rather than outright hatred. It is this very discourse in the tabloid media that has given the Italian authorities the pretext they needed to begin the expulsion of Romanian passport holders – regardless of whether they are indeed guilty of murdering Italian women, or whether they are but genuine Romanian film stars, who just happen to spend the night in a hotel in the centre of Turin – that makes us all wonder whether we are likely after all to be saved by the Bell…

Such preachers of hate give ample credence to Huntingdon’s theory about the inevitable clash of civilisations, which appears to turn this rather naïve vision of the global village into a dangerous place for all those driven there by poverty and the hope of a better life. Maybe this is what makes this attempt to drum up the advent of Ghost-modernism truly superfluous and what makes this journalist friend of mine – Harry de Quetteville, whom I will meet for the first time tomorrow – right in saying that “the past never really went away”.