July 13, 2006

Art vs. Authority

Posted in art, novelists, politics, religion at 4:20 am by Jerry

I just recently watched what I consider to be the best interviewing done between host and guest I have ever witnessed. It was pure articulation of deep inquiry and thought-provoking response. And, surprisingly, there were no “ummms” and “uhhhs”. It was fluidity manifested before Becky and I.

Yes, I’m talking about the Bill Moyers interview with Salman Rushdie Becky has just recently posted about on her blog. The whole interview was, in my mind, worthy of quoting (transcripts here). But Becky and I only have room for parts of it. She focused on Rushdie’s commentary on broadening boundaries and morality preceding religion. I’ve decided to focus on the parts where they talked about Art’s conflict with Authority. It was an inspiration for a wanna-be novelist like me.

In Bill Moyers’ introduction, he says..

I have asked some noted writers, storytellers, to sit down with me and talk about faith and reason. These free-thinking men and women hail from diverse backgrounds. But because their work unites clashing desires and perspectives, they just might lead us to a place where our humanity and our values — our self-worth and our hunger for community — are not mutually exclusive. As you listen to what they say, listen as well to how they say it – and then go online to join the conversation.

This next question caught my attention because I have a natural bent toward philosophy and I majored in theology in a seminary training me to be a preacher. But I dropped seminary half-way through and focused my energies on a novel I was writing.

BILL MOYERS: Why did you ask writers to discuss faith and reason and not theologians, philosophers, preachers?

SALMAN RUSHDIE: Largely for the reason that we are dreaming creatures and we wanted and I wanted imaginative acts of response. That’s to say — And I think that’s what writers can offer better than journalists, better than philosophers is that they can use their imaginations to look at the world and what’s happening in it and especially I think — And one of the things in the time we live in is that there is a kind of imaginative failure, I think, of understanding across the gulfs in the world now. You know-

BILL MOYERS: Failure of empathy I think-

The Sacred Roots of Art discussed here:

SALMAN RUSHDIE: I think you know we as human beings look for transcendence, you know? I think we’re not satisfied with the every day. You know, because we are dreamers, you know, because we are an imagining creature, you know, we do have the ability to imagine a world which is not simply the flesh and blood world that we inhabit. And that has great, in many great ways, found its manifestation in the world’s religions. And as I say, art came out of that. And then at a certain point, literature, music, painting separated itself from its sacred roots and became, if you like, secularized. And out of that comes the art of the novel. But I think one has to remember its roots in mythology, its roots in religion.

Political and Religious Authorities and their Relations with Writers discussed here:

BILL MOYERS: I looked at the writers on the opening night of the festival, and I realized that by the very nature of their vocation, they can’t do anything but express what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling. I mean, their freedom to criticize puts them in direct contradiction to every orthodoxy, dogma, faction, party. Can there be any kind of peace between writers and authority, religious or political?

SALMAN RUSHDIE: I think there’s — You know, even leaving aside the issue of oppression and so on — I think there is quite a valuable creative tension between power and art. You know? I think there always has been and probably always will be. Men of power, women of power seek in a way to define the world in their own image and in a way that suits them-

BILL MOYERS: To their own advantage.

SALMAN RUSHDIE: –gets them elected, so on, keeps them in power. Writers are also trying to create visions of the world, but not to get elected, you know? So, there is a clash of visions, you know, quite often between writers and people of power. And that’s all right. I think mostly we all accept that that’s how the world is. What’s happened more and more nowadays is that the power has begun to take reprisals, you know, against artists around the world.

Universality of Freedom of Expression discussed here:

BILL MOYERS: You say we plead for the universality of freedom of expression so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents against all abuses and all dogmas. That’s the very thing that the tyrants don’t want. They don’t want the critical spirit applied to their-

SALMAN RUSHDIE: But this is the time honored role of the artist to speak truth to power, you know, and if you look at what is happening in the Muslim world some of the writers signing that manifesto are particularly concerned with the oppression of women, which is a very big subject and in the Muslim world. Others are concerned with the oppression of freedoms of speech and assembly. And others are concerned with simple — the creation of kind of overarching world view, which makes it impossible for people to consider the concept of freedom. You know, that’s to say it simply not available, for discussion, you know. And one of the awful things about long term mass censorship is that in the end people can lose a sense of what it’s like to live in a free world. You know, because it’s not–there’s nothing automatic about it. It’s a thing you have to fight for and preserve.

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