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REVIEWS Radical Perspectives in the Arts, ed. Lee Baxandall (Penguin Books, 1972), pp. 388, 65 p. 1 This anthology is a mixed bag. Our expectations raised in the editor's foreword are only partially fulfilled by the selections. One is disappointed at the absence of Caudwell, Goldmann, Benjamin, Althusser and s· WTiil others, even as one would have liked to see different material from some of the writers represented here. Any selection of this kind would hardly be representative without Belinsky's 'Idea of Art', Caudwell's 'Study in Bourgeois Aesthetics', Goldmann's 'Ideology and Writing', Althusser's 'Teatro Piccollo' and Sartre's 'Revolution and the Intellectual', the last complementing some of the key concepts and 'perspectives' of the present volume. The pieces by Kettle and Lukács could easily have been replaced by the former's essay on Joyce (still by far the best single essay on Joyce) and the letter's chapter on 'modernism' (a document of considerable relevance to the discussion at hand). Mayer could be seen at his best in 'Brecht and Tradition' rather than in the selection here, as he is only now being made available to the English reader. These omissions and inclusions, serious as they are in my opinion, are instances of the failure of the anthology to completely live up to our expectations. Only a handful of essays make good Lee Baxandall's assumptions about the nature of the radical in the arts. Baxandall starts by promising an investigation which, by its nature is 'fundamental ', i.e. radical; but we are baulked of a full treatment of the subject. Essentially, a radical 'perspective' must tackle the very nature of art itself, not as a purely aesthetic inquiry but as part of a comprehensive re- evaluation of the 'idea' of art. This includes not only the 'value' or 'relevance' of art in society but, more basically, its normative status as a human activity. The first regards art as a form of understanding and knowledge and asks the same questions about its 'value' as Paul Nizan asked about understanding and knowledge , namely, what role does art play in human struggle (The Watchdogs); it higlilights the role of ideology as well as the problem of commitment of the individual artist. The second asks a more fundamental question: what attitudes operate in our designating something as art and, by implication, does art have an independent existence? The one is the province of criticism proper, the other that of theory. All art is rhetorical in nature; and even the most objective expression, as Arnold Hauser notes, 'is already an evocation, a challenge , an imposition and often a violation' ('Propaganda, Ideology and Art'). Yet art performs this function by acting on our consciousness, and not by overtly urging us to any goal- oriented actions. Caudwell and Plekhanov asserted that art's provenance is primarily the human subjectivity manifesting itself through responses and emotions. In what sense, then, does art play its oppositional role - - a role that Marcuse attributes to it? It breaks through the false consciousness 154 of ideology and through a process of 'internal distantiation' (in Althusser's phrase) makes us 'perceive' that ideology in which artistic creation derives its social base. (Althusser: ? letter to Andre Daspre). But whereas ideology posits more or less a universal premise into which individual motivations can be fitted, art is autonomous and recognises diversity, for there is always an aspect of human cognition that remains individual and beyond schematic formulation. Indeed, its very being is constituted of this individuality. Therefore to demand of an art work that it perceive correct relationship in the historical matrix in which it originates is to deny its singular insight. This seems to be happening in Carl Oglesby's essay on Camus and Heller. Accusing the two writers of 'cynicism and privileged impotence', he attacks their work as "collaborationist'. In many respects a provocative critique, the essay is marred by two factors, it ignori-» the necessary and inevitable connections between Camus's creative work and his political-philosophical journalism; and in the case of Heller it does not adequately take into account the possibilities of the mixed genre of grotesque realism which is the presentational mode...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 154-157
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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