Chapter 3

 

Cultural Expression and Democratic Consensus

 

In this chapter our ideas of culture are re-examined and a particular emphasis on culture's function is chosen which is appropriate to frame Exploding Cinema's activity. The non-verbal arts are seen as expressions of the human senses. These aim to make a direct relation between human desire, its sensory form of expression and its subsequent cultural proliferation. Verbal language is integrated into this model and comments are made on the social consequences of the development of printing, literary culture and its separation from orality.[1]

So, art expressions make qualitative judgements about all aspects of our collective being and culture. Broader cultural processes bring these judgements into a public sphere in which communities of understanding and agreement arise. These cultural agreements underpin the more formal processes of reaching consensii that are the stuff of democratic politics. This discussion prepares the ground for the consideration I want to make of Habermas' critical theory in the next chapter.

The idea that the central purpose of culture is the evaluation of the conditions of human existence has gained a widespread intellectual consensus if this quote from The Oxford Companion to Philosophy is anything to go by.

Culture may be thought of as a causal agent that affects the evolutionary process by uniquely human means. For it permits the self-conscious evaluation of human possibilities in the light of a system of values that reflect prevailing ideals about what human life ought to be. Culture is thus an indispensable device for increasing human control over the direction in which our species changes. (Prof. Jaegwon Kim. 1995, p172)

This idea may be found in Raymond Williams' Culture and Society, which was first published in 1958.[2] Another idea that Williams articulates at that time is the way the word culture goes through series of historical metamorphoses. From its C17th origin in horticulture it first means the training of the habits of mind with a goal of perfection. Then it comes also to indicate a general intellectual state of society and or the 'general body of the arts'. Finally in the C20th it takes on an anthropological meaning of the totality of a particular group or societies way of life.

In this thesis I want to use culture to mean a field of intellectual and imaginative work but at the same time I do not want to imply this is separate from culture as a whole way of life, nor to exclude its connections to social processes or community.[3] The more specialised experiments and free play that occur in the arts are subject to broader cultural discourses before the new judgements they present are taken up or ignored by a wider community.

The modern concept of culture developed alongside the egalitarian and inclusive concept of democracy that was set alight in Europe by the French Revolution of 1789.[4]

The idea of culture would be simpler if it had been a response to industrialism alone, but it was also, quite evidently, a response to the new political and social developments, to democracy. (Williams, 1958, p17)

In their historically institutionalised, professionalised forms the formal state funded arts are clearly separated from most communities in Britain. They cannot, from this position, very easily draw from or offer their results to culture as a whole way of life. [5] For the purposes of this thesis I need to find a method of epistemically refiguring the arts, which allows a gateway to a more intimate relation of culture to society to be envisioned.

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[1] This idea flows from the emphasis on the inclusion of an amateur perspective in the last chapter. I am making the approximate equation of amateur being embedded in more oral fields of culture and 'professional' and academic fields having a more literary derivation and discourse. Implied here is an idea that the professional, academic, literary field has been dominant over amateur, underground or vernacular fields.

 

[2] "The idea of culture is a general reaction to a general and major change in the conditions of our common life. Its basic element is its effort at total qualitative assessment... what it indicates is a process not a conclusion." (Williams, 1958, p285) The profound scope of culture's function is indicated by the phrase 'total qualitative assessment'. Williams designates this as the 'basic element' of culture.

 

[3] (Williams, 1958, p311)

 

[4] " A revolution that... utterly transformed Western life, from traditional to new ways of thinking, even of dress, speech and everyday manners." (Bookchin 1996 p266)

 

[5] There is a somewhat faltering field of discourse amongst artists which attempt to find cracks in this separation. The community arts of the Sixties and Seventies were marginalised as artforms. There continued to be artists committed to a socially engaged practice. Recently the new term 'contextual art practice' has entered the fray as a politically more neutral term. See, Out of the Bubble: approaches to 'Contextual Practice' within Fine Art education, eds. John Carson and Susannah Silver, (The London Institute, 2000). The term contextual art practice seems to have been imported from the USA. See Suzanne Lacey ed. Mapping the Terrain: new genre public art, (Bay Press San Francisco 1995)