Week four, and time to attend to the pronouncements of public intellectuals. Professor Steven Pinker told us on TV this week that the Universe is essentially uncaring. Thanks Steve – you just blasted a hole in the side of the wellness industry. So I turn to art, and being in a lot, re-hang and enjoy my collection: like this photomontage from Peter Kennard. The work is self evident, but I present it here as a layering of image, materials and light states – an assemblage of overlapping kitchen roll and the reflection of the solitary photographer. Sorry, we don’t need art bollocks, but the truth. Like so much of Kennard’s work, this image of a warplane dropping food parcels doesn’t need any de-construction. It’s beauty and polemic in harmony, it plants straight into the mind and gut. A brilliant take on the swords to ploughshares theme.
So which swords are being turned in into ploughshares to help us with this virus? Are Vickers making ventilators? Or is it still swords to shares? Bombs are still in production in this country to be dropped on the people of Yemen, no? Someone is making a lot of money out of that. Virus or not, its still business as usual in many respects.
Thinking of respect – none whatsoever from the joggers puffing past me on my officially sanctioned daily walk in the park. It’s a jogger pandemic out there, articulated humanoids running at unnatural speed, looking at neither nature nor other people. They’re also puffing out germs with lung force considerably stronger than your average walker. With things being a bit vague sometimes, you must not go out unless it is important – how about an actual dictat forcing joggers to wear facemasks?
Lockdown has its challenges of course, but what about the locked up? I hear on Radio 4 of prisoners sitting next to carrier bags of faeces (not all of which is their own) and plastic bottles full of urine. Elisabeth Fry would freak at the conditions in our twenty-first century jails. Then there are the feral: kids or teenagers, some of them suicidal, unable to cope with the withdrawal of social services, and with home lives that put them in physical and emotional harm’s way. As the radius of human contact narrows the Covid exposes pockets of uncivilised human life. Yet the word ‘civil,’ like the word ‘parochial’ has a stuffy vibe.
The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, wrote in 1952 that…‘All great civilizations are built on parochialism…Parochialism is universal; it deals with the fundamentals.’
This sounds like a contradiction, no? Kavanagh again…Parochial literally means ‘of the parish’, denoting the small and the particular and the specific. It means knowing where you are. It can also mean insular and narrow-minded, but it doesn’t have to, any more than cosmopolitan has to mean snobbish and rootless.’
This is profound. The global global culture of neoliberalism is totally anti-parochial and uncivic. It destroys local particularities and our feelings for what’s around us. Note how all town shopping centres now seem to look the same with their chains of shops and restaurants. How agribusiness cares nothing for the richness and vagaries of the countryside. We are all encouraged to buy into a global culture based only on money and making profits for those we never meet. How is that civilised? As novelist Paul Kingsnorth put it…At its best, a radical parochialism may be the most effective means of resisting this global machine… without a parochial culture, there can be no culture at all. Guardian 13/3/15
I recall setting up a poetry wall at the Hay festival in 1999, inviting the literary great and good to scrawl a poem on the theme of freedom. There were many marvels of course, but my favourite was this from Max Bygraves: Freedom is a locked bathroom.
Art: Peter Kennard