from the cracks in the psyche of culture
59 : November 2012
from Kafka and Havel in
The National Curriculum for the Arts
What is it
about Czech writers that makes them finger the pointedly ridiculous
in pompous collectivity and bureaucracy?
recently had the good fortune to be part of a reading of Vaclav
Havel's play, MEMORANDUM, at the Czech Embassy in Canberra, I
have a deep appreciation for the insights of these two great Czech
writers who, more than anyone, seem to touch on the essence of
collective insanity in bureaucratic and academic processes for
defining what is "good" and "necessary". They
point up so eloquently the following characteristics:
Personal self interest, pettiness, resentment at
being bypassed, skill at manipulating social situations, a love of
meetings and agendas, a penchant for reductionism and pedantry, a
paranoid disposition seeing threats from everyone in their vicinity,
a view that all can be controlled, a deeply ingrained self
righteousness, a love of point-scoring over colleagues,
one-upmanship, success via conceits rather than actually producing
anything, a love for tearing down those above them, an ability to
stifle those below them, a sense of self- importance, a belief that
everything can be managed . . .
The two writers almost define the basis of
post-modernism: that nexus of self-interest and blindness to all
other considerations! The absurdity of morality ... the calous
indifference to the reduction of humanity to a core of bickering
jackals dressed up in respectable attire and rituals feeding off the
remnants of their sliding privileged position!
Havel's play Memorandum creates a
scenario where a new language, Ptydepe,
is constructed by bureaucratic decree to prevent ambiguity in
professional discourse . . . a kind of newspeak.
Both Havel's Ptydepe and Orwell's Newspeak aimed at
centralizing discourse so as to control the flow of information and
thought processes. Both required centralized sanctioning.
The Howard/Gillard consensus on the need for a
core curriculum dressed up as a National Curriculum might well be
parodied in the same way . . . though we don't seem to have writers
clever enough to make the gross absurdity stick.
In the Arts, committees have been wrestling with
how best to implement a National Curriculum. What should be included
and how should it be time-tabled? Especially considering the
continueous outbursts of initiation in education coming from The
Prime Minister, it is absurd to think that framers of new policy will
show any significant increase in arts education; and might well
contribute to there being less. But "ptydepe" is certainly
on the increase. The language of bureaucracy and managerialism is
certainly on the increase. More boxes to be ticked! More satisfied
ex-teachers can feel they are doing a good job by ever increasing the
"alignment" between some trivial semantic point and some
introduced phenomena used to assess and approach planning.
The reduction of everything to commodified and
measurable segments makes the idea of arts and humanities somewhat
difficult. Unfortunately, if education is seen as a simple means for
increasing economic prosperity, then we have a major crises in our thinking.
In this we are not alone.
"Radical changes are occurring in what
democratic societies teach the young, and these changes have not been
well thought through. Eager for national profit, nations, and their
systems of education, are heedlessly discarding skills that are
needed to keep democracies alive." (Martha
Nussbaum accessed 04/11/12)
Enlightenment's optimism for a world progressing towards emancipation
from tribalism, superstition, organized religion and offering up the
triumpth of a scientific mindset that demanded reasonable
explanations for authority and order has clearly given way to an
overwhelming disappointment; a sense that if our most cherished
beliefs could still throw up the genocide of WW2, then such
aspirations were clearly absurd and wrong. The left-over spasms of
Modernism's carcas that resulted in the "peace" generation
of the 60s and 70s ("Give Peace A Chance" and "Imagine
no possessions" . . . etc!) were to be replaced quickly with
"self interest" in the 1980s. Academics and the populace
ultimately knew that humanity was rotting with the basest of urges
maggoting away idealism and cultural progress. The best we could
hope for is some kind of even playing field where everything could be
reduced to some lowest common denominator. There is even a growing
assumption that with skills will come prosperity. The disadvantaged
child need not bother with cultural, arts or humanities studies
because these are not the main game. Drill them in the 3 R's of
reading riting and rithmetic (note the irony of the spelling that
gives rise to 3 Rs) and they will be on this neutral-judgement playing
field where survival will be available for the fittest! Offer
teachers more money to con the kids into learning with techniques and
approaches that will "engage" them and all will be well.
Australia will return to top 5 educational results in the world.
commodification of all facets of life has been post-modernism's
greatest and foulest achievement. It has actually made a positive
trait out of statistical analysis replacing wisdom and balanced
consideration based on experience. The tick box becomes more real
than the actual event it describes. The ticked boxes themselves can
become weighted to give statistical meaning to reality. Teachers are
more and more required to fulfill accountable tick boxes through
which they can be assessed. Yet virtually NONE of these boxes
actually can be verified by the actual life experience of students.
computers and machines, it is assumed that people will respond to the
right programming or what used to be called, "social engineering".
that Arts and Humanities can only be of fringe interest to the main game
of numeracy and "literacy", as stated by Gillard, then we
also accept that we only have a peripheral role in the shaping of the
very culture and social structures that gave rise the way of life we
have. There are lots of places in the world that do not have boatloads
of desparate people trying to gain access.
held post modernist view is that we do not challenge or judge such
other societies but rather, we smugly proclaim egalitarianism and multi-culturalism;
seeming to suggest that the others really aren't up to it so why
discuss it; better to just accept everyone! Our education is seen in
the same light. "There's no point in being creative if we aren't
literate or numerate!" It is as if numeracy and literacy were
isolated aspects of human endeavour; not connected with one's
personal sense of purpose and being!
It is this
connection that Arts provides. In an academic arena, it is the
Humanities. To see dismantling of arts courses in universities and
schools throughout the west is an indication that Post Modernism is
reeking its potentially destructive urges in order to create the
nihilism it ultimately craves and to hand order back to despotic
ideologies and tyrants.
Receive our Trinculo's
newsletter directly by subscribing to us. Read information about
issues and events from local, national and international groups who:
use theatre to explore the human condition
venture into the very psyche of
cultural and personal expression, and
are interested in exploring the
mysteries of life and social/cultural interaction.
To receive your copy and read
provocative theatre articles and receive information about scripts,
workshops and performances from Shadow House PITS, please sign up
here as a subscriber.
To subscribe, click here
and complete the simple form.