Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Can art be divorced from the politics that supported it?

This is an interesting article to spark debate (when you skip past the bit about Berlusconi though he does spark all manner of debates all on his own).

Can you divorce politics from art? If the art was produced during a political regime now deemed to be unpalatable (and supported or was supported by that regime), or had been adopted by now despised poilitical leaders, should we ignore its context ?

Futurism was one art movement in Italy that on paper could not be separated from the political foray as the group's leading exponent, Marinetti, helped Mussolini found the Fascist movement in 1919. Marinetti broke away from Mussolini in 1920, but still supported the regime after the 1922 March on Rome, claiming that Fascism had at least fulfilled Futurism's minimum programme of demands. In 1929 Marinetti became secretary of the Fascist Writers' Union. Loyal to Mussolini until the end, Marinetti died in 1944, and with his death Futurism finally came to an end.

As I mentioned in my blog article on Futurism and Florence, Futurism was a precursor to Fascism in Italy and fought against the vanguard: 

Established in Italy at the turn of the twentieth century, Futurism was a contrast to the Romanticism that had gone before. The Futurists emphasized and glorified contemporary concepts of the future – speed, technology and industrialisation. They embraced the modern world. F.T. Marinetti published his Manifesto of Futurism in 1909, first in an article in the Italian ‘La Gazetta dell’Emilia’ before it was taken up by the French paper ‘Le Figaro.’ Marinetti wanted no part of the old world and tradition,
“Let’s break out of the horrible shell of wisdom and throw ourselves like pride-ripened fruit into the wide, contorted mouth of the wind! Let’s give ourselves utterly to the Unknown, not in desperation but only to replenish the deep wells of the Absurd!”
There was no artistic programme in the manifesto, just a battle cry against the vanguard, a threat to remove Italy “from its smelly gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tour-guides and antiquarians. […]We mean to free her from the countless museums that cover her like so many graveyards.”
 But would looking at artwork without knowing the history or any manifestos that may be behind it affect the message that the artist(s) was trying to put across? Yes and no. There is the intertextuality of life; the art was not created in a vacuum and nor did the artist not have a concept of what they were creating, so to ignore that would be to only see half of the picture. Or would it? By admiring a piece of art purely for the forms on the canvas, created in marble, or whatever, the viewer can still appreciate the technique and quality of the finished article. If you applied Roland Barthes' theory on writing as espoused in his paper "Death of the Author" to art then it would be the viewer that creates the proper interpretation; by assigning a single interpretation on a work (one taking into account the creator's social and historical background) you are imposing a limitation to the work's 'text'.

The question remains: can art be divorced entirely from its context?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

International Man Booker Prize 2013

The shortlist has been announced for the biennial Man Booker International prize. Comprising of 10 finalists it includes seven works translated into English and three works which were originally written in English orginating from nine countries.

First prize is £60,000 with an additional prize of £15,00 going to a translator of a translated work.

The full list comprises U R Ananthamurthy (India), Aharon Appelfeld (Israel), Lydia Davis (USA), Intizar Husain (Pakistan), Yan Lianke (China), Marie NDiaye (France), Josip Novakovich (Canada), Marilynne Robinson (USA), Vladimir Sorokin (Russia) and Peter Stamm (Switzerland). 
The Guardian has a visual guide to the finalists.

The last winner (after various walkouts) was American author - Philip Roth.
Philip Roth

May the best book win.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

What does 2013 hold for the literary world?

I missed 2012 from a literary perspective but I hope not to make the same mistake for 2013. Here are some of the highlights for the forthcoming year...


200 years have passed since the publication of Pride and Prejudice and bosoms are still heaving after Mr Darcy even if they are a little freer than in 1813! Events are bound to be plentiful to celebrate the anniversary.

The finalists for the fifth Man Booker International prize will be announced at the Jaipur festival.


Release of Pow! by Mo Yan (Seagull Books). The first new novel in English from the Chinese author awarded the 2012 Nobel literature prize for his "hallucinatory realism" is a riotous carnival of food, sex and death in rural China.

Release of Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura (Clerkenwell Press). A white family implodes in an unnamed colonial country on the brink of civil war. I am reading lots of post-colonial theory at the moment and this seems apt.


The 7th is World Book Day. A Unesco-designated celebration of books marked in more than 100 countries. In the UK more than 14m book tokens will be distributed to children under 18. This can only be encouraged - more children need to discover the joy of reading.


The 23rd of April is Shakespeare's birth and death day and is an appropriate date for World Book Night. The books are:

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

A Little History of the World by E.H Gombrich

Little Face by Sophie Hannah

Damage by Josephine Hart

The Island by Victoria Hislop

Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay

Last Night Another Soldier... by Andy McNab

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Reader by Bernard Schlink

No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges by John Wagner

Release of The Roundhouse by Louise Erdrich (Corsair). This novel about a young teenager investigating his mother's assault beat Dave Eggers and Junot Diaz to the US National Book award last year, and has been called a Native American To Kill a Mockingbird.

Release of Crossing the Bosporus by Deborah Cater. A non-fiction account of three western women with different outlooks on life travelling from Bulgaria to Istanbul.


Book related (I sincerely hope it does follow the book's plot) is the cinematic release of The Great Gatsby. I love the book I hope Luhrmann has done it justice.


Presentation of first Women's Prize for Fiction, successor to the Orange prize; the 2013 panel is chaired by Miranda Richardson.


Time to buy a selection of the year's earlier releases and hit the beach - not much happening in the world of books this month.


At least in August you can head up to Edinburgh for its International Book Festival. 


Lots of small book festivals are scheduled in September - choose from:
Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival
The First Transylvanian Book Festival 
Bleinhem Palace Literary Festival


Henley Literary Festival - technically it starts on the last day of September but as most of it sits in october, well here it is.

New Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding (Jonathan Cape).  Seventeen years after her diaries of a singleton's comic mishaps were first published, Helen Fielding promises to explore "a different phase" in Bridget's life.

Sixty years after James Bond made his first fictional appearance in Casino Royal, William Boyd is the latest author – following Jeffery Deaver and Sebastian Faulks – to accept the mission from the Fleming estate to write a new Bond novel.


The Samuel Johnson Award for non-fiction will be awarded.


This is currently a quiet month news-wise but it is most likely the time of year when a good many books will be purchased - perhaps some of those released earlier in the year.

Happy Reading in 2013.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Favourite Works of ..12

I'd like to say that I had delved into the literary lake of 2012 and pulled a number of prize-winning reads from its waters.
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Word Cloud

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