By Dr Saulat Nagi
Unlike the historians, history does not suffer from Alzheimer nor does it regress to senile dementia, the two conditions very common to the mortal human beings. It is familiar with all kind of changes; it vividly and repeatedly keeps reminding the events or the persons who either altered its course or tried to mutilate its face and ended by scratching their own. The masses and the artists fall in the first category while the generals and plunderers in the other.
Incidentally, the people who embellished and adorned it with their own blood and tears fought selflessly for a bigger cause of seeking equal distribution of wealth. Scourged by incarceration, expulsion and death their heroic struggle was appreciated if not lauded even by their tormenters and executioners. In this process, the struggle of the artists cannot be taken lightly who despite all odds kept the flag of justice, equality and freedom fluttering and kept the flame of hope alive while exposing themselves to the threat of terroristic annihilation. In recent past Faiz, Nazim Hikmat, Mahmoud Darweesh, Pablo Neruda, incidentally all contemporaries led a valiant struggle against the forces of totalitarianism.
In a capitalist society, art and culture both emanate from the very class, which possess the means of production. Hence, art and culture are stymied in such a way that the message of a war cry for have-nots is replaced by a mode of entertainment, which fosters resignation. Human does not attain his liberation; he is exalted yet not freed. The realm of both, the art and culture are considered as one’s internal realm, which relates with human soul, leaving his body aside. It is the body, which creates the surplus value and not the soul. The latter finds no exchange value unless it is reified, begins to attract the people, fascinates them and as a piece of literature develops into a valuable commodity worthy of sale.
The capitalist society never hesitates to boast about its ideals concerning democracy, equal opportunities and dignity of human being without believing in these delicacies. Ever since the production and distribution of means of destruction have become major means of realization of capital, these ‘ideals’ have turned into alibis to invade weaker states. With media under the hegemonic control, the dehumanization and democratic abolition of thought help streamlining the public opinion in favor of terroristic designs. The media does not sublimate the thinking it represses it completely and fully.
Here comes the role of art, which challenges the status-quo by inventing subtle means, which apparently do not violate the established norms yet carry the message of non-conformism to the masses. Here the subtle intricacies of language, the jugglery of words, even the oeuvre itself tend to challenge the status-quo. Instead of beautifying and enhancing the image of established reality, it sheds light on its dark confines and the real intentions, while simultaneously exposing the mechanism of control meant to maintain the domination over the masses. A prostitute who challenges the taboos, a painter who by highlighting the misery violates the bourgeois norms, a singer who instills or infuses the real meanings of otherwise pleasant narratives or words by stating that ‘freedom is just another name of nothing left to lose’ or a beautiful young protestor who in public, presents flower to his oppressor — a police man — become the symbol of art which resists. During the “war of position” these remain the only available means of resistance especially when the voices are stifled to maintain hegemony through an outright coercion.
A piece of an art can make the people laugh. A laugh, which can ridicule the established norms of a society digging its own grave. “Laughter at something is always a laughter at it”. There may be a deep sense of powerlessness residing at the very root of such laughter yet it provides an opportunity to mock the annulment of the subjectivity of the individual by the society. Juniad Hafeez and Rashed Rehman tried to revive this desperate laughter of cynic defiance; one was shoved into a pigeonhole, the other was dispatched to the unlit pathways, to the impossibility of all possibilities, to un-freedom. Both theology and philosophy today not only compete with each other in celebrating this process of “death as an existential category: perverting a biological fact into an ontological essence, they bestow transcendental blessing on the guilt of mankind which they help to perpetuate — they betray the promise of Utopia” (Marcuse).
In the subcontinent where faith of puritanical origin has overtaken the sanity, the old traditional beliefs of mysticism or tolerance are reeling. In the presence of market economy, time for mysticism was already receding fast. Mysticism and the associated art was the product of feudal era when life was not very hectic. After a period of sowing, cultivating and/or harvesting people had sufficient time at their hands to enjoy the festivities of those moments. The technology has altered all previous relations. Brute as it is in a capitalist society it is affecting the human beings and their relations in the same vain. Forgetting that their real relations have shaped the wealth, commodity fetishism has replaced all human relations to become the only relation through which people identify each other.
To be continued
Dr Saulat Nagi is based in Australia and has authored books on socialism and history.