EXHIBITION REVIEW: Sixty Years at Tate Britain

Sixty Years at Tate Britain is a journey through the events of British post-war history, seen refracted in the prism of work by artists from 1960s to today.

The opening blurb tells us that each piece in the collection is a response to narratives and issues such as ‘immigration, feminism, racial and sexual identity, AIDS activism, music and club culture’.

The show is explicitly political, and political in a very particular, post-modern sense. The Britain presented here is not the Britain of Churchill, empire and high gothic ambition. Each piece appears to have been chosen for its explicitly non-historic, anti-patriotic sensibility.

Jon Savage’s Uninhabited London series is a strong example of the kind of searching, slightly nihilistic eye that this exhibition wants to celebrate.

His pictures show empty back streets, overpasses, rail bridges and derelict housing blocks, all in black and white and all of them devoid of human activity or the comfort of identity.

The photos were taken between 1977 and 2008, in and around North Kensington and west London, and they show a London still peppered with bomb sites, still reeling from the damage of war.

This could be East Germany as much as London. There is no civilisation here, but only concrete and the carcasses of Victorianism, the bland, hard edges of dreary development.

This is a London that is somewhat unrecognisable today. However, following the horrors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in Kensington, you do catch yourself searching for anything that might resemble that building. There are skylines with high rise blocks, and the general texturelessness and loneliness of the landscapes presented here does speak to this recent trauma.

However, much of these areas have probably been gentrified now, and the London we see through Savage’s eyes is only one side of the city – there is no creativity, no bustling energy of optimism. All you are allowed to see is the forgotten, vacant lifelessness of desolate alleys and parking lots.

The pictures themselves, however, are clean, well composed, and show a technical control for depth of field that allows for maximum impact in conveying the shape and form of the city Savage was trying to present.

Cunt Scum (1977) by Gilbert and George, presents a similar face of London. We are still seeing a dour, post-war Britain, only this time with slightly more explicit political flavour.

Gilbert and George give us the prophetic images of what we will come to know as ‘Thatcherite Britain’. Working men in crowds, Bobbys on the beat, homelessness, inner city high rise developments.

The photographs used are not as technically pristine as Savage’s, but the over and under-exposed quality of the shots deliberately contrast the stark light and grim shadow of a Britain gutted of its identity.

If anyone still has doubts about the power of Abstract Expressionism, and the thrust of its techniques, they should look no further than Ataxia – Aids Is Fun (1993), by Derek Jarman.

Almost certainly the most moving of the works in this exhibition, Ataxia hits the viewer in the most vulnerable aspects of the subconscious. No amount of description and campaigning can compete with this image of the fragmentation of the nervous system caused by AIDS. It is a terrifying work, that leaves no one in any doubt about the meaning.

AIDS was not just a cull of gay men, it was, and still is, a tectonic natural disaster for every individual affected. This painting is hard to look at – violent, uncompromising and entirely precise.

Hommage a Chrysler Corp. (1957) by Richard Hamilton, is possibly the most technically impressive part of this show. A masterpiece of negative space, and a proto-Pop Art achievement, the work explores the sexuality of women and motorcars – a staple of pop culture already by the time it was painted.

In this painting you see so much of modernity captured in the slick curves and urbane textures – everything from Kerouac, to the Velvet Underground to Madonna’s aggressive slut-empowerment in the early 1990s.

As a primary source, this painting will communicate to future historians unspeakable truths about the post-war age in the west, so much more than the nihilistic trends that emerged from the 1960s.

Michael Fullerton’s portrait of disc jockey John Peel (2005) opens this patchy exhibition, and it’s a brilliantly understated and traditional work.

A reference to the portraits by Thomas Gainsborough in the 18th century, this work captures the loveable paradox of Peel. He was on the frontlines of counterculture for the best part of four decades. However, he was a national treasure, as well-known and loved as the Queen herself, by the time he died.

Painting him in this way, allows the viewer to see Peel and all that he represents, through a lens of continuity and cultural endurance. The other works in this exhibition lack this sense of connection.

Peel’s love of the underground was not a post-modernist quest, but rather and desire to keep the tradition of British art alive and thriving. To be counter-culture, for Peel, was not to be anti-culture. He was a kind of spiritual patron, rather than an iconoclast or revolutionary. We see Peel here where he belongs, in the Pantheon of British creative innovators and leaders, not as some snotty champion of disaffection.

Fullerton’s portrait reminds one of Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington’s Oscar Wilde portrait (1884) also showing in the Tate. The same deep colours, the same ironic, but accessible creative expressions on the subjects.

There is a deliberate dislocation of Britain from its past in this exhibition which seems designed rather than simply observed.

Taken on their own, each piece has something important to say about this country. However, there is a disingenuous agenda in the collection, as if the only things relevant to post-war Britain were issues of immigration, sexual health, gay rights and feminism.

Britain is a divided nation, and in some sense that divide runs down the fracture between a historic past, and a post-Thatcherite economic identity.

Explicit in the form of this collection seems to be the assertion that nothing of Britain’s past is fit for purpose, nothing about the identity formed over centuries up until the 1960s speaks to the issues that face the country today.

Sixty Years presents a cultural orthodoxy which is itself archaic and mismatched to the reality of the times. The creative disgust of punk and post-modernism are far more connected to time and circumstance than their advocates would have us believe, and the idea of being liberated from the past is no longer the seductive, working class utopian vision it once was.

Far more powerful, would be an exhibition that tried to link the fractured world seen in the works of Savage and Gilbert and George, with the through-line of art history in Britain.

The moral eye of this exhibition is bankrupt, and the forms have become fetishes.

This dislocation was painfully available to us in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. Protestors and rabble rousers leaped upon the deaths of impoverished families, as if they were somehow catapulted back to 1981, to a world of miners strikes and the Falklands war.

In trying to present a distinctly modern Britain, this exhibition comes off as suspiciously nostalgic for a time when a clear, Marxist model of social forces was convenient and offered clarity in an era of confused, class emancipation.

Sixty Years goes out of its way to avoid any sense of continuity. For a worldview obsessed with identity, that very concept of identity itself seems incredibly impoverished. Beauty is seen as something representative of the evil establishment, a veneer of the old guard.

It may or may not be true that the classical beauty and Victorian baroque of British art is linked to its imperial past. However, what Sixty Years shows is that the fractured aesthetic of sex-club fetishism and class-war concretism is dangerously anachronistic and ill-fitted to meet the challenges of contemporary Britain.

Even seen as a retrospective, this exhibition is curiously limited, confined to one narrow view of Britain’s recent history. For all its celebrations of alienation and working class anxiety, the world view implicit here could only emerge from someone on the affluent sidelines of the culture, frustratedly clinging to an academic model of urban Britain that is simply not relevant any more.

Why Jim Morrison was a true poet

Whether we consider Jim Morrison a poet or a rock star, his real art was as a vocalist. This was a form that he mastered, and studied, and took very seriously.

Look at the Hollywood Bowl concert, or listen to his poetry recordings, and you will start to understand his prowess in vocal phrasing, his sense of timing and feel, his complete lack of hackery and automatic recital. Morrison never phrased the same thing the same way twice. He relished the possibilities in the rhythms each word presented, the way you could rearrange conversational cliches to make poetry.

The word ‘spontaneity’ is obviously overused to the point of being meaningless, but in Morrison’s case it is a practical description of his approach to vocal performance.

The Doors

At the very least, the common image of Morrison as a buffoon pretending to be Byron doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, when you study him as a vocalist. He sounds like no one else, but you can hear echoes of Billy Holiday, Sinatra and Johnny Cash. He is versatile, can go from lyrical whisper to a gasoline growl in an instant, and had a Brando-esque ability to balance the violence and the tender with a Shakespearean command.

The charge of pretentiousness relies on the iconic image of him as a mere stream-of-consciousness garbler, a man who made theatrical use of his babbling narcissism.

When you listen to LA Woman, whatever limitations you may or may not find in the writing, the performance, the timing and ironic sense of feel, the playfulness of his delivery, show an artist who considered the effect of his work very deeply. There is a self-awareness and sensitivity to his audience that is overlooked with an almost ideological fervour by his critics. It suits everyone to dismiss Morrison as a cavorting fake, because to admit any level of craftsmanship would be to admit that a beautiful, sexually dangerous drunk had greater talents than oneself. An unconscionable proposition.

At the very worst, The Doors could be shambling, disordered and masturbatory. However, their characteristic style was progressive and dangerous, and very much centred around playful rhythm.

This playfulness extended to Morrison’s verse, which no one can argue is Milton or Donne, but is far better than is usually given credit for.

Morrison wrote in moving images. If we can say that the Ezra Pound imagism of the early twentieth century was a response to photography, Morrison’s great innovation was to write in dynamic images, as a response to cinema.

Without this understanding of Morrison, and without putting two and two together with his background in film and his love of Brechtian theatre, the poetry will inevitably seem meaningless and contrived.

In its proper context, it can be seen as an attempt to make poetry come off like film, to communicate via images and internal dialogue, rather than sculpted lyric for the page.

A perfect example is LA Woman, the song. We are placed in a revving car on the Sunset Strip, images of topless bars and drunks flashing past us, and a girl’s hair streaming in the flying air.

The song is all about creating a sense of movement, and we don’t get this just from Densmore’s drumming or Krieger’s hysteric runs.

‘I see your hair is burnin’
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar
Drivin’ down your freeway
Midnight alleys roam
Cops in cars,
The topless bars
Never saw a woman…
So alone, so alone
So alone, so alone’

‘Midnight alleys roam’. You’re right, it doesn’t make sense, grammatically. But imagistically, it makes perfect sense. It’s language as cinema.

The language is forced and contorted to meet the stretched activity of the moving thought being communicated.

Morrison was a master of this. In Texas Radio And The Big Beat, the phrase, ‘soft, driven, slow and mad, like some new language,’ captures perfectly the swampy, overwhelming and dreadful creative possibilities that the young poet felt in confrontation with the blues and rock and roll music of his youth. The words don’t make sense the way a WH Auden poem makes sense. This stuff won’t pass the test of literary society.

A pretentious person wants to be accepted, to be part of the cool crew. Morrison sang the blues as himself, not in impersonation of anyone. In this sense, he’s easily a better vocalist than Mick Jagger. No cultural appropriation here, sorry.

Morrison’s style is his own, it’s the growling, theatrical, ironic intellectual outburst of a damaged, middle-class and mercurial boy. His soul is as expansive as the western desert, everything from barren sands to sweltering suburbs. It’s both apocalyptic and a celebration of the human spirit.

The strongest argument for calling Morrison a true poet lies in John Densmore’s creative reaction to his words. Densmore said himself that on first hearing:

‘You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Try to run, try to hide
Break on through to the other side’

…he heard rhythms, his jazz instrumentalist’s brain was awakened to the possibilities of song dynamics in such subtle and joyful interchange between rhythm and image.

Densmore is a consummate percussionist, one of the great underrated heroes of modern music, a true innovator in combing jazz music with rock and roll, something which has never been achieved since, without seeming bloated and tiresome.

The test of a poet should never be if another poet likes it. It should never be a decision for the critic. But when a drummer, himself admired by the likes of jazz genius Elvin Jones, says he can’t help playing along to your words, then you know are onto something.

People say such and such a thing is pretentious because their own relationship with their subconscious is thwarted. Their own creative energy feels like a threat, rather than a strange friend. In a word, they have failed to break on through.

You create movement, by creating friction. And Morrison’s poetry gets its energy not from established meters, or from mimicking an accepted style, but from innovating a new way of combining words and rhythms that clash and seem incongruous.

This is deliberate, just as his suspenseful phrasing and ability to goad and provoke a crowd were deliberate. Whatever you think of Morrison as a poet, claiming that he is a stoned idiot jacking himself off, is a clear sign of ignorance, not just of his music, but of the history of poetry itself.

The voice of God: How Brexit restores British parliamentary values

“The liberty of man in society is to be under no other legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth, nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what the legislation shall enact, according the trust put in it. Freedom for man under government is not for everyone to do as he lists but to have a standing rule to live by, common to everyone of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; to have a liberty to follow his own will in things where the ruler prescribes not, and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary Will of another man.” John Locke

The voice of the people is the voice of God. As the Romans knew all too well, that voice is never measured or cognisant of worldly comforts and stability. The people, and the Gods, speak with tongues of dynamite, like the voices of trapped souls exploding from the underworld.

During the course of the debate over whether Britain should pull out of the EU or not, two central confusions seemed to exist. These had nothing to with economics, and everything to do with political philosophy.

John-Locke-660x350-1412917543
As John Locke said, the legislative performs with power entrusted in the ruler, by the people. If that executive power is misused, or fails to perform for the good of the people, then the tradition of British liberty asserts that the legislature is no longer legitimate; (c) Lodge Park and Sherborne Estate

The first was a confusion about internationalism and globalism. The two ideas seem to be synonymous in people’s minds, particularly those defending the EU.

The second, was a general misunderstanding of the meaning of sovereignty. To those in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, sovereignty was an archaic idea, a kind of party-pooping throwback concept that has no place in the peaceful, future-loving consensus of European state-building.

Internationalism and Globalism

Global capitalists tend to defend absolute unregulated free trade, and the free movement of labour, with the rhetoric of unity and open-mindedness. They claim their economic interests correspond to global solidarity.

Globalism, however, is an ideology, a principally economic one designed to keep wages down and maximise profits for big business. It seeks to erode the natural regulative effect that national borders and democratic sovereignty put up against rampant imperialistic capitalism. It’s a new form of imperial, privateering capitalism – expansionist, faceless and with no thought for the public order provided by communitarian, grass-roots culture.

Internationalism on the other hand, is the recognition that working class people across the globe share the same fight to ensure they are not exploited. It actually has nothing to do with government. It’s entirely grassroots. If anything, the working class small-c conservative vote in favour of Brexit was a resounding declaration of solidarity with the workers of Greece and Spain who have been equally abandoned by economic mismanagement and corporate favouritism on the part of the Eucocracy.

Internationalism recognises the borders and national identity. It recognises cultural diversity. The great achievement of internationalism is not the erosion of these markings of identity, but the acknowledgement that regardless of tribe, colour and creed, human beings seek the same goals of equality and happiness and community wherever and whoever they are in the world.

The globalist class of the EU and the corporatists they represent, have hijacked the nobility of this ideal. Like the corporate empire builders of America who hijacked the libertarian ideals of the US constitution to legitimise their unregulated takeover of the country’s economy, the European globalists hijacked the Churchillian “never again” values of a peaceful Europe to give credibility to an expansionist market-driven ideal of public life.

The people have rejected this. Just as they did in Greece. Just as they did in Scotland. However the media-types and dislocated Londonistas try to play these worker-mobilisations off against each other, the fact is that grass-roots rejection of the the globalist ideal is springing up on the right and left sides of communities across the world.

Brexit is the beginning of a wake-up call. Democracy has spoken. And as history shows us, once it opens its mouth, it rarely shuts it again without a fight.

Sovereignty

Sovereignty is intimately tied up with the concept of consent. All democracies are governments by consent. This is different from the arbitrary will of the crowd, or government by constant plebiscite. It exists as much in the institutions of law, due process and social management that perform the greatest good for the people, as it does in electoral votes.

As John Locke said, the legislature performs with power entrusted in the ruler, by the people. If that executive power is misused, or fails to perform for the good of the people, then the tradition of British liberty asserts that the legislature is no longer legitimate. The people have the right to build a new one.

The problem with the EU is that there was no semblance of a social contract. The mass centralisation of power, based on a trade deal between economic officials, was not in any way comparable to the establishment of a parliament like those of the great European nations. The EU has a judiciary, a parliament, and an executive and even a common security policy. It has all the trappings of a sovereign state, without one thing crucial factor: consent.

The European Commission constructs bills designed by officials, and then allows ministers of member states to review them. Parliament is a kind of second house, which reviews, amends, and suggests legislation.

The Commission does not govern by consent. It governs by consensus, a force which carries its own momentum, and which ignores the voice of the people, in favour of the juggernaut of ideology.

The free movement of people is a perfect example. The good of the people of a sovereign state was at best a secondary consideration to the good of big business, in the implementation of this policy. Economic growth put cultural and social pressures on communities, and by doing so eradicated their rights.

A government by consent prioritises rights – the basic needs of individuals and communities that are required for them to take command of their lives and propel themselves to their greatest potential.

The free movement of people pretends to do this for desperate workers in desperate parts of the world, but very often it serves only to prop up low-wage service industries, exploit poverty, and trap people in debt and servility.

If a government is governing by consent, it must prioritise due process, individual liberty under the law, public health, and community. It is the ideology of the day to think that you can’t have these basic rights unless you have a lucrative, explosive economy growing at the rate of a virus.

But this ideology contravenes the heritage of British liberty. The sovereign’s duty is to the welfare and happiness of the people first, and the economy later. The economy serves the community, not the other way round.

The EU, as opposed to any abstract notion of a united Europe, is fundamentally opposed to sovereignty. By “pooling sovereignty” you destroy it. Because consent becomes consensus, and at the very best you acknowledge that the will of the people takes second place next to the the momentum of consensus.

Within the EU, there is not even a pretence at a social contract. Legitimacy is assumed by the rulers, not entrusted to them by the people. In the interests of consensus, countries and their voters are expected to get in line, or be banished – as Britain will be from now on.

You cannot build a truly sovereign state out of the foundations of trade deals. This is the fundamental flaw in the European project.

Those who claim that centralisation and state-building are not the core aim of the European Union are living in a fantasy land.

If a political body has a judiciary, a parliament, a flag, a national anthem, a security policy, makes laws that can overrule local justice systems and has aspirations towards building an army – that is an outfit with pretensions towards statehood.

That the EU can claim to govern with consent is fatuous. The rights of the people have very little to do with trade tariffs and product regulations.

Consent is about entrusting the happiness, health and liberty of the people in the hands of a parliament that can be held to immediate account. The people vote against parliament if they disagree with proposed legislation. No such accountability exists between the European Commission and the people of Europe. You will be hard pushed to find the word liberty anywhere in the bureaucratic, executive documents of the European Union.

Without sovereignty, or the consent of the people, what is a state? It is not a state, in fact. It is an empire.

Closing thoughts

The general liberal conception of what the EU is, seems to to rely on mistaking European unification with a utopian vision of geopolitics.

Difference, bad. Sameness, good.

The tantrums and outrage still echoing through the halls of Westminster, and still plastered over every progressive’s social media profile, all converge on the belief that the eradication of national sovereignty and borders brings us closer to ending all wars, forever. This gives the bruised Remainers the aura of righteousness. Even in defeat, this ideology of world peace, is dangerously imperialistic.

In the parliamentary system as exhibited in the British heritage of civil rule, there is no claim to unity, world peace, or a brighter future. There is no supervenient ideology, however noble and progressive.

The virtues prized by the common people are embodied in the machinery of sovereignty. British people have themselves often wondered why there is no official constitution, like that of the USA, here in the UK. But there is a beauty the to the parliamentary system without it.

The core constitutional value is government by consent. The public good, and the public good only, is what legitimises power. The British have greater common sense than to try and stand for abstract visions like world peace, global stability and unity at all costs.

The hot mess of parliamentary contest and equality under the law are good enough for the simple common sense of the British people. This was proven by last week’s historic vote.

‘Generation of the thoroughly smug’: How consumerism convinces you you’re clever to keep you stupid

O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.

Ezra Pound

We are still in a Freudian age. It’s so common to engage in a conversation around ‘the underlying reasons’ why such and such said this, or ‘the real motivations’ behind someone’s saying that.

This all stems from a vague, pop-culture approximation of Freudian thought, not Freudian philosophy in reality.

The bombardment of consumerist imagery is easier to get into your subconscious if you think you are too clever to be susceptible to it
The bombardment of consumerist imagery is easier to get into your subconscious if you think you are too clever to be susceptible to it

Paranoia, distrust and suspicion are dressed up in quasi-academic psychobabble, allowing anyone to posture as being intelligent by offering a folk-theory on why a particular event ‘really happened.’

The culture of the hidden agenda is expounded and channelled with the rarely disguised smugness of superiority, as if the presumption of the subconscious adds miraculously insightful dimensions to one’s perspective on the world.

It’s normal to speak to a member of our generation and hear them refer more than once to their unique ability to ‘suss people out’, or ‘have someone pegged’.

The worst, most insidious version of this I ever saw was about ten years ago when Big Brother was still a popular show.

Each contestant was interviewed before hand on how they thought they would fare and how they felt going into ‘the house’.

Each and every one of them congratulated themselves on their penetrative knowledge of human psychology and promised to emerge the winner of the show on the back of their ability ‘wrap people round their little finger.’

The viewers too, would justify themselves and their time-wasting lazy voyeurism by laying claim to participating in a ‘fascinating’ psychological experiment. As if by watching imbeciles bicker for twenty-four hours a day, and maybe have sex, was some kind of achievement in amateur anthropology.

This psychological cant is not just fashionable, it’s a guiding agent in the culture.

Perhaps it has something to do with advertising and consumerism, and the value in keeping people ‘on edge.’ As in the Rolling Stones song Satisfaction, there’s a lot of money to be made out of keeping people in a state of suspicion and paranoia and anxious discomfort. All of these states are non-rational states, and therefore non-rational solutions are likely to elicit mass non-rational responses – such as paying lots of money to buy useless objects.

Consumerism works on the basis of automation. The more automatic a response a product can produce, the more likely that product is to sell. Put bluntly, the less thinking, the more selling
Consumerism works on the basis of automation. The more automatic a response a product can produce, the more likely that product is to sell. Put bluntly, the less thinking, the more selling

It’s far simpler than that, unfortunately. Consumerism works on the basis of automation. The more automatic a response a product can produce, the more likely that product is to sell. Put bluntly, the less thinking, the more selling.

None of this relationship between automatic thinking and consumerism is news to anyone, and it’s not the point.

The point is rather, that we all think we are the ones immune to it, and everyone else is an idiot. And the more we think that, the less likely we are to challenge our own stupidity and gullibility in the face of marketing and consumerist media.

Socrates, we all know, was the wisest man in Athens because he knew was not wise. A knowledge of his own limitations made him less susceptible to the mores and social pressures of his age.

Unfortunately we live in an age when you can’t speak three words to a stranger without having to listen to them illustrate how individual and liberated they are, how much of a free thinker they are. Socrates would laugh.

The historian Daniel Boorstein said it well in a quote that sums up the current generation of part-time Freudians:

“The greatest obstacle to knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Beauty, reason and the difference between a fanatic and a visionary

There’s a famous quote from Thomas Paine, author of the Age of Reason:

“To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”

hitler1A similar thing was said by Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.”

There are however, some seemingly opposing, but equally well quoted passages, expounding on the power of intuition over simple ‘reason’ or analytical thinking.

The most famous, I think, coming from a private letter by the poet John Keats:

“…I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason – Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

What Keats is talking about is the unknown, or rather more accurately the unknowable, the essential mystery at the heart of life.

Mystery and superstition are often lumped together, and a false dichotomy is drawn between analytical thinking and intuitive thinking, as if one is hard, real-world mechanical science, and the other is fancy and conjuring.

Superstition, however, is rather the opposite of mysticism, than it is the opposite of science.

David Hume that absolute paragon of sceptical thinking and radical, disciplined analysis said:

‘Reason is, and must only ever be, a slave to the passions.’

What he was referring to of course, was morality, and how we conceive of our ethical values. In a word, he meant how to behave. The process is one based on emotive reasoning, sentiments, in his own words.

The great hero of western analytical thought placed a high value on creative, non-rational thought.

The chain of quotes above does not present an antithesis, and the paradox arises simply because our definition of reason is thoroughly limited.

Keats_aloneFor Aristotle, and equally for Leonardo Da Vinci, REASON was the convergence of logic and beauty, not the separation of them.

Rather than being the opposite of mystical apprehension of the unknown, it was rather the totality of capacities by which human individuals apprehend knowledge and mystery.

In short, reason as a concept refers to something more than just analytical, logical and mathematical thinking.

This was what Keats was referring to when he said ‘truth is beauty and beauty truth.’

Reason must include vision, the ability to see beyond the limitations of the problem at hand, to think laterally and join dots in a way that does not follow linear thinking.

Linear thinking is hugely important from the stand point of strategic action, but when it comes to uncovering our goals, then we must have vision, and vision requires imagination, the ability to create and conjure possibilities as well act logically.

The importance of this when it comes to argumentation and dispute is that a person’s values tend to emerge from their ability to conceive possibilities and their capacity for vision. Our ideas of morality are grounded in ethics, and ethics is essentially the science of what’s possible.

That’s why it was said by Socrates that the fundamental question of all areas of philosophy is ‘how should I act?’ The implication of this is that even questions of metaphysics or logic come down to the question of what’s possible.

It is normal to find oneself in a dispute with a man or woman who regards themselves as the defender of the ‘the facts.’ If you happen to have a conviction that does not correspond to these sacred facts, then you are easily dismissed as fanatical or intransigent.

There’s a difference however, between someone who sees possibilities beyond the evidence, and beyond the reality of historical truths, and someone who is delusional.

The difference lies in a person’s willingness to test out his theory or ideas.

And it is also true that often these ‘defenders of the facts’ happen to be people who will do anything to avoid acting.

These are people who will dismiss a hypothesis before it’s even been acted upon or tested once.

Contrary to what these people tell themselves, such thinking is actually profoundly unscientific, because the mark of true, radical scientific thinking is not a talent for number crunching, but a talent for experimentation, and a willingness to test any dogma, no matter how common sensical or absolute.

What distinguishes the visionary from the fanatical then, is not logic, but flexibility, a willingness to personally live out his theory and test it himself.

This crucially cuts out the intellectual ‘middle man’ who arrogates himself the role of guardian at the gates, a Cerberus monster who defends hell from any wayward poet.

Aldous Huxley once said he struggled with the difference between genuine mystical thought, and superstition. Huxley spent much of the latter half of his writing career attempting to salvage mysticism and religious tradition in the context of science.

It was necessary for Huxley to do so, he believed, because the non-rational, the visionary expansion of imaginative thinking, is essential for moral activity.

If a man acts from a fanaticism for certainty, then he acts in a myopia of selfishness and short-term thinking. And it was this very closed-mindedness, this anxious relationship to the unknown, that for Huxley was the biggest threat to human civilisation.

The unknown is almost always unknowable. That is, the five senses, logical discrimination and the reptilian mind, cannot penetrate it.

The fanatic is no mystic. What Huxley couldn’t see was that the fanatic prefers his imagination to the world. The world of action, impact and moral goodness become irrelevant to him.

The mystic on the other hand, is a kind of Bodhisattva. He is primarily concerned with effective action, change in the world. However outlandish and experimental his visions, however unlikely his ambitions, the Bodhisattva, or the true mystic, is concerned with results – his vision serves a greater end.

The fanatic on the other hand is someone who cares not a dot for results. Fanaticism serves to support a narrow view of the world, but creative vision serves to expand the range of possibilities.

These possibilities are almost always illogical, or paradoxical, or seem senseless in the face of the facts.

Typical arguments between the ‘fact defenders’ and the more creative problem solver, tend almost always to come down to ‘human nature.’

The fact-defender, for instance, probably views the issue of climate change as one of damage limitation. Material scientific solutions must be found, but they won’t solve the fundamental problem of human overconsumption.

A slightly more visionary person will understand that a basic shift in human perspective is needed if the problem of man-made global warming is to be countered. They also have the scope and forward thinking to know that any short term practical solution will be its own worst enemy, because the relationship of man to his environment, or man to man, won’t change.

The fact-defender poo-poos such talk out of hand. Because it just seems too abstract, too high-minded, to talk about ‘shifts in consciousness’ or ‘evolving human nature.’

Again the question is about human possibilities. There is no way for a visionary to prove his conviction in argument. If he does, he is likely to fail. The whole history of the human race is almost always working against him.

Does this make him a fanatic? No, because a fanatic’s convictions are there to defend a weakened ego, a psychic wound. A visionary’s convictions are there to see beyond the limitations in thinking that have created the problem at hand.

NEW ALBUM: Grio by Aidan Connell — putting the fight back into the blues

Aidan Connell's new album Grio doesn't revive the blues, but reveals it has been alive all along stalking the Bethnal Green desert with Rimbaud and Elvis and
Aidan Connell’s new album Grio was release on October 2

It’s almost like we have given up on the blues. The 12 bar shuffle has become a monotonous cliché, one man and his guitar is drowned out in the corporate news.

The hard luck story, the struggle against slavery, and enforced poverty of empire are no longer narratives that resonate with modern music listeners.

With the advent of punk, blues became old hat. It became something of a pastiche of itself at best, something ageing rockers do to end off an album.

How can you have blues in an age when we’ve got everything we need, when our bellies are full and we live off the fat of the land?

Aidan Connell’s new album Grio reminds us that the blues is more than social comment or self-pity.

Fusing rhythm and blues, punk and psychedelia, Grio is unquestionably a modern album.

Black Days is as Robert Johnson as they come, addressing existential angsts and isolation rather than a walking boss or a slave driver.

I Hate Rock and Roll is anthemic and ironic in equal measure, and that’s a rare balance that’s struck.

In fact, despite the song’s sing-along, dance-floor appeal, it’s Aidan Connell’s strongest song lyrically, cutting into the repetitive, pop-culture meme-mimicking of modern guitar music.

If there's one shortcoming of the album it's that it doesn't give you a accurate picture of what Aidan Connell is like live
If there’s one shortcoming of the album it’s that it doesn’t give you an accurate picture of what Aidan Connell is like live

Opening the album, it’s as near to a political statement as Connell gets, an Iggy Pop-like manifesto, reclaiming rock and roll for it’s Sun Records roots, rather than mourning its death.

Everybody Else thrusts into your brain, and has a brutal, uncompromising R&B beat.

This backbone, the clip-clap two-step of the panicking heart, used to be the very foundation of pop music.

Now it’s in danger of being an artefact. But Aidan Connell brings it awake again like his own Frankenstein’s monster, an almost dangerous act in an age of clogging, soppy hipster rhythm sections.

Requiem For Love is a distinctive addition to the album. Rather than straight-up blues this song reveals Connell’s debt to Britpop.

It’s chugging, pounding snare behind overdrive chords reminds you of the cocky opening sequences of Noel Gallagher’s best work.

Connell’s smooth, disembodied crooning offers a counterpoint to the festival-rock shape of the song, again making it veer into anthem territory.

Connell pictured like at the Redcurch Brewery in Bethnal Green
Connell pictured live at the Redcurch Brewery in Bethnal Green

Right down to it’s singing, Stratocaster bridge and the euphoric solo, Requiem has 1997 written all over it, and it’s one of the album’s biggest surprises.

The range of influences is evident in The Other Side, with the wringing post-punk opening solo and 60s garage rhythm chords.

With Find Me In The Gutter we are right back square in the heart of the blues, but the anxious pulse of this song reminds you this is no nostalgia trip, but songwriting born from the dust and choking smoke of London’s east end.

Songs like Son of A Gun just don’t come around these days. The opening slide blues cuts like a blade and leaves deadly ticks on your living soul.

This is pure, sweating, masculine blues – not music for teacher’s pets or pretty hipster girls with ukeleles.

The coolly tense and joyful aggression of the blues rides on a menacing, banging drum beat, as if someone brought Son House to life and gave him The Stooges for a backing band.

If there’s one shortcoming of the album it’s that it doesn’t give you an accurate picture of what Aidan Connell is like live.

This is not music for trendy Shoreditch coffee shops, or tiresome gallery openings by hip PR types.

This is music that draws blood, makes you confused and disturbed, ready for a fight.

Aidan Connell brings the blues into the Iphone age, and drags a spoiled and sarcastic generation kicking and screaming onto the battleground.

Stop pigeon holing every new band according to a past meme – this is music that will suffocate you and revive you all in the space of a few bars.

It’s time to man-up and face the facts about what the blues really is.

Grio is available to buy now from aidanconnell.com