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Paper-Aesthetics and Politics

Paper-Aesthetics and Politics

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It is a paper on the aesthetics of performance of protest culture.
It is a paper on the aesthetics of performance of protest culture.

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Published by: Subha Prasad Nandi Majumdar on Jul 16, 2009
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1
 Aesthetics and Politics
Subha Prasad Nandi Majumdar IPTA, Silchar Unit 
Introduction
Entire question of aesthetics and politics of our performances can be broughtdown to the never-ending debate on form and content that appeared in IPTA andits fraternal organization since the day of their inception. From Bengal to Kerala,all the state units wherever progressive cultural movement could make itspresence felt through performances, this debate stirred the internal environmentof the organisation. Looking back at History, one cannot infer that the debateweakened our movement. Although many a stalwart joined and left ourorganization as a fall out of this debate. Ultimately the debate strengthenedprogressive cultural movement in this country, not by defeating the opponentcamp of preachers of separation of art and politics, but also by allaying theconfusion among the ranks of progressive camp regarding over emphasizing oncontents and belittling aesthetics of protest culture. We cannot claim that theconfusion is completely over. Therefore, a fresh look in to the debate will furtherstrengthen our understanding of people's art. Moreover, battle was not alwaysbetween the camp of 'art for art's sake' and their opponents, fierce debate ensuedon the way of translating the ideal of people's art in to our creations. It would notbe out of place here to mention about some of past instances of the debatementioned above. In the meeting of commission on music in Bombay Conferenceof IPTA, difference of opinion arose between two exponents of people's culture,Hemango Biswas and Salil Choudhury. Hemango Biswas, who was setting most of his lyrics to folk tunes, was in favour of relying only on folk tunes for mass songswith an eye to take it to the peasant masses. Salil Choudhury, on the contrary wasof the view of blending folk tunes with harmony of western music. He went to theextent of making oblique remark to Com. Biswas to give up traveling by train, asthat is a gift of western civilization and accept bullock cart that is used by thepeasant masses. Com. Biswas, in reply accused Com. Choudhury of propoundingformalism in people's art. During later part of his life, however Com. Biswas couldrealize shortcoming of his position and went on to compose mass songs withdiverse experimentation. It may be mentioned here that during the debate inBombay Conference, both Com. Biswas and Com. Choudhury touched uponcertain important aspect of people's culture, which was not dealt with till then, butultimately entire exercise ended in personal accusations. Later on, in the lateforties of last century Sambhu Mitra and others got involved in yet another fiercedebate on the nature of theatrical productions of IPTA. Sambhu Mitra opined infavour of putting up finished performances in the stages like New Empire andother theatre houses and his opponent, while highlighting the agitprop characterof plays of IPTA, stood in favour of mobility of IPTA productions. They emphasizedon the purpose of people's theatre activists. Ultimately, Sambhu Mitra broke awayto raise a new slogan of 'Nabanatya' against 'Gananatya'. Here also, someimportant issues of people's culture were in the backdrop of the debate, but apossible healthy debate ultimately died prematurely getting shaped in to battle of egos. In Kerala, furious controversy developed regarding relative primacy of formand content. EMS, in his article from underground under the pseudonym 'PS',
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fought the battle in favour of primacy of content. The debate took the shape of battle between 'perfect form' and 'perfect content'. Later EMS realized andcommented that during debate of 'perfect form' and 'perfect content', bothhimself and his opponent, Prof. Joseph Mundassery were incorrect. Hecommented:" It is fact of life that a truth emerges out of a conflict between two wrongs. The development of society is through contradictions. Thus the Roopa Bhadrata(Perfect2Form) argument, which arose out of our conflict, was wrong, in another sense itwas correct too. Evaluating the worth of literature we should never confineourselves to content alone. Mundassery was correct in insisting that form too is tobe evaluated... We accept that we were wrong on that count....We looked atliterature through political eyes. So we did not pay sufficient attention to theartistic structure of literature. That was our mistake......they viewed form andcontent as two separate categories and argued for perfection in both. That wastheir theory. In fact form and content are not so separate or conflictingcategories."
Aesthetics and Politics
Debate existed regarding priorities, in case of form and content. Anyone seekingto emphasize on forms of a particular art piece was seen as a person indulging inaberrations and persons focusing only on content was accepted as greatrevolutionaries. Truly speaking, to separate form and technique in to twowatertight compartments has been an unfortunate practice in the progressivecultural movement for long. When form or aesthetic part of a cultural piece isseen in isolation from content or politics of the context, one is led to takeinferences where by all the endeavour becomes a mechanical exercise. Change inaesthetics over the long period of human history is effected by the on goingchanges in the politics. On the other hand, denuding aesthetics or form of aparticular art piece of politics is utterly unhistorical. Novels, sonnets, ballads,operas, even Khayal or Dhrupads etc. emerged at different juncture of history indifferent political systems in response to the aesthetic needs of a particularsociety. An art form, which came in to being in a particular time cannot bereplicated in a time essentially different from the time of its origin. A song of protest of present time can never be composed in the format of Khayal orDhrupad. With the change of time a cultural geography undergoes spectaculartransformation compelling the language of art form to be different. History caninspire new productions, but an art piece of yesteryears can hardly be replicated.At different point of history, artists turned to past to draw inspiration, as ithappened in case of artists of Bengal School in our country, but whatever cameout of that endeavour was actually a contemporary version of past. A newdimension in the form of interpretation did get added to them. Hence it isunderstandable that aesthetics and politics of an art piece can never be seenbeing divorced from one another. One not only determines the other, but alsosometimes gets overlapped. It so happens that a particular art form becomessynonymous with a particular period of history. With the change of time, internaldynamics prevalent in the art form effects changes in it too.
Our collective experience
It is true that the IPTA movement, since its inception in the forties of last century,unleashed a powerful cultural movement in the country that sought to liberate the
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world of creativity from the stranglehold of the ruling classes. But in the processof building an alternative to the traditional pattern of hegemony gave room toover centralization in the structure of organization as a result of which IPTAproductions of latter years lost life and became stereotyped. Songs of protestheard like the marching songs, plays invariably ended on most occasions with thehave-not's holding aloft the banner of hammer and sickle, visual arts depicting thegrim-faced toilers throwing fist in the blue. Any departure from these formats wasviewed as liberalism. These songs, plays and other controlled creativities nevertouched the masses, remained alive in the refuge of a committed few. Whilemaking the above remark on the stereotyped nature that ultimately dominatedmost of the IPTA productions, one never forgets the golden contribution that themovement of IPTA made in the realm of creativity in the country. If we limit ourattention to the cultural scene of Bengal also, then the impact of the movement of IPTA can be noticed in the radical changes in the language of art in different artforms following emergence of IPTA. Bengali literature, film, modern songs andother art pieces took a different3trajectory after emergence of IPTA, but the movement itself lost its track andultimately got distanced from the hub of Bengali culture. It is therefore urgentlynecessary to restart the discussion on the aspect of aesthetics and politics of thecultural pieces that we do create, especially at a time when a strong culturalresistance is in the process of taking shape against the menace of globalisationand fundamentalism today.
Tradition and cultural movement
While dealing with the tradition of our country, our strategy, earlier was to acceptthe traditional art form only, keeping the content of the tradition at bay. Thisunderstanding, although never stood in the way of creations of some of thebrilliant cultural pieces in the history of IPTA, but whole thinking suffered frommyopia. Two oversimplified conclusions followed this.(a) Traditional art form was assumed to be separable from the traditionalcontent.(b) In case of content, anything traditional was arbitrarily portrayed asreactionary.It is a mechanical proposition to think of separating the traditional forms thecontent of the tradition. A particular art form does emerge to articulate aparticular content in a given cultural milieu. Erecting a wall artificially in betweenform and content leads us to incorrect understanding of the question. Secondly, toaccept tradition as a monolithic structure of reaction would be an example of wrong understanding of history. Tradition is essentially the product of the struggleof opposites inherent in it. Despite the stranglehold of ruling elites, instances of popular resentment and even, popular protest may be found in tradition too.Progressive cultural movement can hardly overlook this aspect of tradition,especially when the forces of right reaction are recasting our tradition to carry ontheir hegemony. Our performance of protest must identify those areas in thetradition where the saga of people's resistance is hidden. While tapping theenormous potential of the traditional form, reinterpretation of tradition must alsobe taken up. In order to build up a strong cultural movement, localization of ideology is utterly important. This can be done by searching for the heritage of popular resistance in the tradition and by redefining our movement as thesuccessor of the glory of struggle in the tradition. Exercise of localisation of 
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ramarahim added this note
Though it is too late to comment, but the writting was informative, thought provoking. I can remember one of SUMON's song as initially comparing the fragrance of steaming rice with that of flower's and subsequently accepting both as of same weight and importance. Rahul, Panchgram
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