Category Archives: Medievalism

Shit Hitting the Fan as a World goes More Looney

I can’t think of anything that harms nature more than cutting down trees and burning them, said William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at Tufts University

Oh, the number of top 10 or top 20 stories flooding the cloud servers delivered to us promptly, nanosecond speed, over the fuck-you Three-Face-Book, or on your email server, on the Dumber Dumbed Down Smart (sic) Phone, and, of course, on the telly. Imagine, instantaneous fake news, falsified un-News, the entire suite of topics New York Times covers, LA Times feeds, and on and on.

Delivered instantaneously, and yet, water is getting shut off, electricity is being turned off, roads are buckling, and that old time religion — privatizing everything until all shit breaks loose — determined to give USA a D-minus in infrastructure. Rebar in bridges, dikes, buildings, and the like, going the way of rust, baby. Reinforced concrete, crumbling, and the entire wasteland that is Auto Nation USA, all of that endless trucking back and forth, like a fucking spider web from space, it is what we have in this broke-back country.

I’ve talked with old folks (80 years plus) and with city and county “politicians.” I’ve talked to numerous people who just can’t get that reality out of their craw — so–soch — ehh-cism! The end of humanity is, well, on the horizon. Thanks to that Socialism Derangement Syndrome (SDS). It is built into the systems in the USA, and the DNA of USA-USA-USA, well, over generations of murdering Indians, slaves, and that checkerboard of people in countries from sea to oil slick sea, it has turned most of USA into a whack — job: under-educated, under curious about the world around them, dumb as dirt, compliant, cancelling ideas/discourse/thinking/pushback/socialism on all ends of the right-left divide. The wounds in this serial murdering society can’t be cauterized.

There has to be immediate amputation of the gangrenous rot coming from all 50 states. The rot of consumerism/retailism/financialization/indebtedness is spread like a million species of bacteria and viruses and other diseases that are indeed resistant to any medicine-goop-treatment.

There are so many deplorables, that term that Hillary hacked up, she being one of millions in the deplorable camp of neoliberalism. Deplorables who would gut you for stumbling into them on a sidewalk. Deplorables who are armed to the tooth who would shoot anyone stumbling into their backyard.

Think about it. People at a bloody concussion fest, UFC, chanting USA-USA-USA with this subhuman and his other subhuman followers traipsing into the stadium with their potbellies and juggling jowls as they take a load off their sagging asses in their multi-millionaire seats.

Read the junk here: NYPost.

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There is no deep outrage with this sort of optics that runs the USA prime time attention span. No outrage here, that the sweetness of all those sodas have yet more and more of a price, in that shit-hole Florida, run by those shit-hole Diaspora from all over, especially the East Coast, Trump and Company no less. Read the ProPublica interactive story below, linked!

It is environmental racism, and alas, this stinking country can’t keep the water on, can’t feed the farms with irrigation, can’t give out stinking fans to dying folk in this heat wave. Imagine, all those toys, those trillions to the DoD, and those men and women in uniform, also called the Armed Forces, where are they? No triage or MASH tents or massive pouring out of USA tax dollars to mitigate and solve the unfolding problems wrought by Capitalism on Crack. Story after story. Burning cane fields, yep, that’s good for the air. And this story was the same in 2001 when I went from El Paso to Spokane: massive fires lit by wheat farmers to burn stubble. Oh, the irony of Capitalism on Crack. Good old time stupidity. But stupidity and compliant people, well, that combo makes them trillions.

Read, ProPublica — Black Snow!

The burns release smoke containing pollutants harmful to people and the environment.

Then these Nordics, these putrid white saviors in Europe touting their carbon neutral smoke and mirrors fake science. Again, tearing down forests, in this case, North Carolina, brought to us by CNN.

Northampton has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state — which almost doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic — and nearly 22% of its residents are living in poverty.

“If the wood products industry and biomass were a way of growing strong rural economies in the southeastern region, these rural communities should be some of the wealthiest on the planet,” said Smith. “We are in the world’s largest wood producing region. But you don’t see any evidence in these rural communities of thriving rural economies. The opposite is actually true.”

Enviva currently employs 98 people at their Northampton facility and pay roughly 37% more than the average wage in the county, the company told CNN in a statement, adding that they strive to hire locally if workers have the right qualifications.

Imagine, the scams, and, in the end, these communities, again, pay the price of environmental racism:

Pretty, unh? Would love to have this in your backyard, right?

/

The EU, which aims to be climate-neutral by 2050, is set to revise its Renewable Energy Directive this summer and is expected to update sustainability criteria for biomass. Critics hope they will restrict biomass imports from overseas, exclude whole, living trees as “waste product” and properly account for carbon emissions from cutting and burning wood.

But a draft document that surfaced this past spring does not suggest substantial changes are coming for Europe’s directive.

/

I live in a state where the Democratic weak kneed governor got stiff knees and shut down everything, and this is the reality of stupidity around the planned pandemic. The lack of rural and inner city clinics, and just a lack of a massive movement to treat people with the common cold, gut diseases, the flu, and the bioweaponized SARS-Cov2, that’s what the Kate Brown, self-described bi-sexual, is all about. And, the reality is, this privatized medicine (sic) needs ending. Imagine, ending CEO and CFO and stockholder dividends. Oh, it would be easy to turn hospitals into cooperatives, employee owned outfits. On a sliding scale, before single payer health care.

But the reality that the shenanigans of the hospitals have killed thousands. Not because of the batty virus, but because of delays, and no treatment. Now? Oregonian, read it.

The emergency department at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center seen from outside at night.

After 18 years as a nurse, much of it in the emergency department, Jeremy Lail considered himself a battle-tested veteran.

But last week, he asked his bosses at Providence Portland Medical Center if he could go on leave. Lail said he’s overwhelmed by the horde of patients seeking treatment at his ER and unnerved at the erratic, angry nature of many of those patients.

“I dreaded going to work,” he said. “I found myself thinking, is this the day someone is going to pull a gun and shoot me? We’re seeing how society can devolve right now. I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety and depression.”

For months, hospital workers have wanted nothing more than for the pandemic to end and life to return to some semblance of normalcy. But the much-deserved respite has yet to begin. Instead, a combination of understaffing and a tidal wave of seriously ill patients who have deferred health care for months has made life in the ER as bad or worse than the height of the pandemic.

It’s a recipe for disaster that is unfolding at hospitals across the country: Blend emotionally exhausted caregivers with emotionally disturbed patients, throw in a wave of street violence and the departure of some of the most experienced workers on the wards due to fatigue and burnout, and voila, America has its latest health care crisis.

Many employees argue there is another key ingredient added by the hospitals that makes the end result particularly toxic: A penny-pinching mentality that allows the understaffing to develop in the first place.

Oh, now we can see god in the science of trillions wasted on artificial (sic) suns (sic). You have this sickness, about limitless and green energy sources. Makes no sense, really, when billions are on the brink of starvation, polluted slow and fast deaths. Imagine that, no solutions NOW for farming collapses, fisheries collapses, broke-back poverty and chronic illnesses, and just endless droughts. Nope. We have all these resources and mental lifetimes in the tens of millions working on this?

These stories never-ever look at things from an ethical point of view. From a life cycle analysis view. From the view of the hoards of us, useless breathers-eaters-breeders. This news coming out of Europe or China or Israel or USA, well, no one looks at the reality of how land is desiccating and desertifying. All those satellites for 6 G internet of nanotechnology. None of the real humans are the tables of power looking at, well, all these issues tied to environmental racism, structural violence, reparations, land theft, and the like.

Because, these stories will go the way of the stories to dare valorize Palestinians, or debunk the lies of the murderous Jewish Israeli Regime of More Than Just Apartheid:

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Another casualty of Israel’s war on truth: ‘Canadian Journalists for Free Expression’ fired a staffer for publishing a routine letter that criticized Israel for killing journalists…

By Kevin Metcalf

In May, Israel bombarded Gaza for 11 days, killing 256 Palestinians, including 66 children.

In the midst of this attack, hundreds of journalists in Canada signed an open letter calling for fairer coverage of Israel and Palestine. CBC then barred reporters who signed the letter from covering the region, claiming that doing so made them appear biased.

I was one of those who signed the open letter, because I believe the media should report fairly. I also expected there’d be a backlash to the letter within newsrooms, especially at the CBC, due to my own experiences: Years before this letter was released, I was fired from my media job for writing about Israel’s killing of protesters and journalists.

With help from the state broadcaster, over the course of a few weeks in 2018 my career was destroyed and my life’s work was completely uprooted. I now work as a landscaper for a living. (Source)

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If my fellow writers haven’t already experienced this, well, not just criticizing Israel or the Jewish mentality of many Jews who are as racist as any Steven Miller or Donal et al Trump LLC.

Try having conversations with people in workplaces about bioweaponized SARS-Cov2. Any discussion about therapies that would have saved hundreds of thousands from oxygen-depleted, intubation death. Cancelled big time. I am an educator, so, that one is out the window to dare question masks and lockdowns. Dare question USA from a truly communist lens? Question Trump? Cancelled. Question Biden? Cancelled. Question the rapaciousness and profit motives of medicine and pharmacy and virology? Cancelled. Question how some or key points of the company you work for? Cancelled. It’s a sickness this society, so, again, the “Israel Policies Are Monstrous and Murderous” critique gets you cancelled.

Read this science story. Of course, anything tied to all the chronic illnesses, or we call them intellectual-developmental-psychiatric disabilities, is good to see how things can be mitigated (of course, the idea for both left and right elites is to say, “Hmm, useless eater, well, abort-abort.”). But this sort of story below is another form of colonizing. There are millions of people working on learning how the forever chemicals, all the hormone disrupters, all those additives-chemicals-pollutants-particulates-drugs-GMOs-et al, can cause a storm of epigenetic issues down the line, and, yes, autism spectrum disorder is just one area of massive numbers of younger and younger people developing DD-ID-PD disorders. A magnitude of 100.

You will not see these scientists looking for the genetic cause looking at all the synergistic causes of depleted sperm, wombs of wild chemical storms, none of that, of course. Nope. They are getting paid to look deep at all the causes of Autism-Autism like disorders.

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An increase in the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and autism has been reported in Scotland. Similar increases have been seen globally. The herbicide glyphosate was introduced in 1974 and its use is accelerating. The manufacturers claim it to be safe, but none of the Regulatory Agencies are monitoring glyphosate levels in groundwater.

By courtesy of independent researchers around the world we present evidence that glyphosate interferes with many metabolic processes in plants, animals and humans, and glyphosate residues have been found in all three. Glyphosate is an endocrine-disruptor (as are many herbicides) it damages DNA and it is a driver of mutations that lead to cancer. We present graphs from the US which correlate glyphosate application and the percentage of GE soy and corn crops to the incidence and prevalence of various diseases in those on a Western diet. The Pearson’s correlation coefficients are very strong and highly significant for obesity, diabetes, autism, thyroid cancer, liver cancer, deaths from Parkinson’s, Senile Dementia and Alzheimer’s, inflammatory bowel disease and acute kidney failure. We present Cancer Research UK graphs of upward trends in cancer incidences between 1975 and 2009, which are in line with the US graphs.

Other consequences are gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, depression, infertility, birth defect s and other cancers. The data for the amount of non-agricultural use of glyphosate in the UK appear to be confidential. Parts of South Wales, in former mining areas, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan Balsam abound. The local Council does not hold glyphosate records. Instead it contracts out to a commercial organisation to supply industry approved vegetation management techniques. A quote from the contractor: “The glyphosate we use called round up has a hazard free label.” The level of glyphosate in a river draining from areas of Japanese knotweed was 190 parts per trillion (ppt) and local tap water was 30 ppt. These were of the order of concentrations found in a study in 2013 which showed that breast cancer cell proliferation is accelerated by glyphosate in extremely low concentrations: “potential biological levels at part per trillion (ppt) to part per billion (ppb).”

It’s short. Fifty-six pages. Read it! GLYPHOSATE: DESTRUCTOR OF HUMAN HEALTH AND BIODIVERSITY

Versus: Researchers discover new genetic driver of autism and other developmental disorders

Oh, this is big, no? The Nile? Egypt and Ethiopia? You think this water story is not the issue of our times? Oh, that Artificial Sun will save us. Think water wars all over the planet:

A dispute over the Nile, the world’s longest river, is coming to a head. At stake are the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who depend on its water.

Egypt is objecting to efforts by Ethiopia to start operating a $4.8 billion dam on a major tributary of the Nile, a hydroelectric project that it hopes will power a social and economic transformation of the country, without a binding agreement that preserves Cairo’s rights to the waters.

Egypt has said Ethiopia’s move to resume filling a reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam threatens the Nile region’s peace and security.

Then, well, we get to the Zoom Doom story, the post planned pandemic story. Apple, of course, should be shut down, taken over, and the entire honchos put on that Epstein Island. Or Musk’s. Take your pick of billionaire islands. But this is the new abnormal. Working in your underwear, latte chilled, all those airplane and spider plants, and the puppy underfoot and four-pound beef-lovers pizza at the ready. These people who are threatening to leave Apple, well, I guarantee you they are dream hoarders, Hillary-Kamala lites. Believers in social distancing for life, masks on everywhere, and these are the ones who are ramming digital and cloud and satellite surveillance and AI and robotized tech up our asses.

The state of news (sic):

Apple stood its ground last week in the face of employee protest against its new requirement that they work from home only two days a week. Both the policy–which came directly from CEO Tim Cook–and Apple’s comments about it betray a striking lack of emotional intelligence. That’s a bad idea in today’s tight labor market. The approach is one no small company or startup can afford to take.

Our story begins about a month ago, when Apple announced its new return-to-the-office policy in light of widespread vaccinations and falling Covid-19 infections. In an internal email, Cook announced that, beginning in early September, employees would be required to work in the office at least three days a week. Specifically, those days would be Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, with the option to work remotely on Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California.

The headline says it all about this cancel culture stupidity, using “emotional intelligence as a cudgel: Apple’s Remote Work Policy Is a Complete Failure of Emotional Intelligence: Don’t try this at your company

Finally, the top 10 or whatever stories, prompted by my friend, Joe the Farmer from Merced:

How long will it be before we start seeing adds for front end Protest Protector guard bars for F-150’s, Chevy Silverado’s and the Amerikaner favorite, Dodge Ram? What good fascist could possibly pass up the opportunity to keep protesters blood and body parts from damaging their radiators and having expensive body shop repair bills? I’m sure some enterprising asshole is already marketing “Protest Protectors” as I write this. Only in Amerika. The land of opportunity.

He was reacting to a Counterpunch story, pulling this quote from it below. But Paul Street needed to research the term, Amerikaner — “A round cakelike pastry of flour, butter, and lemon juice, with a sugar glaze, most often plain white, but sometimes chocolate or half-white/half-chocolate.”

Need a new dessert to make for parties and birthdays? Try our recipe for German-style cookie cakes! You can decorate them in sohttps://foodal.com/recipes/desserts/german-amerikaner-cookie-cakes/

Talk about “fascism with American characteristics”!

“In the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests,” VOX’s Cameron Peters noted last April, “Republican lawmakers are advancing a number of new anti-protest measures at the state level – including multiple bills that specifically make it easier for drivers to run down protesters… If the recent spate of anti-protest measures in Florida, Iowa, and Oklahoma is disturbing on its face, however, context does little to make it better. There is a specific history in the US of the far right using cars as weapons, and it’s not hard to see how bills like the one that is now law in Oklahoma might only make things worse…The most notable example is from August 2017: Heather Heyer, 32, was struck and killed and at least 19 others were injured when neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. rammed a crowd of counter protesters in Charlottesville. Fields has since been sentenced to life in prison…But it’s more than that single incident. According to Ari Weil, the deputy research director for the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, there were at least 72 incidents of cars driving into protesters over a relatively short span in 2020, from May 27 through July 7… Examples aren’t hard to find. There’s even a Wikipedia page specifically dedicated to ‘vehicle-ramming incidents during George Floyd protests.’ And as Weil explained in an interview with Vox’s Alex Ward last year, ‘there’s an online environment that for years has been celebrating and encouraging these types of horrendous attacks’. (emphasis added).  From Iowa Nice to Iowa Nazi: a Report from the Friendly Fascist Heartland

These are examples in USA and UK of how we help the sick, tired, overworked, the useless eaters, useless breeders, useless breathers, useless resters: “OH, JOE — The White European and White United Snakes of America and Klanada, they are all worthless scum, and we are useless breathers, useless eaters, useless breeders, useless one and all, unless there are fines/levies/penalties/tickets/violations/tolls/taxes/triple taxations/surcharges/fees-to gouge the poor and lower classes to death in their operating systems.”

Portland Roadways — Giant Piles of Boulders

New York Post — Cop rolls bike over protester’s head during Breonna Taylor demonstration

The post Shit Hitting the Fan as a World goes More Looney first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Diversity in Dance Today: Enlightenment and Romanticist Perspectives

The drum is always there. In life and death. In between is dance. Always the drum is everywhere.
— Peniel Guerrier, Interview with Yvonne DanielBOMB, January 1, 2005

I don’t think this world was made for a small minority to dance on the faces of everyone else.
— H.G. Wells, In the Days of the Comet, 1906

Introduction

The dance group Diversity’s ‘I Can’t Breathe’ routine evoked around 24,500 complaints from members of the public when it aired on ITV on 5 September, 2020. The performance was inspired by the killing of George Floyd in the USA. Its choreography references progress from stock market bubbles, the growth of digital shopping, the effect of mobile phones on family life, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, to the killing of George Floyd, and then ending with street protests and the riot police. The show was a spectacular mix of spoken word, song, visual and stage effects, as well as Diversity’s trademark blend of complex routines, breakdancing, backflips and theatricality.

Diversity’s ‘I Can’t Breathe‘ routine

While the troup garnered much international praise for the 4 1/2 minute anti-racist performance, the many complaints focused on its political content. According to Ashley Banjo, troupe member and choreographer, “We got bombarded with messages and articles … horrible stuff about all of us, our families … it’s sad.”

This level of negative public reaction to a dance routine on TV in the UK was unprecedented.

Dance has been an important part of  TV entertainment, especially in the UK and the USA, since the 1960s with shows such as American Bandstand and Soul Train, dance groups on Top of the Pops and in more recent decades, shows such as Dancing on Ice‎, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance and Strictly Come Dancing‎.

However, maybe the innocuousness of such TV history has lulled people into seeing dance as pure entertainment, safe from the radical social commentary that other art forms put on display now and then in theatres, galleries and cinemas.

The history of dance shows that it has always been with us, and, like with other art forms, dance has a mixed history of social and radical roles. It has also, like other art forms, been highly influenced by Enlightenment and Romanticist ideas in more recent centuries, changing how we see and understand the role of dance in society today.

In this article I will examine how dance has changed since the Enlightenment and why it has had an increasing popularity in the last century. I will also look at the potential for a radical dance culture to become a vehicle for increasing social and political awareness on a global scale.

Early and medieval dance history

Dance has been a part of human culture from prehistoric times to Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures from c. 3300 BC. Folk dance, in particular, has been an important part of festivals, seasonal celebrations and community celebrations such as weddings and births.

In Europe during the Middle Ages there are references to circular dances called ‘carole’ from the 12th and 13th centuries. People also danced around trees holding hands in a leader and refrain style. These dances and songs became the carols we know today.

From a manuscript of the Roman de la Rose, c. 1430.

Le Roman de la Rose (The Romance of the Rose) is a medieval poem in Old French, styled as an allegorical dream vision.

However, the literary history of dance in terms of detailed descriptions goes back to Italy in the middle of the fifteenth century after the start of the Renaissance. During this time there also developed a divergence between court dances and country dances, between performance and participation. Court dancers trained for dances for entertainment, while anyone could learn country dances. At court formal display dancing would be followed by informal country dances for all to participate in.

Dance at Herod’s Court, ca. 1490, Israhel van Meckenem, engraving. Couples circling in a basse danse.

Ballet also began at this time developing out of court pageantry in Italy at aristocratic weddings. Its choreography was based on court dance steps and performers dressed in the formal gowns of the time rather than the later tutus and ballet slippers.

It was then brought to France by Catherine de’ Medici in the 16th century where it developed into a performance-focused art form during the reign of Louis XIV where:

His interest in ballet dancing was politically motivated. He established strict social etiquettes through dancing and turned it into one of the most crucial elements in court social life, effectively holding authority over the nobles and reigning over the state.

By the 17th century ballet became professionalised and its challenging acrobatic movements could “only be performed by highly skilled street entertainers.”

The Enlightenment and ballet in the 18th century

It was ballet that also became a focal point for criticism by the Enlightenment philosophes during the 18th century. Philosophes (French for ‘philosophers’) “were public intellectuals who applied reason to the study of many areas of learning, including philosophy, history, science, politics, economics, and social issues.”

The philosophes “argued that ancient superstitions and outmoded customs should be eliminated, and that reason should play a major role in reforming society.” They desired to see “the development of art forms that gave meaningful expression to human thoughts, ideas, and feelings, and they disregarded merely decorative or ornamental forms of art.”

Jean-Georges Noverre (1727–1810) was a French dancer and balletmaster, and is generally considered the creator of ballet d’action, a precursor of the narrative ballets of the 19th century. His birthday is now observed as International Dance Day.

Denis Diderot, for example, (one of the editors of the quintessential enlightenment project: the Encylopédie) wrote in his essay ‘Entretiens sur ‘Le Fils Naturel”:

I would like someone to tell me what all these dances performed today represent — the minuet, the passe-pied, the rigaudon, the allemande, the sarabande — where one follows a traced path. This dancer performs with an infinite grace; I see in each movement his facility, his grace, and his nobility, but what does he imitate? This is not the art of song, but the art of jumping. A dance is a poem. This poem must have its own way of representing itself. It is an imitation presented in movements, that depends upon the cooperation of the poet, the painter, the composer, and the art of pantomime. The dance has its own subject which can be divided into acts and scenes. Each scene has a recitative [type of singing that is closer to speech than song] improvised or obligatory, and its ariette [a short aria].

To achieve this the philosophes argued for more naturalism in style and less of the “contrived sophistication and majesty” of earlier Baroque aesthetics. This criticism eventually led to new forms of ballet “that attempted to convey meaning, drama, and the human emotions” in particular the ballet d’action: “a dance containing an entire integrated story line”.

Ballet in the 19th century: Romanticism

Enlightenment ideas which led to the ‘Age of Reason’ and classical ideas of order, harmony and balance gave way to Romanticist emphasis on emotion, individualism and anti-rationalist medievalism. The “vogue for exotic, escapist fantasy which dominated Romanticism in all the other arts” soon affected ballet in two major aspects: a new preoccupation with the supernatural, and the exotic. The plots in Romantic ballet:

were dominated by spirit women—sylphs [imaginary spirits of the air], wilis [a type of supernatural being in Slavic folklore], and ghosts—who enslaved the hearts and senses of mortal men and made it impossible for them to live happily in the real world. Women dancers were dressed in diaphanous white frocks with little wings at their waist, and were bathed in the mysterious poetic light created by newly developed gas lighting in theatres. They danced in a style more fluid and ethereal than 18th-century dancers and were especially prized for their ballon [the ability to appear effortlessly suspended while performing movements during a jump] as they tried to create the illusion of flight.

The second important Romantic influence in ballet was:

a fascination with the exotic, which was figured through gypsy or oriental heroines and the use of folk or national dances from ‘foreign’ cultures (such as Spain, the Middle East, and Scotland). Such dances were considered highly expressive both of character and of exotic local colour, though in some countries, such as Italy, indigenous dances were featured in ballets whose plots reflected that region’s surge of nationalist feeling.

An early example of the Romantic ballet is La Sylphide which was first performed at the Paris Opera in 1823 starring Marie Taglioni:

La Sylphide is a story ballet about a supernatural female creature, half-woman, half-bird, who is doomed to an eternity of dancing. The Sylphide falls in love with a peasant man, James, who is soon to be married. However, James falls in love with the sylphide and leaves his wedding to spend his life with her. The ballet takes a turn when James consults a witch on how to keep the Sylphide from flying off. The witch tells him to tie a scarf around the Sylphide’s waist, and James obeys. The scarf ends up killing the Sylphide, and James is ultimately killed by the witch in an attempt to avenge her death. The Sylphide is symbolic of an unattainable dream, and James is the naive hero who pursues her. This ballet was the first romantic ballet and typifies the romantic themes of fantasy, supernaturalism and man vs. nature.

However, it was also the 19th century which saw the creation of what is considered by many to be the finest achievement of the Classical style, Sleeping Beauty. As Victoria Rose Niblett writes:

Sleeping Beauty is opulent, returning to the intermingling of traditional French court dances in the choreography and the refinement of the Apollonian [relating to the rational, ordered, and self-disciplined aspects of human nature as opposed to Dionysian characteristics of excess, irrationality, lack of discipline, and unbridled passion] expression. This was a shift away from the emotional exploration of the Romantic period and back to reason and rational philosophy. […] In the Romantic period, dance was designed by the external power of the music, but in the Classical period choreographers had a more influential role with the construction of the symphony. This involvement allowed choreography to follow an academic, pattern-oriented structure that insured the association between dance and music. […] While Romantic ballet focused on fragile and emotional femininity, Classical ballet focused more on the type of femininity that could be expressed in the refinement, strength, and charm of the female character.

A publicity photo for the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty (1890).

While this era saw the rise of ballet as a truly international art form, Romanticism in ballet declined rapidly “as ballets were so weighted towards the feminine and the febrile”, while “male dancers were frequently relegated to the role of porteur [supporting the ballerina]”.

Folk dance and Herder

The rise of nationalist feeling in the 19th century was also associated with the new emphasis on local culture and traditions. Folk dances attained a new significance as the spread of nationalist and socialist ideas gave a new emphasis and importance to the culture of the peasants and the working classes. In Ireland, for example, céilí dances were popularised by Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League) in its goal to promote Irish cultural independence and de-anglicisation.

It was the 18th century Enlightenment philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803) who recognised the importance of traditional culture. Herder established fundamental ideas concerning the intimate dependence of thought on language which “appears in its greatest purity and power in the uncivilized periods of every nation.” Hence Herder’s interest in collecting ancient German folk songs. His focus upon language and cultural traditions as the ties that create a ‘nation’ “were extended to include folklore, dance, music and art.”

Portrait of Johann Gottfried Herder

Herder developed his folk theory to the point of believing that “there is only one class in the state, the Volk, (not the rabble), and the king belongs to this class as well as the peasant”. His idea that the Volk was not the rabble was a new idea at this time, and thus Herder laid the basis for the idea of “the people” as the basis for later democratic ideologies.

Therefore, as Vicki Spencer writes:

Herder’s intention, then, was not to urge moderm intellectuals and artists to reject the philosophical and intellectual features of their own culture in favor of the simple naivety of earlier folk literature. Instead, he argued that their relationship to their own culture needed to change, in order to capture the complexities and spontaneity in the way of life, language, and character of their own unique culture. 1.

Moreover, Herder believed it was important to look back through history for the nation to ‘grow organically’ into the future. According to David Denby:

Herder believes in a human drive towards perfection and self-improvement, but this is a process which operates always in given contexts and within given constraints, which must be understood and respected historically. It is when societies are denied the  opportunity  to  grow  organically that  they  fail  to  progress. Tradition and progress are not opposites: progress must emerge out of a social and historical tradition if it is to take root, and, conversely, ‘a living tradition was  inconceivable  without the progressive emergence  of new goals’.2

Later, Herder’s ideas on folk culture became strongly associated with Romanticism and national chauvinism. However, Herder “understood and feared the extremes to which his folk-theory could tend” and he “refused to adhere to a rigid racial theory, writing that ‘notwithstanding the varieties of the human form, there is but one and the same species of man throughout the whole earth’.”

Thus Herder saw the importance of understanding one’s own culture as a foundation stone for future national projects to be built upon, and not about seeing the past as a Golden Age to be nostalgic about as in Romanticist theory.

The twentieth century and Modernism

By the beginning of the twentieth century folk dance was firmly established and formed an important part of national culture. Many countries around the world had state folk dance ensembles by the middle of the century. In particular this could be seen in the Soviet Union after the Russian revolution of 1917 where the state supported and promoted folk dance as part of the culture of the people. The Red Army Choir, an official army choir of the Russian armed forces, was set up in the 1920s, and by the 1930s was touring with an ensemble of dancers.

The Alexandrov Choir with Dance Ensemble, Warsaw 2009 (Also known as the Red Army Choir and the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army)

Ballet continued life after the revolution too but with new revolutionary content. As Georg Predota writes:

Ballet companies had to cope with a mass exodus of leading figures of the stage, but also defend against grassroots Communist voices that decried ballet as an artificial, frivolous art form, a decadent playground for grand dukes hopelessly out of touch with reality. Yet gradually, government policy opened the former bastions of imperial high culture to the masses, making ballet performances available to a wider audience by distributing free or subsidized tickets.

For example, the Russian ballet, The Red Poppy, with a score written by Reinhold Glière, was created in 1927 and was a huge success. It had a modern revolutionary theme, as Predota notes:

Set in a port in Kuomintang China in the 1920’s, The Red Poppy eventually became the first truly Soviet ballet. The story tells of the love between a Soviet sailor and a Chinese girl, who is eventually killed by the sailor’s capitalist rival. The tyrannical British imperialist commander of the port sanctions her murder, as Tao-Hoa tries to escape her homeland on board a Soviet ship. As she falls dying, she gives her compatriots a red poppy as an emblem in their fight for freedom.

A scene from the 1927 production of The Red Poppy

In Europe the ballet company Ballet Russes was formed in 1909 and toured Europe as well as North and South America. Although set up by the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev (and even used Russian dancers), the company never performed in Russia. It became part of the Modernist movement with music commissioned from Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky and the designs of Picasso, Rouault, Matisse, and Derain.

Modernism – an extension of Romanticist thinking – emphasised individualism, art for art’s sake, suspicion of reason, subjectivism and rejected Enlightenment ideas. In the arts, Modernism tended to emphasise constantly changing form over sociopolitical content and this became particularly notable in the twentieth century.

Dance in general also developed in many different directions in the twentieth century but the Modernist movement set the stage for dance trends and styles in the United States and Europe which tended to emphasise individualism and diversion, and then later developed into freestyle. This could be seen in western concert or theatrical dance where modern dance continued as an art form:

Modern dance is a broad genre of western concert or theatrical dance, primarily arising out of Germany and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Modern dance is often considered to have emerged as a rejection of, or rebellion against, classical ballet. Socioeconomic and cultural factors also contributed to its development. In the late 19th century, dance artists such as Isadora Duncan, Maud Allan and Loie Fuller were pioneering new forms and practices in what is now called aesthetic or free dance for performance. These dancers disregarded ballet’s strict movement vocabulary, the particular, limited set of movements that were considered proper to ballet and stopped wearing corsets and pointe shoes in the search for greater freedom of movement.

Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston at the Folies Bergère, Paris, in 1926

As Postmodern dance distanced itself from the masses, popular dances in the form of novelty and fad dances went to the other extreme, regularly spreading among the people like wildfires that soon burnt themselves out. They took different forms: solo dances, partner dances, group dances and freestyle dances. From 1909 to the mid-1940s there was: The Grizzly Bear, Charleston, Duckwalk, Carioca, Suzie Q, The Lambeth Walk, Thunder Clap, Conga, and the Hokey Cokey. During the 1950s there was Bomba, The Chicken, Bunny Hop, The Hop, The Meatstick, Madison, The Stroll, and Hully Gully. The 1960s had Shimmy, Twist, The Chicken Walk, The Gravy (“On My Mashed Potato”), The Loco-Motion, Martian Hop, Mashed Potato, The Monster Mash, The Swim, Watusi, Chicken Dance, Hitch hike, Monkey, The Frug, Jerk, The Freddie, Limbo, Batusi, and The Shake.

In the 1970s it was Sprinkler, Penguin, Hustle, Time Warp, Bump, Tragedy, Grinding, Car Wash, Electric Slide, Robot, The Running Man, Y.M.C.A., and Little Apple. The 1980s saw Moonwalk, Cotton-Eyed Joe, Harlem Shake, Agadoo (aka Agadou), Superman (aka Gioca Jouer), The Safety, Lambada, Thriller, The Hunch, Wig Wam Bam, Cabbage Patch, Da Butt. In the 1990s there was The Carlton, Locomía, Boot Scootin’ Boogie, Do the Bartman, Hammer, The Humpty, Vogue, The Urkel, Achy Breaky Heart (Line dance), Macarena, Saturday Night, Tic, Tic Tac, Thizzle, La Bomba (not to be confused with Bomba), The Roger Rabbit, and Tootsee Roll.

As can be seen from the quantity cited and the regularity of change there is no end to Modernism’s ability to move with the markets or keep up with the constantly changing mass consumer pop music scene. A few styles of dance had periods of mass popularity and are still going today as social dances encouraged by regular classes in, for example, jive, salsa, and ballroom dancing.

Cinema also aided the popularity of dance in the twentieth century as can be seen in films featuring ballet in the 1940s (The Red Shoes), tap dancing in the 1950s (Singin’ in the Rain), modern dance in the 1960s (West Side Story), disco in the 1970s (Saturday Night Fever), club/performance partner dancing in the 1980s (Dirty Dancing), tango in the 2000s (Chicago) and modern dance theatre in the 2010s (Pina). The global popularity of Hollywood musicals and Bollywood song-and-dance sequences have made dance an important element to be considered in any new film musical.

Rehearsals for West Side Story, 1960

(American dancer, choreographer, and director Jerome Robbins (1918 – 1998) (in white) demonstrates a dance move to American actor George Chakiris (left, foreground) during the filming of ‘West Side Story,’ directed by Robbins and Robert Wise, New York, New York, 1961.)

In terms of live performance the Irish stage show, Riverdance, featuring Irish step-dancing, opened in Dublin in 1995. It went on to perform in over 450 venues worldwide and has “been seen by over 25 million people, making it one of the most successful dance productions in the world.” The show also incorporated international dance elements of flamenco and tap dancing.

Thus the twentieth century has seen an explosion in interest in dance in general, and in the quantity of styles and techniques. It also has seen the overt politicisation of dance in nationalist and socialist struggles, and as an art form as affected by Romanticist and Enlightenment ideas as every other major art form.

The 21st century and new debates

Dance has become even more prevalent in the 21st century with the internet and global satellite media, for example, through apps like TikTok and dance shows on TV. Riverdance is still touring and ballet is as popular as ever. Novelty and fad dances still come and go. Social dancing and traditional dance are still in demand due to classes, competitions and people’s natural love of dance as a form of socialising.

Riverdance cast at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, 2019.

However, it could be asked if popular dance has simply become a form of social catharsis, and performance dance as escapism and diversion? Is there a role for dance in progressive culture? The negative reaction to Diversity’s ‘I Can’t Breathe’ radical narrative may have been simply an overreaction in a society unused to seeing dance used in a critical setting. The connection between dance and story has become relevant again as Modernist and Postmodernist aesthetic strategies have waned in popularity. 21st century ballet has seen discussion revolving around narrative or story ballet (has plot and characters), as Alastair Macaulay writes:

Nowhere more than in narrative has ballet become the land of low expectations. Audiences regularly sit through a poverty of dance-narrative expression that they would never tolerate in a movie, a novel, an opera, a play or even a musical.

Hanna Rubin discusses issues relating to choreography:

Choreographing story ballets that will appeal to contemporary audiences presents unique challenges even for experienced dancemakers. A too-literal approach or too-traditional staging can seem quaint or flat. And what makes a suitable narrative for those coming of age in a digital era, where there are no strictures on what can be searched, seen and shared? How can a story ballet hold audiences’ attention? If mere distraction becomes the goal, how can a ballet achieve the resonance that will give it continued life?

However, choreographer Helen Pickett notes that “[n]ew stories are being created from other people’s histories”. She points out that traditional ballerina roles haven’t always been empowering ones. “Putting the female on the pedestal was a way to say she is untouchable, but not in an elevated way — in a way that she is perhaps suffering […] There was a lot of that in the Romantic era: Giselle goes nuts for her love.”

In her own work, Pickett has featured strong female characters, and has worked on an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for the Scottish Ballet. This is certainly an interesting direction as The Crucible was a “dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692–93. Miller wrote the play as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the United States government persecuted people accused of being communists.”

Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible, Theatre Royal, Glasgow  Image: Jane Hobson (Based on the play by Arthur Miller. Choreographer: Helen Pickett).

“The real trick of telling the story of The Crucible through dance is not to overexplain everything.” Helen Pickett in The Scotsman

Yet, although laudable, progressive narratives of resistance can also be cheapened. According to Macaulay: “‘Spartacus,’ the Bolshoi Ballet’s biggest hit of the last half-century, reduces its freedom-fighting story to the dimensions of trash (irresistible and sensational trash in the right performance), as enjoyable as ‘Flash Gordon‘ and scarcely more serious.”

Finding the right balance between form and progressive content in ballet may be one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century for many reasons: conservative owners/backers/critics, the negative effects of Modernism and Postmodernism on form and ideology, and the lingering effects of Romanticist over-emphasis on emotion and the individual rather than on context and sociopolitical struggles.

Similarly with other forms of dance. The synthesis of the new with the old can make for exciting and engaging art (like ‘I Can’t Breathe’) when it is based on the stories of people’s actual lived lives.

Dance has truly taken its place as a significant global cultural movement. While there are still social divisions in dance today, as in the past, the difference is that the performance dances of the elites have the potential to be radical and progressive, just as the group dances of the masses today can be self-absorbed and escapist.

The future of participative dance will also depend on the level of engagement of people in sociopolitical struggle. In the past, in Ireland, for example, people flocked to traditional dance as it tied in with their nationalist and socialist beliefs. It was a way of connecting their past to a perceived or hoped for future. Similarly, in sport the Irish people flocked to Gaelic games while the previous mass support for cricket dropped dramatically as cricket was perceived to be a ‘British’ sport. People seek what gives their life meaning as they become more politicised, and this leads to pride in their own radical culture and radical history as a form of resistance. Participative dance will no doubt change again on this more conscious basis because it is an important part of people’s social and cultural lives.

Conclusion

Dance has had a long journey through human history. It has always been associated with people’s celebrations and festivities as a collective expression of human emotions. However, over time particular dances became more and more associated with different classes and groups as societies grew ever more complex. During the time of the Enlightenment, dance became a focus of research and criticism. Performance dance became imbued with Classical ideals and participative dance was seen in a new way as an important part of the heritage of all the people, and not backward or even inferior as in the past. Later, such dances took on even more powerful roles with revolutionary content and state folk ensembles. However, Romanticist ideas turned dance in on itself, shearing it of sociopolitical ideals and progressive content. That is, until Diversity hit the stage with a performance which may yet prove to be the beginning of a new chapter in the history of dance.

  1. Vicki Spencer, In Defense of Herder on Cultural Diversity and Interaction, The Review of Politics , Winter, 2007, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Winter, 2007), pp. 79-105 Published by: Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac on behalf of Review of Politics
  2. David Denby, Herder: culture, anthropology and the Enlightenment, HISTORY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES Vol. 18 No. 1 © 2005 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) pp. 55–76.

The post Diversity in Dance Today: Enlightenment and Romanticist Perspectives first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Popular Theatre as Cultural Resistance: Engaging Audiences Worldwide

Theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy. Mosaic, Roman artwork, 2nd century CE. Capitoline Museums, Rome

When the play ends, what begins?
Seeking conscientization: awareness leading to action.
— Sarah Thornton

Introduction

The importance of theatre is demonstrated by the prevalence and variety of forms it takes both locally and globally in society today.  Indeed, over the centuries theatre has played an important sociological and ideological role. It has been used both by communities and elites to propagate and spread ideas for the consolidation of society (Morality plays), for social improvement (Neo-Classical plays) as well as instigating and promoting revolutionary ideas (Brechtian theatre).

In many places theatre is funded by states through state theatres — playing national repertoires as well as showing international plays translated and/or modernised.  However, it will be argued that as political and economic crises grow, so does the widening gap between two forms: community and state theatre. The global economic crisis has seen theatre once more developing into a useful community tool for highlighting important local issues (e.g. policing) and global issues (e.g. climate change) in many different ways (such as mass demonstrations and public squares). It will also be argued that, in general, the state deals with any upsurge in popular resistance by attempting to appropriate radical working class culture into preexisting structures to neutralise opposition. As with other art-forms, the influence of Enlightenment and Romantic ideas can still be felt today.

Village feast with theatre performance, artist from the circle of Pieter Bruegel the younger – central part of painting by unknown Flemish master

I will look at the development of general movements in theatre from the seventeenth century: beginning with neoclassical theatre as an Enlightenment reaction to Restoration bawdiness, the influence of Romanticism, the rise of Realism, political theatre of the 1930s leading to the Documentary theatre of recent decades, and the contrasting ideology of state and community theatres of contemporary society.

15-18th Centuries – Neo-Classicism v Medievalism

Medieval theatre was mainly religious and moral in its themes, staging and traditions, emerging around 1400 and developing until 1550. Theatre was an ideal way to solve the difficulties of spreading the faith to a largely illiterate population. Certain biblical events were dramatised for feast days and performed by priests. In England there were many mystery plays such as the York Mystery Plays, the Chester Mystery Plays and the Wakefield Mystery Plays.

Around the middle of the sixteenth century began English Renaissance theatre which was based on the rediscovery and imitation of classical works. Playhouses were established and became the sites for the production of plays by playwrights such as William Shakespeare (1564–1616), Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) and Ben Jonson (1572–1637). Genres of the period included the history play, tragedy and comedy, including satirical comedies. All a far cry from biblical stories and Christian morality: the classical influence bringing the subject matter down to earth.

Reconstruction of the theatre of Dionysus in Athens, in Roman times.

This period lasted until the ban on theatrical plays enacted by the English Parliament in 1642.

This ban, effected by the Puritans, lasted 18 years and ended in 1660 and the theatres were reopened. The strict moral codes of the Puritans were upended and comedies became the predominant mark of Restoration plays. These plays were a form of social commentary — recurring themes were cuckolding, shaming, seduction and the inversion of wealth, class and property. However, these themes also represented the upper class who tended to make up the typical audience (unlike the Morality plays) especially as most ordinary people could not afford the price of admission.

Restoration comedies were seen by many as bawdy, and neoclassical theatre was a reaction to the decadence of these Charles II era productions. Neoclassical writers advocated a return to the values and conventions of classical Greek drama. They believed that previous styles put far too much emphasis on emotions and the individual and looked to the classical style for inspiration on how to get people to see society in a more positive, collective manner by encouraging virtuous behavior. The Neo-Classical attitude could be seen in the humanism of the plot lines which encouraged the audience to empathise with the characters rather than laugh at them. The rise of sentimental comedy reflected the Enlightenment idea that without emotion, imagination and sympathy people would not be able to have the moral feelings that lead to our general ideas of justice and virtue.

The Neo-Classicists developed a set of guidelines for the theatre, for example, they:

included five basic rules: purity of form, five acts, verisimilitude or realism, decorum and purpose. Play houses generally rejected scripts or productions that did not meet these requirements. Playwrights and actors in the Neoclassical period officially recognized just two types of plays: comedy and tragedy. They never mixed these together, and the restriction led to use of the now well-known pair of happy and sad masks that symbolize the theatrical arts. […] Comedies, which were either satires or comedies of manners, tended to focus on the lower ranks of society, while tragedies portrayed the complex and fateful lives of the upper classes and royals.

19th Century – Romantic reaction and the rise of Realism

The growth of Romanticism in Germany and France eventually affected writing for the theatre as romantic nationalism and a growing interest in a return to medievalist faith in feeling and instinct as a guide to moral behavior. These two opposing philosophies of Neo-Classicism (Enlightenment ideas rooted in science and reason) and Romanticism (based on feeling and faith) eventually clashed in France where the Comédie Française maintained a strong Neo-classical hold over the repertory.

The tensions between the two opposing outlooks eventually resulted in conflict. On the night of the premiere of the drama Hernani by Victor Hugo (1802–1885) in 1830, riots erupted. They became known as the “battle of Hernani“, whereby:

The large crowd that attended the premiere was full of conservatives and censors who booed the show for disobeying the classical norms and who wanted to stop the performance from going forward. But Hugo organized a Romantic Army of bohemian and radical writers to ensure that the opening would have to go ahead. The resulting riot represented the rejection in France of the classical traditions and the triumph of Romanticism.

Hugo’s Romantic army of writers and artists attacked Classicist positions and called for “Down with theories and systems! Let us tear away the old lath-and-plaster hiding the face of art! There are neither rules nor models; or, rather, no rules but the general laws of Nature!”

Premiere of the drama Hernani by Victor Hugo in 1830

This triumph of Romanticism meant a move away from structure and realism and the rise of a more personalised, individualistic philosophy looking inwards to the self, not to mention an irrational rejection of progress and a return to medieval ideas of faith and hierarchy.

By the 1870s political events and social reforms led to the popularity of the Realist movement and a rejection of Romantic idealism. The Realist movement began in the mid-19th century as a reaction to the irrationalism of Romanticism. However, it was also a reaction to neoclassicism which had become elitist and aristocratic in its assumption of knowledge of Greek and Roman history and myth. The Realists returned to basic ideas of equality, influenced by the French revolution and the Utopian Socialists. Realist ideas had a profound affect on both the theatre and its audiences:

The achievement of realism in the theatre was to direct attention to the social and psychological problems of ordinary life. In its dramas, people emerge as victims of forces larger than themselves, as individuals confronted with a rapidly accelerating world.

Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906), the Norwegian playwright, is known as the “Father of Realism” and he wanted a theatre that was closer in style to real life on the stage. Ibsen attacked middle class society’s values and his plays were based on unconventional subjects, e.g., euthanasia, the role of women, war and business, and syphilis In A Doll’s House, Ibsen questions the roles of men (main provider of the family, public image) and women (limited education) in marriage and society, as well as showing poverty and failed relationships. Realism offered a new type of drama, one in which the public and society could relate to. Ibsen developed the form of the Well-Made play:

1. Soliloquies and asides were discarded
2. Exposition in the plays was motivated
3. Causally related scenes
4. Inner psychological motivation was emphasized
5. Recognition of environmental influences
6. Acknowledgement of socio-economic milieu

He encouraged a style of dialogue which would be more realistic and easier to understand. However, what Realism did have in common with Neo-Classicism was the desire to make theatre more useful in the progressive development of society:

The mainstream theatre from 1859 to 1900 was still bound up in melodramas, spectacle plays (disasters, etc.), comic operas, and vaudevilles.[…] Technological advances were also encouraged by industry and trade, leading to an increased belief that science could solve human problems. But the working classes still had to fight for every increase in rights: unionization and strikes became the principal weapons workers would use after the 1860s—but success came only from costly work stoppages and violence. In other words there seems to be rejection of Romantic idealism; pragmatism reigned instead. The common man seemed to feel that he needed to be recognized, and people asserted themselves through action.

Other writers in the Realistic form include George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) in England and Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) in Russia. Shaw made fun of society’s norms for the purpose of educating and changing society. He used witty humor to present contemporary views and then showed their consequences putting forward his own ideas. Chekhov’s plays concentrated on psychological reality showing people trapped in social situations and having hope in hopeless situations.

20th Century and Modernism

The influence of Realism continued into the twentieth century where it morphed into different forms such as Naturalism and Socialist realism. Meanwhile the Romantic influence on Modernism could be seen in the characteristic emphasis on an internal life of dreams and fantasies in Symbolist theatre and in the subjective perceptions of reality in Expressionist theatre in Germany.

Realism, on the other hand, flourished in Russia where Konstantin Stanislavski (1863–1938) and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko (1858–1943) founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1897. Both were committed to the idea of a popular theatre. Stanislavski developed “psychological realism” which differed from his own Naturalistic early stagings:

Naturalism, for him, implied the indiscriminate reproduction of the surface of life. Realism, on the other hand, while taking its material from the real world and from direct observation, selected only those elements which revealed the relationships and tendencies under the surface. The rest was discarded.

Stanislavski and Olga Knipper as Rakitin and Natalya in Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country (1909).

The revolt against theatrical artifice with Realism and later Naturalism produced a new type of theatre which made Stanislavski famous and his theatre very successful. Later in the 1930s Stanislavski’s method would become an important element in the Socialist Realist ideology introduced by the USSR Union of Writers in the mid 1930s. The aim of Stanislavski’s method was ultimately to absorb the audience completely in the fictional world of the play.

The contemporary playwright, Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) in Germany, reacted to this method which he believed was ‘escapist’ as he felt that any radical content would be blunted, that catharsis would leave the audience complacent. However, Stanislavski believed the audience would observe and learn from the action on stage (using the dialectics of thesis/antithesis/synthesis) in an updated politicised Neo-Classicism. If action proceeded from awareness, then the audience would not be complacent but would achieve catharsis through political action instead.

Brecht, in the Modernist fashion, developed what he called Epic theatre which sought to historicize and address social and political issues. He used innovative techniques, one of which he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as ‘defamiliarization effect’, ‘distancing effect’, or ‘estrangement effect’). To do this, “Brecht employed techniques such as the actor’s direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, the transposition of text to the third person or past tense in rehearsals, and speaking the stage directions out loud.”

The contrast between the Stanislaviski’s and Brecht’s methods show very differing attitudes to the audience capacity for understanding and assimilating the content of a play. Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) used one of these  ‘distancing effects’ when speaking directly to the audience at the end of his film The Great Dictator, which some believe led to a decrease in his popularity. The audience may feel that the actors are speaking down to them, or insisting on radical action without first knowing and understanding all aspects of the issue being presented. It has to be questioned whether it is necessary to ‘knock people out of their complacency’ and to give an audience credit for their ability to understand the message solely from the action on stage. The Modernist experimentation with forms also led to elite forms of culture such as James Joyce’s (1882–1941) Finnegans Wake as the ultimate indigestible example.

Photograph of Mother Courage and the dead Kattrin (Internationalist Theatre)

As the century wore on other types of political theatre emerged such as the differing forms of Documentary theatre of the 1960s and 1970s. This style of theatre “uses pre-existing documentary material (such as newspapers, government reports, interviews, journals, and correspondences) as source material for stories about real events and people, frequently without altering the text in performance. The genre typically includes or is referred to as verbatim theatre, investigative theatre, theatre of fact, theatre of witness, autobiographical theatre, and ethnodrama.”

While the presentation of pre-existing material may seem dry and undramatic, it was the partisan interpretation and presentation of the material which gives it its artistic power. In other words, its Realist, rather than Naturalist, interpretation made all the difference to what may appear to be a Naturalist form (i.e. using material verbatim).

Another type of alternative theatre which emerged in the late twentieth century (though in some countries it has been around a lot longer) is Community theatre. It refers to a style of theatre which exists in the community itself and can be created entirely by the community, as a collaboration between the community and professionals or put on by professionals especially for that community. Ideologically it can have a very wide outreach and can be seen:

to contribute to the social capital of a community, insofar as it develops the skills, community spirit, and artistic sensibilities of those who participate, whether as producers or audience-members. It is used as a tool for social development, promoting ideas like gender equality, human rights, environment and democracy. Most of the community theatre practices have been developed based on the philosophy of education theorist Paulo Freire’s approach of critical pedagogy in theatre and implementation techniques built by Augusto Boal, known as Theatre of the Oppressed.

Paulo Freire’s (1921–1997) method was to promote social change by getting the audience to participate in critical thinking through dialogue, identifying concerns, solutions and examining different perspectives. The plays would be performed “on streets, public places, in traditional meeting spaces, schools, prisons, or other institutions, inviting an alternative and often spontaneous audience to watch.”

Augusto Boal’s (1931–2009) approach also breaks down the ‘invisible wall’ between actors and audience but the difference being that the audience determines the action on stage not the playwright. For example, Boal writes:

The spectators feel that they can intervene in the action. The action ceases to be presented in a deterministic manner, as something inevitable, as Fate. Man is Man’s fate. Thus Man-the-spectator is the creater of Man-the-character. Everything is subject to criticism, to rectification. All can be changed, and at a moment’s notice: the actors must always be ready to accept, without protest, any proposed action; they must simply act it out, to give a live view of its consequences and drawbacks. 1

Augusto Boal presenting his workshop on the Theatre of the Oppressed. Riverside Church, May 13, 2008.

21st Century – State Theatre v Community Theatre

In the twenty-first century State Theatre and Community Theatre exist side by side but as the global economic crisis deepens the traditional repertoire of the State theatre may seem to become out-dated and distant from social issues.

Community theatre is a form which, like the ballad form in music, is capable of tackling and analysing contemporary issues in a very short period of time.  However, the tendency of the state is to try to absorb all opposition into its own conservative narrative and ‘de-fang’ it. This tendency is discussed by the poet Fran Lock in detail:

This matters, because the people traditionally holding the purse strings, controlling the presses; the people responsible for funding us and publishing us, are the same power elites who decide what constitutes a valid working-class voice, and an acceptable working-class identity. Arts Council England, for example, has nothing to gain from supporting people and projects who challenge or threaten their traditional business model, and most major publishers are wary of a working-class poetics that openly and explicitly acknowledges the politics of its own oppression. To have your work “out there” in any meaningful sense, to secure the invaluable financial assistance by which a creative project lives or dies, is to accept that your work, and that you, as a person, will be mediated, filtered and enmeshed, by and in the machinery of a grossly unequal hierarchy. By this method we are compromised. We tailor and shape our voices and ourselves to fit their image of us, and our working-classness is depoliticised and de-fanged through an act of caricature. By this mechanism is the triumph of working-class representation transformed into the tool by which working-class participation in the arts is edited, eroded and policed.

A street play (nukkad natak) in Dharavi slums in Mumbai.

Another important aspect which she alludes to is the problem of monolithism (‘shape[ing] our voices and ourselves to fit their image of us’) which is the way dissent can be silenced by portraying minority groups as being made up of similar people all sharing similar views. As Kenan Malik writes:

Multiculturalists tend to treat minority communities as if each was a distinct, singular, homogenous, authentic whole, each composed of people all speaking with a single voice, each defined primarily by a singular view of culture and faith. In so doing, they all too often ignore conflicts within those communities. All the dissent and diversity gets washed out. As a result, the most progressive voices often gets silenced as not being truly of that community or truly authentic, while the most conservative voices get celebrated as community leaders, the authentic voices of minority groups.

These are the kinds of difficulties community theatre faces, in particular, problems which are more accentuated where access is provided by a State theatre. However, in the streets, manipulation or outright censorship/rejection is much more difficult. And like the original Morality plays, the community theatre may have an ideological aspect which is equally difficult to moderate.

The Romantic/Modernist influence can still be seen in ‘mainstream’ [non-community theatre] in the emphasis on (formal) experimentation over (sociopolitical) content in projections of the future of theatre, for example, one critic writes:

We can see the seeds of theatre’s future coming from three directions. Firstly, in the experimental works in the new theatre groups and companies, which may we call; off the existing established theatres. Secondly, in the rise of theatrical movements originated from the experimental works were done in the last century. Thirdly, in the works of few established theatres – and here we stress the word ’few’ – these works mainly done by some daring directors.

However, not all writers are blind to the growing sociopolitical and economic crises developing globally, as another writer notes:

The future predictions of trends in theatres. Well, it is true that technology has really affected theatres in terms of audience attendance and also changes in the overall appearance of the live performances in order to attract more audiences but will there be changes in the 21st-century trends in the cinema industry? Well, experts project the following changes in future: Need for community and people interactions will lead more people to the theatres. The increase in smaller theatres located in all parts of the country to attract more people to the theatres. Younger directors and actors will ensure more performances in the smaller theatres and the main focus will be on issues, news, and concerns of the immediate community.

Thus, it can be seen there are mixed opinions on the future of ‘official’ theatre based in large and small theatres. It could be speculated that the ‘small theatre’ end and community-based theatre would be set for conflict as the professional and the amateur clash over what is to be portrayed and how, particularly if the issues raised and their resolution are perceived from widely differing ideological perspectives.

Conclusion

Throughout the last four centuries theatre has been pushed and pulled in many directions. It has been used by cliques for their own class entertainment. It has been forced many times in the direction of benefiting the greater good and dragged back again to serve elite agendas. However, the importance of theatre for examining social, political and more recently animal and climate issues, in an immediate and negotiable way, will ensure that theatre as a mirror of society will be a difficult form for the state to control.

  1. Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal (Pluto Press: London, 1998), p.134.

Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme

Fist with pen illustration by CHema Skandal!

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.

— John F. Kennedy, Remarks at Amherst College on the Arts, October 26, 1963

Introduction

Poetry is often associated with genteel people and laid-back lifestyles, yet over the decades since the Enlightenment many poets have been actively involved in the most radical of political and art movements. Setting up a solid foundation for such attitudes was the poet extraordinaire, Alexander Pope. In this essay I shall look at the connection between poetry and socio-political struggles over the centuries. From Pope to the Chartists, and from the Irish revolutionary poets to the postcolonial writers of Africa, poetry has played an important part in social change. The recent explosion of global demonstrations and rallies has also been connected with radical poetry as will be seen in Chile, for example.

The New Augustans v Medievalism – ‘shall not Britain now reward his toils?’

Imagine being one of the generation of poets to follow Shakespeare. The Enlightenment poets response to Shakespeare was that they believed that Shakespeare was good but not perfect and so looked back to Roman times, to that of Augustus for a more political and satirical model for their poetry. Alexander Pope (1688–1744) was highly influenced by the poet Horace (65 BC–8 BC) whose work was created during a momentous time when Rome changed from a republic to an empire. Pope’s poem Epistle to Augustus (addressed to George II of Great Britain) initiated The New Augustans, as they were known, and they created new and bold political work in all genres as well as sharp and critical satires of contemporary events and people. Pope’s best known works The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism made him famous in his own time for their biting criticism and wit. Equally satirical but with more emphasis on prose than poetry was his contemporary, Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), the Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, pamphleteer, poet and cleric whose A Tale of a Tub (1704), An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity (1712), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and A Modest Proposal (1729) led to the creation of the term ‘Swiftian’ for such sharp satire.

The Augustan era was also known by other names such as the age of neoclassicism and the Age of Reason. It was a time of increased availability of books and a dramatic decrease in their cost. This in turn meant that education was less confined to the upper classes and that writers could hope to make more money through the sale of their works and therefore be less dependent on patrons.

The greatest patron of the arts throughout the Middle Ages was the Church. Patronage was also used by nobles, rulers, and very wealthy people to endorse their political ambitions, social positions, and prestige. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson all looked for and received the support of noble or ecclesiastical patrons.

Alexander Pope, painting attributed to English painter Jonathan Richardson, c.?1736, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The sales from Pope’s works allowed him to live a life less determined by other people’s wealth, and this independence is reflected in his lines from Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot:

Oh let me live my own! and die so too!
(‘To live and die is all I have to do:’)
Maintain a poet’s dignity and ease,
And see what friends, and read what books, I please.

While Pope read a lot of philosophy, his concerns were mainly poetic. As David Cody writes:

Like many of his contemporaries, Pope believed in the existence of a God who had created, and who presided over, a physical Universe which functioned like a vast clockwork mechanism. Important scientific discoveries by men like Sir Isaac Newton, who explained, in his Principia, the nature of the laws of gravitation which helped to govern that universe, were seen as corroborating that view. “Nature, and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night,” Pope wrote, in a famous couplet intended as Newton’s epitaph, but “God said, Let Newton be ! and All was Light.” This view of the universe as an ordered, structured place was an aspect of the Neoclassical emphasis on order and structure which also manifested itself in the arts, including poetry.

Pope was famous for his biting criticism which spoofed the mores of society or mocked his literary rivals. His critical political savvy was also on show in lines like:

T is George and Liberty that crowns the cup,
And zeal for that great House which eats him up.
The woods recede around the naked seat,
The sylvans groan—no matter—for the fleet;
Next goes his wool—to clothe our valiant bands;
Last, for his country’s love, he sells his lands.
To town he comes, completes the nation’s hope,
And heads the bold train-bands, and burns a pope.
And shall not Britain now reward his toils,
Britain, that pays her patriots with her spoils?
In vain at court the bankrupt pleads his cause;
His thankless country leaves him to her laws.

Pope’s poetry reflected the Enlightenment popularisation of science through scientific and literary journals, the development of the book industry, the promulgation of encyclopedias and dictionaries, and new ideas spread like wildfire through learned academies, universities, salons and coffeehouses. The Enlightenment period can be dated from the beginning of the reign of Louis XV (1715 ) until the turn of the 19th century but was soon followed by the Romantic period from about 1800 to 1860.

Chartism v Romanticism – ‘How comes it that ye toil and sweat?’

The Romantics preferred intuition and emotion to the rationalism of the Enlightenment and placed a high value on the achievements of “heroic” individualists and artists. They turned inwards, seeing art as an individual experience and emphasising such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe. Romanticism looked backwards to folk art, ancient customs and medievalism. As the bourgeoisie achieved their main aims of wresting control of land and power from the aristocracy, the responsibility for continuing the struggle for the principles of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ fell upon the organisations of the working classes.

In England, Chartism was a major working class movement called after the People’s Charter of 1838 and was a movement for political reform in Britain until 1857. The movement’s strategies were constitutional and they used petitions and mass meetings to put pressure on politicians to concede manhood suffrage. The Charter demanded: a vote for every man twenty-one years of age, secret ballots, payment of Members (so working people could attend without loss of income), equal constituencies, and annual Parliamentary elections. The Chartist movement was a reaction to the passing of the Reform Act 1832, which failed to extend the vote beyond those owning property. The political leaders of the working class felt that the middle class had betrayed them.

In conjunction with Chartist demonstrations and strikes, the Chartist press as the voice of radicalism existed in the form of The Poor Man’s Guardian in the 1830s and was succeeded by the Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser between 1837 and 1852. The press covered news, editorials, and reports on international developments while becoming the best-selling provincial newspaper in Britain with a circulation of 50,000 copies. It also became an organ for the publication of working class poets and poems.

Front page of The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, 1837

With such a wide circulation, it was no wonder that so many sent their poems in for consideration. According to Mike Sanders:

The Northern Star’s poetry column was not an attempt to impose ‘culture’ from above, rather it was a response to a popular demand that poetry could and should speak to working-class desires and needs. From the start, literally hundreds of Chartists sent in their poems and quite a few appear to have pestered the editor with enquiries as to when their work would appear.

It is believed that up to 1,000 poems by up to 400 Chartist and working-class poets were published in the Northern Star between 1838 and 1852. Michael Sanders notes that:

Most have names, but a high percentage are published either under initials, under a pseudonym or anonymously, presumably by writers who would fear reprisals, such as dismissal or blacklisting, if they were known to be writing for the Northern Star. By and large, we know nothing of these people. They are permanently lost to history. But these poems show us that poetry was once central to the way working-class communities expressed themselves both politically and otherwise.

Ordinary people used poetry as a way of demonstrating their humanity in the face of grinding poverty and dehumanising industrial capitalism. By composing poetry they showed they could produce ‘beauty’ as well as surplus value.

An example of an anonymous poet’s endeavour is AW’s poem To The Sons Of Toil published in 1841:

How comes it that ye toil and sweat
And bear the oppressor’s rod
For cruel man who dare to change
The equal laws of God?
How come that man with tyrant heart
Is caused to rule another,
To rob, oppress and, leech-like, suck
The life’s blood of a brother?

We still don’t know anything about AW but he or she is an example of many men and women who turned to poetry to express their desires for social justice. However, several important poets did arise out of the Chartist movement such as Ernest Charles Jones (1819–1869) novelist and Chartist. In 1845, Jones ‘joined the Chartist agitation, quickly becoming its most prominent figure, and vigorously carrying on the party’s campaign on the platform and in the press. His speeches, in which he openly advocated physical force, led to his prosecution, and he was sentenced in 1848 to two years’ imprisonment for seditious speeches. While in prison he wrote, it is said in his own blood on leaves torn from a prayer-book, The Revolt of Hindostan, an epic poem.’; Thomas Cooper (1805–1892) poet, leading Chartist and known for his prison rhyme the Purgatory of Suicides (1845); Gerald Massey (1828–1907) was an English poet and only twenty-two when he published his first volume of poems, Voices of Freedom and Lyrics of Love (1850); George Binns (1815–1847) was a New Zealand Chartist leader and poet.

Photo of Ernest Charles Jones (1819–1869)

There was Ebenezer Elliott (1781–1849) who was an English poet, known as the Corn Law rhymer for his leading the fight to repeal the Corn Laws which were causing hardship and starvation among the poor. Though a factory owner himself, his single-minded devotion to the welfare of the labouring classes won him a sympathetic reputation long after his poetry ceased to be read; and John Bedford Leno (1826–1894) was a Chartist, radical, poet, and printer who acted as a “bridge” between Chartism and early Labour movements, he was called the “Burns of Labour” and “the poet of the poor” for his political songs and poems, which were sold widely in penny publications, and recited and sung by workers in Britain, Europe and America.

The Poets’ Revolution v Modernism – ‘Viewing human conflict from a social perspective’

The connection between the radical poets and the working class continued into the twentieth century even as Romanticist modernism took hold. Modernism rejected the ideology of realism, while promoting a break with the immediate past, technical innovation, and a philosophy of ‘making it new’. As such:

Modernist poetry in English is generally considered to have emerged in the early years of the 20th century with the appearance of the Imagist poets. In common with many other modernists, these poets were writing in reaction to what they saw as the excesses of Victorian poetry, with its emphasis on traditional formalism and overly flowery poetic diction. […] Additionally, Modernist poetry disavowed the traditional aesthetic claims of Romantic poetry’s later phase and no longer sought “beauty” as the highest achievement of verse. With this abandonment of the sublime came a turn away from pastoral poetry and an attempt to focus poetry on urban, mechanical, and industrial settings.

Despite the modern context and simpler language, Modernist poets moved further away from Realism as they developed literary techniques such as stream-of-consciousness, interior monologue, as well as the use of multiple points-of-view, undermining what is meant by realism. Thereby moving further away from the kind of narrative and descriptions of external reality that seekers of political change and social justice use as an art form to create and propagate awareness of their social conditions.

The Chartist tradition of radical politics associated with radical content in poetry was continued in Ireland whose revolutionary radicals perceived in the First World War an opportunity encapsulated in the slogan, “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. The culmination of nationalist and radical politics of the previous centuries was demonstrated in the Easter Rising of 1916. Indeed it is often described as the The Poets’ Revolution as three of the men who signed the Proclamation in 1916, Pearse, MacDonagh, and Plunkett, were published poets, while many other participants were also writers of plays, songs and ballads. The leader of the Irish Citizens Army, James Connolly wrote:

Our masters all a godly crew,
Whose hearts throb for the poor,
Their sympathies assure us, too,
If our demands were fewer.
Most generous souls! But please observe,
What they enjoy from birth
Is all we ever had the nerve
To ask, that is, the earth.

The leaders of the Irish revolution were generally a young, artistic group of revolutionaries and their executions by the British colonists sent shock waves throughout Ireland leading to the War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Civil War (1922–1923).

Photo of James Connolly, c. 1900

Later in the 1920s and 1930s a more politically conscious working class poetry developed. In the United States the combination of influences from the Soviet Union and the Great Depression led to the growth of many new leftist political and social discourses. Milton Cohen summarised the aesthetic, stylistic, and political concerns being debated at the time. He noted that poets were expected to:

(1) View human conflict from a social perspective (as opposed to personal, psychological, or universal) and see society in terms of economic classes.
(2) Portray these classes in conflict (as Marx described them): workers versus bosses, sharecroppers versus landowners, tenants versus landlords, have-nots versus haves.
(3) Develop a “working-class consciousness,” that is, identify with the oppressed class in these conflicts, rather than maintaining objective detachment.
(4) Present a hopeful outcome to encourage working-class readers. Other outcomes are defeatist, pessimistic, or “confused.”
(5) Write simply and straightforwardly, without the aesthetic complexities of formalism.
(6) Above all, politicize the reader. Revolutionary literature is a weapon in the class struggle and should consciously incite its readers if not to direct action then to a new attitude toward life, ‘to recognize his role in the class struggle.’

These ‘proscriptions’ ran straight in the face of every tenet of Modernist poetry which emphasised the personal imagination, culture, emotions, and memories of the poet. Major poets of the radical movement in the United States include Langston Hughes (1902–1967), Kenneth Fearing (1902–1961), Edwin Rolfe (1925-1954), Horace Gregory (1898–1982), and Mike Gold (1894–1967).

Post colonial poetry v postmodernism – ‘The bitter taste of liberty’

As the United States suffered under the heightened political repression of McCarthyism in the 1950s the mantle of radical culture moved to the countries who wrestled themselves out of British colonial stranglehold in the form of postcolonial literature. The English language was imposed in many colonised countries yet came to be the language of radical anti-colonial poets during the liberation struggles and afterwards in the independence era. African poets, for example, were able to use poetry to communicate to the world not only their “despairs and hopes, the enthusiasm and empathy, the thrill of joy and the stab of pain … but also a nation’s history as it moved from ‘freedom to slavery, from slavery to revolution, from revolution to independence and from independence to tasks of reconstruction which further involve situations of failure and disillusion’.”

David Diop’s poem Africa weighs up past and present political complexities:

Africa, my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs ….
Is this you, this back that is bent
This back that breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun…..
That is Africa your Africa
That grows again patiently obstinately
And its fruit gradually acquires
The bitter taste of liberty.

The development of the postcolonial in the South paralleled the development of the postmodern in the West. However, the philosophical bases of postmodernism would not sit easily with the practical contingencies of newly achieved nationhood. Postmodernism rejected the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism, and like modernism, called into question Enlightenment rationality itself. The tendencies of postmodernism towards self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence would make it an uncomfortable bedfellow with the socialist and revolutionary nationalist exigencies of the newly decolonised. As the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o notes:

Literature does not grow or develop in a vacuum; it is given impetus, shape, direction and even area of concern by the social, political and economic forces in a particular society. The relationship between creative literature and other forces cannot be ignored especially in Africa, where modern literature has grown against the gory background of European imperialism and its changing manifestations: slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Our culture over the last hundred years has developed against the same stunting, dwarfing background.

In a way the radical political changes wrought by anti-colonial struggles kept the culture tied down and anchored to the values and aspirations of the masses. Postcolonial ideology was relevant to society in a way that postmodernism was not. It could be argued that postmodernism actively sought to remove itself from political relevance by decrying grand narratives and elevating relativism.

Radical poetry today? – ‘only injustice and no resistance?’

Until relatively recently it seemed that the sentiments of Bertolt Brecht’s (1898-1956) poem To Posterity had become almost universally true in the 21st century:

For we went, changing our country more often than our shoes.
In the class war, despairing
When there was only injustice and no resistance.

However, there has been a sea change in attitude with people demonstrating on the streets in many cities globally in only one year: the Yellow Vests in France (October/November, 2018), Sudanese Revolution (19 December, 2018), Haiti Mass Protests (7 February, 2018), Algeria: Revolution of Smiles (6 February, 2019),  Gaza economic protests (since Mar, 2019), Iraq: Tishreen Revolution (1 October, 2019), Puerto Rico: Telegramgate (8 July 2019), Ecuador Protests (3 October, 2019), Bolivian protests (since Oct, 2019), Chile Protests (14 October, 2019), Lebanon Protests (7-18 October, 2019).

Protests in Plaza Baquedano, downtown Santiago

The eruption of protest and violence in Chile started with students demonstrating against the proposal to raise the subway fares. This was unexpected as Sofía del Valle noted:

Economists have long called Chile’s economy “the miracle” of Latin America, where GDP per capita has noticeably grown from $2,500 in 1990 to $15,346 in 2017. However, these numbers hide a fundamental problem: they do not account for inequality. Chile’s late poet Nicanor Parra said it best: “There are two pieces of bread. You eat two. I eat none. Average consumption: one bread per person.

She also states that the people themselves are starting to participate in political activity with the “proliferation of “cabildos ciudadanos,” or self-organized participatory meetings of citizens that have gathered to discuss problems and solutions for the country we dream to be.”

This has led to the connection between the masses and poetry, similar to Chartist times, being restored to Chile. According to Vera Polycarpou, the people on the streets are “singing the songs of Victor Jara, listening to symphonic music in the squares, making street theatre and reciting the poems of Pablo Neruda, declaring that it will not tolerate military rule, repression and injustice again.”

Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) was a Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet-diplomat who wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems from a very young age. Neruda was living in Madrid at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) and with some friends had formed the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals bringing popular theater to the people, plays from Cervantes to Lorca. The assassination of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898–1936), a friend of his, a month into the war had a profound affect on Neruda. According to Mark Eisner:

Beyond the horror of a friend’s assassination, Lorca’s death represented something more: Lorca was the embodiment of poetry; it was as if the Fascists had assassinated poetry itself. Neruda had reached a moment from which there was no turning back. His poetry had to shift outwardly; it had to act. No more melancholic verse, love poems dotted with red poppies, or metaphysical writing, all of which ignored the realities of rising Fascism. Bold, repeated words and clear, vivid images now served his purpose: to convey his pounding heart and to communicate the realities he was experiencing in a way that could be understood immediately by a wide audience.

This shift away from Romanticism can be seen clearly in Neruda’s poem I Explain Some Things:

You will ask why his poetry
doesn’t speak to us of dreams, of the leaves,
of the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets,
come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood
in the streets!

The demonstrations in Chile have also seen the return of the ‘cacerolazo’ or ‘casserole’ a form of popular protest used globally consisting of people making noise by banging pots, pans, and other utensils at demonstrations. The Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux brought out a song about this form of protest, called ‘Cacerolazo’ (on YouTube) where she raps about cacerolazos as a form of massive protest in defiance of police and military violence describing them as “[w]ooden spoons against your shooting”:

Vivita, guachita, Chile despierta
Cuchara de palo frente a tus balazos
Y al toque de queda, ¡cacerolazo!
No somos alienígenas ni extraterrestres
No cachai na’, es el pueblo rebelde
Sacamos las ollas y nos mataron
A los asesinos ¡cacerolazo!

(Vivita, guachita, Chile wake up
Wooden spoon in front of your bullets
And at the curfew, cacerolazo!
We are not aliens or extraterrestrials
Don’t shit, it’s the rebel people
We took out the pots and they killed us
To the killers cacerolazo!)

Conclusion

The Chartists may not have had the access to the internet or video production of Ana Tijoux but their newspapers achieved large distributions and sales, spreading a similar culture of revolt and opposition. Since the time of Alexander Pope, poetry has played an important part in the struggle for change and social justice and the potential for poetry to consolidate people’s feelings, aspirations and desires has remained strong. The decision by poets, themselves, to participate and apply their art to the issues at hand has reinforced and inspired people the world over.

• All images in this article are from Wikimedia Commons