Bertolt Brechet: Marrying Art and Politics

No subservience to politics though, we need to be conscious of the ends we serve as poets

DR MUHAMMAD MAROOF SHAH

Zaref Ahmed Zaref once remarked that his son calls him and fellow poets as wah wah  party. This is true about many poets but not all of them. Zaref Sahab himself is no wah wah man. Our key poets have played their role in struggle against Dogra rule, though later much of the time in mushairas on State television or radio is reserved for a poetry that means little or expresses frustrations of personality. More than 95% books (this is especially true about poetry books) are destined only to gather dust in libraries because they say little that has not been better said already. Only that art ultimately lasts that is wedded to life, and thus in some sense to political, though in its essence it transcends more mundane business of politics as narrowly conceived. The art that is divorced from the religious/moral/metaphysical and not informed by the metaphysical can’t be called great art. They have been persecuted for practizing the art that is wedded to the political. Poets have been at the forefront of revolutions. It is they who sing the pain and broadcast the plight in a way that no leader can. Iqbal’s verses continue to adorn the best political speaches. My choice of Brecht today is to emphasize the need of appreciating the gulf between the poetry that really should matter and the one that is sustained by mutual wah wah implying little for the poet’s higher self or society.
Without making art subservient to politics we need to be conscious of the ends we serve as poets. All great poets have rejected aestheticism as an ideal and have wedded their art to the task of self-transformation which is beautification of life. Even the artists belonging to movement of art for art’s sake can be thus approached and appropriated. Life itself is ultimately to be taken as a work of art, a sort of play and we are all required to be actors according to the best of Eastern and Western criticism. My choice of Brecht today is determined by the conviction that he is an exemplary poet of the 20th century both in moral and in artistic terms combining the artistic and the political with a success that can be matched only by few. Reading him, one reads from the best of twentieth century poetry. He is the conscience of an age that is littered with the blood of victims of Capitalism. He shows why an artist has to be supremely conscious of the multifarious challenges that beset man today. He has shown why the typical modernist art that makes a virtue out of ambiguity and cares little for communication especially to the laity and may eschew the missionary role that artists have been playing throughout history is to be transcended. Reading him is a delight and a great lesson in ethics. He even questions the ethics of a poet like himself, who chooses only to write or lament about the suffering but does little to make the difference. His is a model of resistance poetry. For Kashmiris especially, he rings so true. Kashmir is still awaiting its own Bertolt Brecht. I hope we come out of the wah wah syndrome and realize that mushairas can’t be apolitical and that poets can’t be taken for granted by the establishment or people. Poets are moral dynamites. If they are not, they have no place in the Ideal State according to not only Plato but all great traditions including the Islamic. This should not be construed to mean censorship but only call for edification and sifting the merely aesthetic from the genuinely artistic impulse that expresses the whole man.
 More than 21,000 children die daily due to poverty and hunger. Denying jobs to millions amounts to mutilating their souls. We all, including the poets, are enslaved in the reign of the Capital and its familiar institution like banks. Do the poets care? If they don’t care who else will? For the poet has no self of his own, as Keats said. He identifies with the Other as he escapes his personality. "The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along, paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return." The poet exposes the lie. One can’t be a poet if one is not free to experience beauty – moral, intellectual and sensory – in the system that objectifies and deindividualizes man. Bertolt Brecht is one such poet. I quote at random from his poems:
Since poverty and baseness leave me cold/My pen falls silent; times are on the move/Yet all that is dirty In your dirty world/Includes, Includes, I know, the fact that I approve.
Rich man and his poorer brother
Stood and looked at one another
Till the poor one softly swore:
You’d not be rich if I weren’t poor.
The bread of the hungry has all been eaten. (Richness)
Brecht shows all of us mirror, especially the middle class professionals, and we must see our real faces through his mirrors. I am sure we could emerge better conscious of our complacent attitude, of sin and guilt and perhaps motivated to transform the world of lies that we approve or accept or get resigned to otherwise. I refer only to what he says regarding banks that when any bank is robbed it is a news and police is moved immediately and when a new branch of bank is opened the news of robbery of the community is not reported (opening a bank is robbing a community). This converges with Islamic ethics and law. Brecht reminds us of our failures and our responsibilities in a world that has a ruling class and the ruled slaves.

Lastupdate on : Wed, 12 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 12 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 13 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST




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