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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Confusion of Categories 1

Early September Ola Mafaalani, artistic leader of the North-Netherlands Theatre, opened the Dutch theatre season with a speech in which she asked attention for refugees worldwide. To stress the importance of her statement, some hundred refugees came with her on stage.

Sympathetic. I like it if people with some sort of public profile occasionally ask attention for ethical or other problems. You use your public privileges to foster the public good.

Of course there is one small 'but': we assume that the 'public good' worth asking attention for is unequivocal - above politics, as it were. And of course it is not. We wish we lived in a world where moral affairs are straightforward, but they never are, even if they seem so. So we equate our own moral predilections with the 'public good'.

And so it comes to be that Mafaalani, according to the newspapers I read, asks the theatre sector to become the 'consciousness of society'. As if there is one theatre sector, with one idea about what is moral and what is the 'public good'. As if there is only one possible 'consciousness of society'.

It is a confusion of categories: in this case the confusion of Art with Moral Consciousness. Why would Artists by nature and/or definition have more moral consciousness than other categories - say: politicians, or lumberjacks, or olympic athletes.

The same confusion of categories seems to have played a role when the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences decided to open an Academy of Arts, where famous artists are chosen to foster the relation between the different arts, between the arts and society, and the arts and the sciences.

So far so good, no problem there. But then members of the Academy of Arts are asked to write blogs on, for example, education. And so it comes to pass that a novelist I really like for her novels, Charlotte Mutsaers, writes a little blog entry on education which is not only stupid (which is fine, because others may find it wise) but also lousy written, inconsistent, and generally the kind of talk one would utter when one in a slightly drunk state tries to give a consciously malicious imitation of Charlotte Mutsaers giving an opinion on education.

Confusion of categories.

What makes us think that a novelist - being an Artist - should speak out publicly on public affairs rather than writing another novel? It's not that I don't want them to speak out - please, be our guest, we live in a free country. It is that I wonder why we expect them to do so with miraculous results.

Would we ask Louis Ferdinand CĂ©line or Richard Wagner as immigration policies advisors for our government? Or - if you are Dutch - the late Gerard Reve to speak out on the matter of refugees? All three great Artists.

Let Artists be Artists. Let scientists be scientists, researchers be researchers. Let individuals be individuals. Let anyone speak out his thoughts on public affairs.

But let's not confuse roles, and assume that Artists for some mysterious reason are here to Teach the Way.

Art is no TomTom.