Social Scientist. v 18, no. 202 (March 1990) p. 1.


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Introduction

Social Scientist is presenting here material on the visual arts including cinema. Otherwise disparate in theme, there is one common feature about these three essays. The authors, each in their own way, are engaged in ascribing primary significance to art production, and they recognise that one has to speak about the matrix for cultural creativity in transformative terms.

In the essay titled 'Film as a Contemporary Art* the film maker, Kumar Shahani, allows the transformational process of thought (like that of art) to work under our very nose so to speak; the method of narrating the thoughts is such that you tarry with the text until you can negotiate the labyrinth, following the blind alleys round to the exits ranged along the steep promontories of a renewed aesthetic. He constructs a living tradition for the contemporary artist, eliciting through analogy a formal subversion of cheap solutions; making reference to painting, literature and music before talking of film; classifying the theatrical, lyric and epic forms until a mutational grid of possibilities opens up. Whereby we might, like the artist-author, find the terms for translating aesthetic into ethical questions and vice versa. For Shahani stakes himself audaciously on the question of truth.

I would like to suggest that it makes sense to see the three essays as in fact illustrating the contrasted terminologies of three related vocations, For me as a critic the chosen idea rules a text and the intention at any rate is to make its relay sufficiently dynamic and if possible dialectical. So that the concept of tradition, for example, when it is set abroad the social field develops a reflexive procedure involving the same sort of obstacles as the artist sets up in the labyrinth. I want to arrive at the idea of a tradition-in-use but I will have to argue my way tendentiously. The trouble with dealing in ideas is that they become so quickly abstracted. Or they fall into polemics for immediate effect. (I refer somewhat playfully to this in the very title of the essay:

'Contemporary Cultural Practice: Some Polemical Categories'.) Either way they take on a rhetorical function. But then it is also worth reminding ourselves that rhetoric was once a way of designating the aesthetic enterprise and that it may still be a way in which the cultural dynamic works itself out in discourse.



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