CHRIS COOPER'S BLOG - infrequent forays into fun, freedom, fysics and filosophy...

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Saturday, May 21, 2005  
Left-handed wanderings

Sorry, no hyperlinks tonight. I'm blogging from the grave - OK, I feel a bit ill - and I haven't got the energy to format this post the way I'd like. Struggling with's freaking edit window is much worse than trying to herd cats. When you try corralling kitties, they don't actually mutate, meld, or vanish into the ether. So you'll have to google for the sources of these quotes.

I've wandered through a few radical left sites tonight, beginning from Mark Kaplan's charlotte street. I was led to The Virtual Stoa. One of the delights on this site is Dead Socialist Watch, a daily listing of the anniversaries of deceased lefties, whom we are supposed to revere.

The blog entry for 13 May has this:

a fine piece in the Guardian by Greil Marcus about Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling
Stone", the greatest of his many great songs (and there's a Normblog poll to
prove it), and the problems he ran into in the same year when Dylan Went
Electric. And then he came to the UK:

>> But in the UK the sort of protests that had followed Dylan and the Hawks around
the US were organised. The Communist party had long operated a network of
Stalinist folk clubs where the songs to be sung, who could sing what, and in
what manner, was strictly controlled. The idea was to preserve the image of
the folk, whereas pop music symbolised the destruction of that community by
capitalist mass society.

> Is this true? It's terribly funny if it is. Where can I learn more?

One reply is from 'Michael', who seems quite sensible at first:

It certainly has the ring of truth to it - the English folk scene is notoriously
prone to both making arcane rules and ostracising perceived non-conformists, so
explicitly Stalinist folk clubs would appear to be not that much of a stretch.

But I'm not sure about Michael. He seems a little too enthusiast about an article he's found:

> I did a bit of digging and came up with this.

> > Salient paragraphs: These thoroughly dreary themes resonated through the CPGB's involvement with British folk music through the likes of AL Lloyd and Ewan MacColl, discussed here in the essay by Gerald Porter. The 'progressive' tradition of British radical song (traced through works such as Lloyd's Folk song in England), relied upon closely reflective interpretations of an urban and industrial landscape, rooted in modes of collective expression - often in "resistance to the status quo" (p173). MacColl, after serving his apprenticeship in agitprop formations such as Red Megaphone, actually left the CPGB in 1953 after apparently being told by a Party official that "It doesn't matter a toss what you sing: just pack the people in" (p172).

> In fact, the 'anti-formalist' approach relied upon by Lloyd and MacColl could only but reinforce such philistine sentiment. The reliance on woodenly reflective social content, and the folk movement's emphasis on group expression, impeded the CPGB's understanding of art's autonomy and concretisation through its own formal laws. Once art becomes predominantly a site for the utilisation of a specific social content this leaves the door open for what Alick West saw as its degradation for a political end. This approach also tends to freeze the aesthetic into national-centred narrowness, whilst specific artistic forms lend themselves more easily to a universal outlook. Once artistic practice becomes rooted in themes of political content, you allow for the indifference of the unnamed CPGB official in his above response to Ewan MacColl. After all, what is the point of a topical song if its message could just as easily be encapsulated in a political slogan?

The quote runs along nicely until it gets to 'concretization' and 'autonomy' and then soars off into the Marxist empyrean where simple thoughts are hoisted onto the stilts of the intellectual commissar. Hardly surprising, since it comes from 'Communist culture', by Phil Watson, which is from Weekly Worker 305, Thursday September 23 1999

I haven't the mental energy to disentangle the last part. It seems McColl is bad because he's 'antiformalist' (Stalinist, I'd say) but the Party official is bad because he's philistine. He sounds artistically tolerant to me .

9:06 PM

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