On Poetry, Art, and Elitism

Collage by Srečko Kosovel

Writing about poetry is at the same time a difficult and interesting endeavour because it requires complete freedom from the constraints of both form and methodology. Following the rules of traditional theoretical research, writing within the field of poetics often seems pretentious and somehow forced, similar to how aesthetic writing about music, dance or theatrical arts usually considers it impossible to penetrate the unknown ‘creative zone’ and to translate that moment even into simple language, let alone into an academic explanation of something that does not have the power or desire to directly address and contemplate the inexplicable.

Answering questions such as “what is poetry of today”, and examining the nature of its existence in general can provide the framework for a re-orientation of the understanding of poetic creation itself. In academic circles very little is written about poetry and even within what it is written, very little is actually said. One gets the feeling of a complete wasteland, an academic disinterest, and a constant repetition of what had already been said and thought. It even seems that it is taken for granted that poetry has lost all importance, that it has reached a level of complete saturation as an artistic form and that there is no further path for poetic creation to happen, except perhaps some slowly-dying state of alternative nothingness. This is not a new problem for poetry or indeed art in general.

Here I want to present and preserve the thought of Srečko Kosovel a Slovenian poet though an excerpt translated by myself. He was born in 1904, died in 1926 at the age of 22 and wrote more than a thousand poems which remain as manuscripts and a couple of hundred prose works consisting of lyrical prose and sketches, literary criticism and essays on cultural problems, notes, diaries and letters. Only a few of his poems were published in literary reviews, but not a single book.

The Artist and the Proletarian

At this moment, countless lectures, concerts, poetry recitals and theater shows are held throughout the world. Poets read their poems publicly, writers read their stories and novels, scientists talk about their new discoveries, actors perform in theaters, musicians perform concerts that can be listened to on the radio by listeners thousands of miles away. Lecture halls, theater venues, concert halls – everything is illuminated, alive; thousands of people attending lectures, concerts, performances.

Anyone can notice that in these theaters, in those concert halls, the foundation of society is missing: the proletariat. The proletarian, who in society must perform the most difficult and most despicable jobs, the proletarian, whose shoulders all the peoples of the nation; the proletariat who, through its painstaking and hard work, accelerates the development of culture – this proletariat has become completely separate from the cultural history of human society.

The theater and the concert hall, have become the convenience of only the top ten thousand and culture has become, willingly or unwillingly, a class culture – which is, however, logical in light of all the laws conditioned by human society. As in the middle ages when artists and scientists lived from the generosity of the royal court, they today live of the generosity and greed of capitalists, the rich and the bourgeoisie.

But capitalists, the rich, and the bourgeoisie do not support art out of some humanistic, idealistic motives, for example, from the belief that the artist can live freely with their support and that they can create works for true love and their own conviction. Their goal is different; as they appropriated the assets of material culture, say factories, banks, stock exchanges, estates, in the same manner capitalists want to take over the productive tools of spiritual culture, artists, scientists, inventors, writers, etc. That means they want to defeat not only manual workers but also intellectuals.

The artist and the scientist in the contemporary society are without rights, exposed to suffering, misery and death. And since the ultimate goal of every true artist is to freely lay bare their knowledge, every true artist confronts a dilemma: be a slave to the truth or to the bourgeoisie.

The truth is actually this: everyone is obliged to work, and because they must work and because of what they do, they have the right to live and enjoy all the goods that human society has gained during development. That is: if it is my duty to work, it is my right to live.

This is what capitalists, the owners of big companies, share holders, or companies on the stock exchange will not admit. They want the proletarian to work and serve, and that only they have right to enjoyment. They want the proletariat to be a machine that makes means for an easier life. That’s why they are publishing a lot of magazines and newspapers to create a pleasant public atmosphere for themselves and that they can openly say, or whisper, that it is right for the worker to work for the master to enjoy.

But today the proletarian has become aware. They became aware that their work creates the living conditions for society, that they even realized that their work contributes to the most essential needs of human existence. They became aware that on the basis of their work they can demand exactly the same rights to life as those who spend their entire lives in restaurants, bars, brothels, and entertainment salons, and who don’t even move a pinky for their own life needs.

That is why the proletariat organized and included in its life program class struggle, a class struggle that has been running from the beginning of life through all millennia until today as a struggle between the strong and the weak, the class struggle that throughout all human history has flowed into the form of a struggle between master and servant, patricians and plebs, capitalists and proletarians. This class struggle gives the proletarian life force and a life program. However, without the addition of spiritual culture, this class struggle remains like an unlit light that can not illuminate the chaos of everyday struggles.

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