This week's editor
Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.
Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.
Mandela: the global icon
Abstract Painting - ‘Anyone could do that’?
Open Circle or the ODD group
Tue 18 Nov 08 at The Blue Mugge pub
After individual comment, in turn, on each theme, general discussion and debate will follow
What is Abstract Painting and is it difficult to understand or empathise with? Can anyone do it?
What came before pictures? Why did/do people paint pictures?
What circumstances or conditions have changed the way people paint pictures?
Is there any difference between figurative and representative painting?
‘It’s not the apples I like - it’s the anxiety’ - Picasso on Cézanne
‘Art does not reproduce the visible - rather it makes visible’ - Klee
* There will be several paintings (from books) to compare and contrast.
If you wish to and are able, bring a copy (or original!) of your favourite painting.
Open Circle or The ODD Group
(Open Democracy Discussion Group)
Provisional Programme - Autumn 2008
Tuesdays at The Blue Mugge pub, Osborne St., Leek 19.30 for 19.45 > 21.15
Supported by WEA and U3A tutors and students. Everybody welcome. Come when you can. Notes are provided (one side of A4) in advance for each session. Some sessions are based on Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 In our Time (IoT). We also use as a resource the www.opendemocracy.net (odn) and www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/thinkingallowed/ (TA) plus occasionally a specific book, poem or art work. Participants help with notes and chairing sessions. No fee (buying drink/s at the bar keeps us going...). The Group is non-party and unsectarian.
For detailed background on the project, see www.weacircle.blogspot.com This project is now in its third year: we are networking and keen to extend contacts. Some themes may lead to WEA day and/or residential courses, supported by the Raymond Williams Foundation (RWF).
9 Sept: The World Food Emergency - based on Paul Rogers’ odn article,
16 Sept: Rape and the law: ‘beyond reasonable doubt…’?
23 Sept: Islam - The Qur’an - text: peace, terror and politics (TV documentary, C4, July 08 and odn)
30 Sept: Citizenship - engaging people across the generations… - 2nd session.
Against a background of unprecedented cynicism, how can we interest, energise, empower ‘ordinary people’ in the political process? Through our network/s we will seek to discuss this widely, recording views with the aim of organising a high-profile Day School or residential on the theme.
7 Oct: Open - to be decided (contemporary issue or from themes below)
14 Oct: Kierkegaard Why? (IoT);
21 Oct: Consciousness > Materialism (IoT)
28 Oct: Going Nuclear (odn) Climate Change - 5th session;
4 Nov: Open - to be decided (contemporary issue or from themes below)
11 Nov: ‘Culture is Ordinary’ based on a seminal 1960s essay - 3rd session.
18 Nov: Abstract Painting - ‘anyone could do that!’.
25 Nov: Murdoch and Branson - model entrepeneurship?
2 Dec: An up-date on The English Revolution (C17)
9 Dec: Open - to be decided (contemporary issue or from themes below)
16 Dec: Persistent Change (TA)
Other themes, for this term or the future: The widening gap between rich and poor (odn) Pets as Kin (TA); Good prose (Dr Johnson) and a good poem (Sylvia Plath) - why good?; Aug 08 "Our Olympic Heroes" - what/who are heroes?"; Alternative Therapies - Why?; English - the international language? Faith Schools (2nd session); The New Elites - and Philanthropy (TA); Demographics - grandparents…; John Milton - poet or politician (IoT); The Age of Austerity - 1945 > 1951; Cuba - revisited - 2nd session; Wo/men - an up-date and review (TA); Liberal Adult Education - dead or mutating? NATO vs Russia (odn) Scotland - and independence (TA); TV - The Oprah Phenomenon: Dumbing-down, third session (TA); Consumer Culture - the triumph of triviality (New Internationalist essay, Apl 08).
‘Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English Language’
(RW, Keywords, 1976) We’ll go round the group asking those who wish to attempt a brief definition of ‘culture’. No discussion at this stage.
Williams’ 1958 essay begins with a description of a bus journey from Hereford to beyond the border into South Wales, taking in observations of a cathedral which houses the Mappa Mundi: cinema adverts: a Norman castle; farming valleys, the Black Mountains; steel-rolling mills and pit-heads. This leads to the reflection that culture is ordinary ‘Every human society has its own shape, purposes, meanings… (and) … expresses these in institutions, arts and learning… A culture has two aspects: the known meanings and directions which its members are trained to; the new observations and meanings which are offered and tested’. Discuss
‘There are two senses of culture that I refuse to learn: the Cambridge tea-shop where ‘cultivated people’ (are, in fact), trivial; ‘culture-vultures’, high-brows, superior prigs > the new cheapjacks seeking to influence the ‘mass mind’. Discuss
The strengths and weaknesses of a Marxist and Leavisite view of culture. A summary of this section of the essay will be given, and then discussed.
Finally, 3 wishes: a) ’I ask for a common education that will give our society its cohesion and prevent it disintegrating into a series of specialist departments, the nation become a firm’.
b) ‘More active provision for arts and adult learning - (in 1958) £20 million on libraries, museums, the arts and adult education; £365 million on advertising. Let’s reverse these figures…’
c) Question and oppose a version of ‘mass culture’…. ‘a crazy peddling in which news and opinion are inextricably involved with the shouts of the market, bringing in their train the new slavery and prostitution of the selling of personalities’. Discuss
Terry Eagleton’s lecture paid tribute to Williams’ work on culture and especially for inventing the phrase ‘cultural materialism’. What does that mean?
TE spoke about the ‘creatureliness’ of human beings (our bodies determine quite a lot) but
“Because we have language … we can become truly universal beings doing all sorts of astonishing things which aren’t possible for moles and badgers. They can’t get outside their own bodies as linguistic animals can… let’s face it, because they lack culture they’re extraordinarily limited. I mean, they can’t even construct a nuclear weapon…. That…is the point, the very powers that enable us to create also enable us to destroy… it is hard to have Tennyson without Trident’. Discuss
TE goes on to argue that since Williams death (20 years ago) there have been several key developments: ‘culturalism’ (what does that mean?) and 'movements like revolutionary nationalism and various ethnic conflicts where culture becomes the very idiom in which political demands are framed…. You could define culture in this sense as that which people are prepared to kill for. Or, if you prefer, to die for…' Discuss
Enclose notes for the Blue Mugge pub discussion next Tue 4 Nov. Roger Elkin has prepared these notes and will lead/chair the discussion.
A reminder of programme change: on Tue 25th Nov we will be debating and discussing The Crash, 2008.
Also: Friday 7th November 10.30 - 3.30pm
The WEA has organised:
Celebrating Tawney in 2008.
The 100th anniversary of Tawney's first University/WEA Tutorial Class in Longton.
The speakers are acknowledge experts on the subject.
Venue: Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Hanley
Open Circle or Odd Group
Tuesday 4th November 08 at The Blue Mugge Pub, Leek
Some Poetry Definitions
1 S.T.Coleridge: Poetry; the best words in the best order.
2 W.B. Yeats: Poetry is truth seen with passion.
3. William Wordsworth: Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.
4. T.S. Eliot: It is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, without distortion of meaning, tranquillity. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration, of a very great number of experiences… a concentration which does not happen consciously… Poetry is not a turning loose from emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.
4Which of the above do you agree with?
5Is there anything that you would add to help to define what you think poetry is… and should do?
6What makes a “good” poem?
7What features make the following poem “good”?
Mushrooms Sylvia Plath
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.
Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,
Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We
Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!
We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door. 13th November 1959
Open Circle, ODD Group
A brief reminder that the theme tomorrow evening, Tue 28 Oct, will be 'Consciousness 2'.
I've had a brief chat with Bob on the phone, who will again chair the session, and I enclose a few additional notes which may be used during the evening.
Additional notes for Tue 28th Oct.
From The Conscious Brain by Steven Rose - former Professor of Biology, the OU.
(Penguin Books, Revised Edn, 1976).
“Consciousness means many things, sometimes simultaneously, often contradictorily.
Thus, it may simply mean a state different from being asleep or in a coma; the reverse of being ‘unconscious’. It may be used to relate to the private world of the mind in contrast with a presumed ‘public’ world of observed behaviour. People speak of ‘altered states of consciousness’ which may be induced by drugs, often implying by this altered awareness or altered perception of the world around.
Consciousness may have a Freudian meaning in which some human acts, or the motivations for them, occur at a level out of reach of the thinking ‘conscious’ mind with its overt rationalisations, buried in some relatively inaccessible ‘subconscious’. Finally, there is the Marxist sense of consciousness.
The difference between these uses of the term is that whilst most of the earlier ones are essentially static definitions, of consciousness as a ’state’ of being, in the Marxist sense consciousness is a dynamic force which emerges in interaction between the individual and his or her environment….
Consciousness in my sense of the term, is a continuously unrolling, continuously developing activity of minds/brains in interaction with their environment, modified, either temporarily or permanently, by changing circumstances.”