Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 25. 3rd October 1973
Visions of Ersatz
Visions of Ersatz
The song-writer earns his living from ad jingles and the novelist has turned to writing television plays. The smile from the bank teller is either Colgate or Ipana, the face around it merely a necessity and the hippy culture has turned commercial as you always knew it would.
So Peter Russell, a prematurely wise academic retires to his rimu-panelled study and talks of ersatz. Afraid of the cultural decadence that he sees Peter Russell would like to ignore it if it weren't that even heaven, his reward for escapism on earth, is just as corrupted, commercialised and capitalist. In this one telling observation he gives the key to the contradiction of his own position and invalidates his argument. For no-one, try as they may, can escape the context of their existence.
Frightened into submission by the decaying culture around him Russell turns alchemist and tries to purify language and feeling searching for the totally undecayable result: aurum philosphicae. But he should not weep his imitation crocodile tears. Many of us see some hope in the world that we live in and are prepared to stay within the realm of our physical existence.
Russell treats Eliot like some messiah devoid of historical parameters but even Eliot merely searched his library, borrowed phrases, stuck them together with poetic sellotape and left them for the world to see. Who do you fool in only describing the decay? Words, like money, have lost value over time with increasing inflation. The cause of both lies in the society culture itself not in a personal loss.
Peter Russell wants to ignore the dynamics of time as he adds unerodable stone onto stone for his pathway to the "honesty" and "purity" of the eternal timeless heaven he sees ahead. Actually all he builds is a tombstone of mammoth pretensions.
Humanity continually redefines itself in a dynamic interaction with the social forces of the period. The past is irretrevable — we learn from it but can only apply it to the future. (Where does Peter Russell want to go?)
This is where the failings of Peter Russell's philosophy are most striking. He describes the effects of living under capitalism but avoids tracing these to the causes. He is unable to give a concrete solution or a useful analysis. He refuses to recognise the dynamic nature of society and therefore the method of removing cultural decadence by attacking the causes with revolution.
Perhaps if we look to the concrete form of the current New Zealand situuation we will be able to define exactly what that last stage of logic means. The introduction of the Pakeha into New Zealand brought the capitalist and individual concern against the tribal and group concern. The capitalist has by virtue of his advanced technology won out and imposed with it a largely mono-cultural state. The Maori culture was at odds with the competitive and individualistic (and now technocratist) social schema necessary to the establishment of capitalism and was given a blind eye. As US interest grows in this country so does the ersatz culture for the US are now our neo-colonial masters as the British were our colonial masters. Advanced capitalism has no room for a cultural heritage or indigenous culture — its ties are with the present — and it will always destroy the past. So Maoris have had their culture pushed out of their reach and Pakeha's have not even the benefit of something to reach for.
Capitalism will not encourage arts that start people thinking or describe the reality of the situation. Capitalist art is an escapist art — devoid of meaning and lulling its audience into complacent acceptance. In rare cases artists have managed to Surmount these barriers and it is the Brechts and Godards with their "frightening optimism" and "deep" sensibility" that our hope lies.
Art must be made to serve the people and not only escape subservience to capitalism but also ties to the esoteric misconceptions of would be mystics. After all what was Tibet liberated from that the new messiahs like Leary and Ginsberg would not lead us back to in the name of purification?