A Bit of the Otherness


THE BROADCASTER Mike Murphy has been giving out about elitism in the arts, not to mention people using phrases like "the otherness of the otherness" and getting away with it.

Mike says he himself presents the Arts Show on the basis that he is learning something new as he goes along.

This is not reassuring. If you go to hospital for brain surgery you would be upset if told that the consultant hoped to learn as he went along. You would not be to9 happy going under the anaesthetic in those circumstances.

Presenting an arts programme is not a job for the man in the street. The person in charge has to be as well trained as a teacher or doctor or any other professional, able to sort out time wasters, maintain standards, keep discipline, expel trouble makers and be sensitive to panellists who, all too often, show symptoms of troubled childhood and/or difficult family background.

An ability to recognise the various forms of paranoia is invaluable.

Spot checks on security back up in case of emergency should be made regularly. The arts presenter also has to be able to keep control over all sorts of severely neurotic types and be ever vigilant in the case of potential libel: artistic people are notoriously inclined to be vicious about their colleagues and take every chance to make derogatory remarks about, one another in public. The media act as a magnet in this regard.

But, the whole business of learning from people in the arts world is misconceived. It is very hard to get this through to the ordinary public, but there is very little to be learnt from artists except how to waste time and scrounge money and fire back drink and generally behave badly. I will name only Brendan Behan and James Joyce in this regard, but there are plenty more who are all too well known.

The rare artist with actual talent is not going to give useful secrets away for nothing. He will quite rightly refer you to his work. Of course if you think a study of the work will give you any understanding of the "real" world you are making another bad mistake.

The important thing to remember is that all art is useless and all artists more so.

But the whole anti elitism movement is dangerous because if the masses ever get a grip of the art notion we are all, in trouble. Personally I feel President Robinson has a lot to answer for with her subversive notion of empowerment", a fancy name for socialism in all areas of life. The Northern Ireland Arts Council is nearly as bad, with its megalomaniac plans to force ordinary God fearing people - even in rural areas - to become "involved" with the arts whether they want to or not.

But opposition may be too late. Populism is taking hold already. Over in Paris there are people who now go to cafes to discuss the meaning of life. That's right. Amateur poststructuralists and determinists and even old fashioned existentialists can attend any one of about 15 Sunday morning debates in "Ies bistros philos" right across Paris.

The leader of the movement to take philosophy to the public is Marc Sautet, a professor at the Political Studies Institute who should know better. He is on record as saying that there is no great obstacle, other than the lack of cafes, to prevent the movement spreading to Britain.

And then to Ireland too, perhaps.

The cafe guests themselves suggests subjects for debate, and in the Cafe des Phares, in the Bastille, it is M Sautet who chooses. Mike Murphy will be interested to hear that a recent choice was: "Only the unique is Other".

Apparently there was a lively discussion (It might even have "ensued" for all I know). Of course (it has to be remembered that) all French cafes have full drink licences and even the notion of an "intellectual brunch" is enough to go straight to some people's heads. The conversations and discussions may well be as "vivacious" as reported but I would be interested in seeing some of the participants the morning after to check on how their vivaciousness levels have held up.

Monday morning is a killer in the arts field.

But at least with philosophy nobody pretends anything can be gained, or lost.