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Today's Topics:

    1. The Next Idea of the Artist - essay (Rana Dasgupta)


Message: 1
Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2008 13:15:27 +0530
From: Rana Dasgupta <>
Subject: <nettime> The Next Idea of the Artist - essay
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This is an essay I wrote for the catalogue of the Liverpool Biennial
(, which begins this weekend.  It looks at the lives of
Ludwig van Beethoven and Jacqueline du Pre, and considers the
irrational, unproductive and destructive aspects of their artistic
production.  It asks how we are to think about these more unsavoury
elements of their artistic legacy, particularly in the light of the
current swathe of Hollywood biopics, which seem to imagine an entirely
sanitised and efficient creativity, of the sort that will not rely on
unstable people and can therefore be globally rationalised.


Rana Dasgupta


At the grand funeral of Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna in 1827, the
actor Heinrich Ansch?tz delivered an oration by the poet Franz
Grillparzer, Austria?s foremost man of letters.

"The harp that is hushed!  Let me call him so!  For he was an artist,
and all that was his, was his through art alone.  The thorns of life had
wounded him deeply, and as the cast-away clings to the shore, so did he
seek refuge in your arms, O you glorious sister and peer of the Good and
the True, you balm of wounded hearts ? heaven-born Art!

"He was an artist, but a man as well.  A man in every sense?in the
highest.  Because he withdrew from the world, they called him a
man-hater, and because he held aloof from sentimentality, unfeeling ?
He withdrew from mankind after he had given them his all and received
nothing in return.  He dwelt alone, because he found no second Self.
But to the end his heart beat warm for all men, in fatherly affection
for his kindred, for the world his all and his heart?s blood."

This was the Romantic idea of Beethoven: the great and suffering Soul
whose sensitivity and spiritual awareness exceeded those even of Goethe
and Shakespeare.  This image was so persistent that a century later an
English writer could still affirm similar thoughts, blended with the
evolutionism of the time, and tempered by a cooler, more ?scientific? tone:

"Beethoven?s work will live because of the permanent value, to the human
race, of the experiences it communicates.  These experiences are
valuable because they are in the line of human development; they are
experiences to which the race, in its evolutionary march, aspires ...
They correspond to a spiritual synthesis which the race has not achieved
but which, we may suppose, it is on the way to achieving.  It is only
the very greatest kind of artist who presents us with experiences that
we recognize both us fundamental and as in advance of anything we have
hitherto known.  With such art we make contact, for a moment, with

"The prophetic soul of the wide world
Dreaming on things to come

"It is to this kind of art that Beethoven?s greatest music belongs and
it is, perhaps, the greatest in that kind."

J.W.N. Sullivan is referring in this last line to the startling music
written by Beethoven in the last ten years of his life, and it is on
this ?late period? that the most sublime aspects of the composer?s
reputation generally rest.  In an age not much given to gravity, music
companies still give grave packaging to recordings of the late string
quartets and piano sonatas.  The brusque, experimental ugliness of late
works such the Grosse Fuge or the Diabelli Variations still inspires
bewilderment, almost two centuries after they were written.  The Ninth
Symphony, of course, has become legendary, and its astonishing power
remains undiminished by contemporary bureaucratic assaults ? such as its
adoption as the official anthem of the European Union.

The inception of Beethoven?s radical and introspective late style was
not only a fantastic departure from the previous three decades of the
composer?s own work, it was one of the most significant and monumental
moments of innovation in the history of Western art music.  The question
of how the late style came into being is therefore a general question
about the nature of artistic originality in modern Western culture.
How did Beethoven break himself down and reconstruct himself in this
way?  How great were the energies that passed through him in this
moment, enabling him to surpass what was familiar and burst into the
unknown?  What was the source of these energies, and how were they
manifested in his body, his rhythms, his relationships?

In his biography of 2003, Lewis Lockwood sees the genesis of the late
style in Beethoven?s ?fallow? phase of 1813-17, which most previous
commentators saw as a period of exhaustion.

"The basic facts compel us to see this period as a major break in the
larger continuity of his career, a time of psychological distress and of
diminished creative energy after the extraordinary ten years that had
culminated in 1812 with the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies.  But it is
far more fruitful to focus less on what was ending, and more on what was
beginning; less on his loss of productivity and more on the progressive
features of the few significant works that he completed.  [?]  Along
with the personal factors, what accounts for [these supposedly arid
years] is his evolution towards the transcendental.  [?]  Accordingly,
what has been seen as a ?fallow? period might be reconceived as a period
of self-reconstruction, a necessary questioning of previous approaches
and the gestation of new ones, in which a new composing personality
within him was in the process of emerging."

What were the ?personal factors? that plagued this gestation period?  To
begin with, in 1812, Beethoven wrote a stoic letter to an unnamed
?Immortal Beloved,? a letter that suggests he was at that time finally
renouncing any prospect of a lived relationship with a woman.  Though
Beethoven had had several love affairs, ?the essential character of
[these relations] seems to have combined perpetual quest for love and
perpetual avoidance of any long-term commitment that might change his
life and rob him of the time and energy he needed for his work?  ? and
now, forty-two years old and entirely deaf, he accepted that his
solitude was not provisional, but absolute.

But the ?fallow period? was dominated by the issue of Beethoven?s
nephew, Karl.  When, in 1815, Beethoven?s brother Caspar died, leaving a
wife and a young son, there arose in Beethoven a mania for paternity
that lasted most of the rest of his life.  In his will, Caspar named
Beethoven as Karl?s co-guardian, along with the boy?s mother, Johanna ?
but Beethoven wanted her to have nothing to do with her son, and
denounced her moral character in the courts in order to overturn her
custody.  Having secured sole control of Karl, he tried to turn him into
a great musician, ignoring his lack of musical talent and his obvious
attraction for guns and all things military.  The boy suffered greatly
from Beethoven?s violent temper and unbearable demands, and from his
enforced separation from his mother.  In 1826, after hinting several
times to his uncle that he would commit suicide ? with no effect ? Karl
bought two pistols and shot himself.  He survived, but the drama was
enough to shatter Beethoven?s fancies.  ?My hopes have vanished,? he
wrote in a letter, ?my hopes of having near me someone who would
resemble me, at least in my better qualities.?   He now allowed Karl to
enter military service where he remained until 1832, then taking a job
in an Austrian government office and living quietly until his death in 1858.

The gestation and flowering of Beethoven?s late style was accompanied in
his personal life, then, by a sustained assault on the two surviving
members of his immediate family.  Interrupting his work, the deaf and
unkempt Beethoven must have got up from his desk with the ink of the
Ninth Symphony still wet on the page to throw things at Karl as
punishment for his gambling or his ?unfaithful? visits to his mother.  A
biographer is forced to ask: what is the relationship between these
simultaneous outpourings of destruction and creation?  Was Beethoven in
fact consuming the energies of those around him in order to fuel a task
for which his own resources would not suffice?

This is J.W.N. Sullivan?s version:

"The wife was undoubtedly a woman of loose character, and Beethoven was
firmly convinced that she was a merely evil and corrupting influence ?
Karl appears to have been a perfectly average young man, fond of
billiards and associating a good deal with prostitutes.  Beethoven,
putting a good deal down to the account of the mother, seems to have
regarded him as a brand to be plucked from the burning ? Beethoven?s
relations with his nephew caused him, almost continually, great anxiety.
   On one occasion, owing to a trifling escapade of his nephew?s, he was
almost out of his mind for a few days ? Although he was now at the very
height of his creative power, producing his greatest music, he worked
very slowly.  What he now had to express was much more difficult than
anything he had previously expressed ? The task of creation necessitated
an unequalled degree of absorption and withdrawal.  The regions within
which Beethoven the composer now worked were, to an unprecedented
degree, withdrawn and sheltered from his outward life.  His deafness and
solitariness are almost symbolic of his complete retreat into his inner
self.  No ?external storms? could now influence his work; at most they
could interrupt it.  The music of the last quartets comes from the
profoundest depths of the human soul that any artist has ever sounded."

It is clear that, for Sullivan, the emergence of the late style happens
in spite of the Karl episode, and has no connection to it.  This episode
is insignificant except as another annoying distraction in Beethoven?s
heroic life, and the only reason to mention Karl at all is to explain
Beethoven?s fallow period (?he worked very slowly?) ? and after that the
nephew is left behind.  In this account, the greatness of Beethoven?s
late music arises precisely from his ?complete retreat? from the world,
and therefore the events of the world have no place in an explanation of
that music.  Like Grillparzer a century before, Sullivan thinks that the
artist and his art are above life, and have no responsibilities towards
it.  This is why he is able to say about a man who all but destroyed the
lives of the two people closest to him,

What we may call his emotional nature was sensitive, discriminating and
profound, and his circumstances brought him an intimate acquaintance
with the chief characteristics of life.  His realisation of the
character of life was not hindered by insensitiveness, as was Wagner?s,
nor by religion, as was Bach?s.  There was nothing in this man, either
natural or acquired, to blunt his perceptions.

In 1957, two psychoanalysts published a very different version of this
period of Beethoven?s life, one so iconoclastic that it has generally
been rejected by Beethoven scholars, who wish to preserve as much of the
Romantic genius as possible (Lewis Lockwood?s book makes no mention of
it).  Beethoven and his Nephew: A Study in Human Relations  presented
Karl, not as the frivolous playboy of traditional accounts, chafing
continually at the long-suffering composer, but as the innocent victim
of a tyrannical uncle who was driven to violence and depression by his
latent homosexual desire.  The authors, Editha and Richard Sterba, saw
the repeated failure of Beethoven?s relationships with women as
programmatic: his initial erotic interest seemed to collapse in every
case into quarrels and bitterness, and finally into total evasion on
Beethoven?s part (his famous ?Immortal Beloved? letter, the basis of his
reputation as a much-suffering lover, was, according to the Sterbas,
never sent).  They saw Beethoven not as a lover of women but as a
misogynist, and the relentless fury with which he tried to destroy
Johanna, his sister-in-law, was further expression of this.  They saw
homosexual significance in the courteous, obsequious manner adopted by
Beethoven towards certain attractive young men ? in marked contrast to
his conduct with the generality of people ? and they gave a convincing
account of the explosive accumulation of sexual desire and parental
longing that he brought to bear on his hapless nephew.  For the Sterbas,
Beethoven?s fixed determination to turn the talentless Karl into a great
musician, despite the boy?s resultant misery, was an attempt both to
produce an ideal version of his ?ungrateful? brothers, and an attempt to
recycle the disgust he felt for his own deafness and social exile into
something better than himself.  And the late music was the sublimation
of all these ferocious and contradictory impulses, which could never be
resolved in the sphere of reality.

To my taste, the Sterbas? account sacrifices too much of the
other-worldly qualities of artistic inspiration, so well expressed by
Romantic commentators.  By making music nothing more than a sublimation
of psychological conflicts, the autonomy and specificity of the musical
realm is entirely lost, and its intrigue disappears.  After all, it is
possible to imagine men with precisely Beethoven?s psychological
situation who would not write his Ninth Symphony.  But what the
psychoanalytical approach loses in grandeur it gains in robustness.
Where Romantic biographers flinched, evaded and stuttered, the Sterbas
find their richest material.  They are not content, for instance, with
the childish moralising by which other biographers sideline ?loose?
Johanna, and justify Beethoven?s violence towards her.  Most
importantly, by bringing the music back together with the rest of life,
they are able to give a rich picture of what was happening to the
composer during the period of 1813-17, and to show the connections
between the battles over Karl and the gestation of the late style.
Their portrait of a complex and contradictory human being, packed with
powerful drives that were, variously, antisocial, inadmissible, violent,
destructive, frustrated, nurturing, creative, generous and
transcendental ? is faithful both to his relationship with Karl and to
his music.  Beethoven?s relentless, violent and futile attempts to force
perfection out of an uncooperative world ? to turn Karl into something
that the poor boy did not desire and was incapable of achieving ? are
mirrored in the late music, but also resolved there, as ? unlike in real
life ? the curtains of fury, despair and chaos part, and what is
revealed is the breathtaking lyricism of transcendence.  What the
Sterbas tell us is that this musical achievement comes charged with
enormous threat and somehow, if we are to accept its legacy of beauty
and greatness, we have also to work out what to do with its attendant
destructiveness ? for the two are one and the same.

In 1995, four decades after the Sterbas? work, Mel Gibson?s production
company, Icon Productions, released a movie entitled Immortal Beloved,
which gave yet another version of Beethoven?s relations with Karl and
Johanna.  Directed by Bernard Rose and starring Gary Oldman, the film
began with the composer?s death and proceeded to follow his secretary on
a tour of Europe?s grandes dames while he tried to identify the intended
recipient of Beethoven?s famous letter.  Astonishingly, his quest
eventually led him back to the woman who had been under his nose all
along.  Johanna, the sister-in-law whom Beethoven had publicly attacked
and humiliated, the film pretended, was in fact the love of his life.
Immortal Beloved went further: Karl was not Beethoven?s nephew but his
own son, conceived during a brief and tumultuous liaison between the
composer and his brother?s wife.  This relationship was brought to an
end by a bungled rendezvous which convinced each of the lovers that the
other was not committed, and even after Beethoven?s brother died and all
obstacles to their love were removed, they spent the rest of their lives
mourning it ? a regret which on Beethoven?s side was expressed as
violence towards Johanna.  As this solution to the emotional mystery is
explained to us, we flash back to Beethoven as a young boy, and while
the euphoric strains of the Ninth Symphony play, we see him running away
from his drunk and abusive father to admire the light of a million stars
? and we finally understood that all his life he has been looking for a
normal family.

Immortal Beloved drastically reorganises the material of the previous
accounts we have seen.  The music is of no particular interest to this
narrative except as something Beethoven happens to do, a means to the
celebrity for which we remember him, a better-than-average soundtrack.
Beethoven does not talk about music ? for this film is essentially a
romantic drama, and it makes no organic connection between this drama
and music.  It is a simple drama, moreover, which has one clear solution
and does not require any more complex explanation: the reason for
Beethoven?s unhappiness is that he is prevented from settling down.  In
fact the film seems to be stalked by another possible Beethoven ? one
who did not bungle the meeting with Johanna, who managed successfully to
assemble a family around him, and who lived out his life in peace and
social respectability, writing his music without any of the chaotic
inefficiency of the man in this story.  This, then, is the opposite of
the Sterbas? account: far from a Beethoven whose extraordinary music is
wrought in the cauldron of ferocious, centrifugal impulses, Immortal
Beloved shows a Beethoven whose music is like a desk job and who, if
things had gone differently, could have been a great composer and a
normal family guy.  It seems to say that the stormy, antisocial persona
of the Romantic artist was simply contingent, the effect of unnecessary
personal accidents, and that the artistic product did not have to emerge
from all that disorder.  It imagines an efficient form of creative work
from which the threat and the chaos have been removed.

As biography, Immortal Beloved seems to be the least forceful of all the
accounts we have seen here.  In order to produce its fable of the
nuclear household it is forced to segregate the artistic and personal
aspects of Beethoven?s life that had been so powerfully brought together
in previous accounts, and indeed to ignore much of what is known about
the composer.  But if Immortal Beloved is unsatisfying biography, this
does not mean it is insignificant.  Quite the opposite.  Along with
other similar films emerging from Hollywood in the last twenty years,
Immortal Beloved is a symptom of a grand contemporary reconfiguration of
the idea of creativity and its relationship to social order.


The last great period of Western culture, the two centuries from about
1750, whose production is now taught to Western school children in the
hope that it will direct them to live lives of sanity, moderation and
productivity, often strayed very far from such values.  For many of the
writers, artists, composers and philosophers of that period, there was
something fanatical and irredeemably anti-social to what they did.
Their work was part of a tumult that also prominently featured murder,
suicide, terminal illness, madness, addiction, prostitution,
imprisonment, war, political oppression, self-mutilation, starvation and
vagrancy ? and left behind a great human wreckage of the failed,
disillusioned and abandoned.  This was not merely a ?style.?  When we
look at the suicide of Heinrich von Kleist, the self-mutilation of
Vincent Van Gogh or, at the end of the period, the death-dances of Jim
Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that
their chosen artistic terrains were full of peril, and that the enduring
intensity of their work is at least partially dependent on this
enormous, and potentially fatal, risk.

Somewhere around 1990, Hollywood began to accelerate its production of
the ever-popular biographical film (or ?biopic?).  Since that date,
feature films have been produced about: Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol,
Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pablo Picasso,
Oscar Wilde, Jackson Pollock, the Marquis de Sade, James Dean, Iris
Murdoch, Sylvia Plath, Cole Porter, Ray Charles, Frida Kahlo, Truman
Capote, Francisco Goya, Bob Dylan, Edith Piaf, Marvin Gaye, Salvador
Dal?, James Brown, Diane Arbus, Amedeo Modigliani, Ludwig van Beethoven,
Jim Morrison ? and the love affairs of Fr?d?ric Chopin and George Sand,
Alfred de Musset and George Sand, Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, T.S.
Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood, and Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine.
This is a list only of the films about cultural figures, and it is far
from complete.

It will be apparent that these are among the more turbulent of artistic
lives.  Most of them are characterised by drugs, disaster or suicide.
These are the lives that make the most dramatic films, of course:
Hollywood likes to cash in on the exotic danger presented by this
period?s great artists.  But these lives of excess that end in misery
and early death are also the ones that provide the best caution against
the artistic existence and point us, therefore, towards the possibility
of a cleaner way of doing things.


British cellist Jacqueline du Pr? (1945-87) rose to international fame
in her teens, and by her early twenties was a superstar of classical
music, married to another superstar, pianist and conductor Daniel
Barenboim.  Her career lasted until she was twenty-eight years old, when
it was cut off by the onset of multiple sclerosis.  After this her
appearances naturally decreased and in the public mind she became a
tragic figure, particularly in her home country, and particularly when
it became known that Barenboim had begun a relationship with another
women, who had given him two children.  Du Pr? died of pneumonia
connected to her disease.

Ten years after her death, her brother and sister, Piers and Hilary,
published a book about her.   Consisting largely of Hilary?s
reminiscences, it offered a portrait of a home-loving English girl whose
talent exploded beyond her own control, or that of her parents and
siblings ? and it described the measures that all five ? and their
partners ? were forced to take in order to accommodate its most
devastating consequences.

Everyone in the family, including Jacqueline, made almost unbearable
sacrifices to her cello playing, but it is Hilary?s sacrifices that were
perhaps the most sensational.  Three years older than Jacqueline,
Hilary?s musical talent blossomed earlier, and she became a talented
flautist.  But her flute playing ebbed and flowed in mysterious inverse
proportion to Jacqueline?s cello: she began to fumble and lose
confidence and, by the time of Jacqueline?s fame, she had almost
completely ceased to play as a soloist.  Later on, burned out from
travel, marriage and fame, and full of anti-depressants, Jacqueline left
Barenboim and the stage and came to stay in Hilary?s home in the English
countryside, where she usurped much of her sister?s existence.  She even
asked Hilary to surrender to her the favours of her husband, Kiffer
Finzi, a conductor, and for some time Jacqueline lived with her sister
in a fantasy of the settled life she had given up: sleeping with Kiffer
at night, playing with the children by day, and not touching her cello.
   Afterwards she packed up and returned to her husband and her career.

Genius in the Family is an extraordinarily dignified account of a
painful and taxing set of events.  It makes clear that Jacqueline?s
prodigious musical talent was also a fierce and antisocial power that
ripped apart the norms of the prudish English background from which she
came.  But it is written by two people who understand and care for the
musical force that extracts so much from them, and who understand that
their sister cannot shoulder it alone.  It is generous and forgiving
towards the most rapacious of Jacqueline?s excesses, and it is vivid and
passionate in its description of her energy at its brightest and most

"Jackie?s bid for independence was a time of exciting exploration for
her and she challenged life with explosive energy.  The full power of
her womanhood speedily emerged.  Great company, a brilliant mimic, with
a huge repertoire of crude jokes, she was by now electrifyingly sexy.
It appeared that every man she met fell in love with her.  She had
irresistible magnetism. [?]  In London [she] was quickly drawn into [a]
circle of musical friends, playing chamber music at [the home of Hugh
Maguire, leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra].  Jackie adored these
evenings of spontaneous music-making and her insatiable appetite and
energy for performing meant that she would often drag Stephen Kovacevich
[a pianist, and her lover at the time] round to Hugh?s house to play
through the night."

Piers and Hilary end their book with the quotation that supplies their
title, which they found in an unnamed book:

"No family should have less than three children.  If there is one genius
among them, there should be two to support him."

A year after Genius in the Family came out, a British film was released
with the title Hilary and Jackie, based loosely on the book.  Directed
by Anand Tucker, and starring Emily Watson as Jacqueline and Rachel
Griffiths as Hilary, the film?s tagline ? ?The true story of two sisters
who shared a passion, a madness and a man? ? is a good indication of its
prurient intent.  The book?s moving account of love and solidarity,
whose characters are incomplete and complex but not ?mad,? is rejected
in favour of a salacious account of social deviance ? in which terminal
disease comes as a solemn punishment.

With the exception of one scene of frenzied cello practice when she is a
child (when her motive is not to play music so much as to outshine her
more advanced, and more congratulated, sister) we do not see Jacqueline
alone with her music, and, as in Immortal Beloved, there is no earnest
attempt in the film to engage with this central current of the artist?s
life.  Music seems to be of no interest, even to her, except as an asset
with which other things can be acquired.  The Jacqueline of this film is
primarily a woman of excessive appetites whose talent is like a pair of
nice breasts that she flashes in order to get what she really wants:
men, fame and the surprising ability to generate applause and adoration
simply by walking into a room.  She and Barenboim play music together
with calculating suggestiveness, as if music were not its own end but
merely a corridor to the bedroom.  We see nothing of Jacqueline?s stage
performances except their last exhibitionistic note, after which she
basks like a self-satisfied toddler in the wave of applause.  If she had
been a famous tennis player it could have been exactly the same film.

Since we are given no understanding of the grinding intensity of musical
work, since we are offered no sense of its slow and uncertain
development over hours, months and years, since fame is simply another
inevitable and light-hearted acquisition that turns up in Du Pr??s life
with a few newspaper headlines ? it is entirely bewildering why,
suddenly, she is taking drugs, running naked and hysterical through the
countryside and threatening suicide.  With the power of the musical
terrain subtracted from her life and from that of her sister, they
appear to be deranged ? they do indeed seem to ?share a madness? ? and
we are left with a bewildering film about celebrity bed-hopping, with
all the characters? motivations removed.  Without music, Jacqueline du
Pr? is a superficial narcissist who has unwisely chosen to pursue a life
of glamour with a cosmopolitan Jewish jetsetter who does not understand
the meaning of home; she is a voracious psychopath who tries to steal a
home from her sister since she cannot make one herself.  Multiple
sclerosis, when it comes, seems to be the gods? fitting punishment for a
woman who wants everything and gives nothing.  A gory gloating replaces
what in Hilary and Piers? book was a sensitive and profound reflection
on infirmity and decline: it is only when Jacqueline is finally turned
into useless wreckage that the moral balance is restored and the film
can celebrate the abstractions she leaves behind ? the celebrity, the
sound track ? the commodities that will now circulate with greater
velocity because of this very film.

Hilary and Jackie is a parable of the ill-advisedness of the artist?s
life: it sees only self-indulgence in the extravagances of those who
would call themselves ?artists.?  Like Immortal Beloved, the film seems
to view the artist?s life from the perspective of rationalised,
twenty-first century cultural production: approving of the mobile
commodity, and disapproving of the social and moral disorder with which
it is produced.  Further than this, it is a rejection of the informal
networks through which artists have traditionally sustained themselves
and their creativity.  Hilary and Jackie, unlike A Genius in the Family,
cannot express the dignity of the relationships between Jacqueline and
her siblings.  The book shows Hilary and Jacqueline united almost as a
single organism, where the economy of forces that is usually internal to
one human being is so magnified that it must be spread out over two and
more.  It shows that the music that flows ultimately from the strings of
Jacqueline?s cello is in fact driven by a large, communal human engine
in which Hilary, Piers and Kiffer are all essential components.  But the
deep relations between all these individuals ? of unacceptable demands
and unconditional generosity ? are too troubling and unconventional for
the film to represent.  The figure of Kiffer Finzi, who supplies a
powerful spiritual force to the book, becomes in the film a pathetic
figure, trapped between two perverted sisters and driven against his
will to social and sexual trespass:

Jackie: [Discovered naked, muddy and raving in the woods by Hilary,
trying to open her wrists with a stick] All I want is a fucking fuck for
fuck?s sake!

[Cut to Hilary and Kiffer drinking wine at home.]

Kiffer:	No.  No.
Hilary:	We have to.
K:	No we don?t have to.  Why would we have to?  Why would anyone have to?
H:	Because she?s my sister.
K:	[Pouring himself another drink] Yes well I think you?ll find that
this is not the kind of thing sisters normally ask one another.
H:	Because I?m scared.
K:	Yes well she doesn?t scare me.
H:	I?m sure it would just be the once.
K: 	[Spluttering into drink] Just the once, uh?  [Sarcastic] Any
particular position?
H:	She just needs proof.
K:	[Very agitated] Proof of what, for God?s sake Hills?
H:	Proof that somebody loves her.

The unconventional communities that so many artists have created around
themselves as the necessary condition for their art have no place in a
biopic like Hilary and Jackie, and they can only be rendered as insanity
and perversion.

Hilary and Jackie?s story of a warped artist and her dysfunctional
community reads like a kind of myth ? by historical counter-example ? of
the corporation.  Such old-fashioned artists? communities, it seems to
say, are destructive, antisocial and difficult to understand, and
Jacqueline?s death-relief provides a vacant space into which the
corporation can move ? a better, more efficient and less perverted form
of production that will neither require nor tolerate her
irrationalities.   Just as the film holds out the hope of a more
disciplined and dependable cultural worker, therefore, it also points
towards a better mode of cultural production, where the unwholesome
artist?s community is replaced by a rationalised, global system.


That the great artists of modern Western culture managed to produce what
they did, despite the danger and intensity of their effort, was due in
large part to improvised social forms built around close-knit networks
where thought and affect circulated with high velocity, and where it was
possible to try out forms of non-conventional human relationships that
would not destroy, nor be destroyed by, a life of art.  Beethoven, Van
Gogh, James Joyce, the young Picasso ? the list of those whose work was
only made possible by the uncalculating financial assistance of
relatives or patrons would be long, while the intellectual and spiritual
contribution made by friends, family, associates and lovers ? as we have
seen in the case of Jacqueline du Pr? ? would be impossible to overstate.

In the second half of the twentieth century, many of the functions of
these networks were taken over in Europe by institutions (government
funding bodies, universities, museums, etc) and much of their excessive
feeling was neutralised.  This was only a small part of a general
process of the time: the absorption of human emotion into bureaucratic
channels, and the emergence of a social coolness, an efficiency of
feeling.  For this new era, the memory of the earlier period of artistic
rapture and despair was a little embarrassing, and it could only be
acknowledged as pastiche or irony.  Keats or Byron became melodramatic
poseurs, the Dadaists under-employed pranksters, and so on.  Through
grants and residencies the new artist was integrated into the processes
of mass society, and these old, excessive communities were largely
broken up.

At this stage in the twenty-first century, we are in the middle of
another large-scale restructuring of ideas of creativity and culture.
As one of the most significant generators of image and value,
?creativity? now has become a critical resource for the global economic
engine.  What creativity is, and how it can be systematised and
circulated, are therefore urgent questions of contemporary capitalist
organisation.  As cultural producers are thrust into the full intensity
of globally dispersed, just-in-time production, new images of creative
inspiration and output are required that sit tidily within the
systematised processes of the global market.  These processes give no
space for ?blind? support for artists ? investment without any knowledge
of the ultimate returns ? or for the unpredictable energy of artistic
?inspiration?, which may result in ?fallow periods? of months or even
years.  Even the model of public funding, which allowed some of these
inefficiencies, is therefore inadequate, and the entire field must be
reviewed and re-formed.  Creativity must be rendered comprehensible,
transparent and rational: there can be none of the destructive excesses
evident in the lives of many of the greatest artists of European
history, and none of the ad hoc, non-replicable personal situations ? a
lover here, a sister there.  Creativity must circulate cleanly and
quickly, and it should leave no dirty remainder.

A recent biography of a brilliant and unruly writer, declared in its
introduction, ?Vidia Naipaul, born in rural poverty in colonial Trinidad
in 1932, would rise from this unpromising setting to become one of the
great writers of the twentieth century.  This achievement does not mean
that all his writing was good, or that his behaviour was exemplary??
Traditionally, as we have seen in this essay, biographers of great
artists have not been too concerned if their subjects were guilty of
less-than-exemplary behaviour; in fact such behaviour has often been a
guarantee of the artist?s merit.  The embarrassment that this biographer
displays about the antisocial behaviour of his chosen subject is a
product of the sterner, more impatient attitude towards artistic
excesses that is emerging in our era of corporate creativity.  The
Romantic idea of the artistic genius who has responsibility to nothing
except his or her art has exhausted its usefulness and another, far more
disciplined character has come into play.  The artist?s biopic is
possibly the most prominent form by which this revision of previous
ideas of the artist is taking place.  Fundamental to its approach is the
separation of what, in the lives of Ludwig van Beethoven and Jacqueline
du Pr?, were inseparable: the greatness of their art, and its
destructive effects in their lives.  For what interests Hollywood, and
the market in general, is not creativity as a complex human process,
weighed down in bodies and relationships and empty days, but creativity
as an abstraction, free of irrationality and pain, and light enough to
hover like a great logo above the continents.

In order to arrive at such a standardised, manageable conception of
creativity, much previous knowledge about this field of human activity
must be sacrificed.  Immortal Beloved is a less good version of
Beethoven?s late music than most of the versions that preceded it, and
Hilary and Jackie preserves none of the complexity or insight of A
Genius in the Family.  Perhaps, as the logic of systematised production
occupies the terrain of human creativity more completely, we will reach
a stage where we surrender all knowledge about this troubling domain,
and it will become entirely alien to us.  Creativity will be like
nature, which once we knew, before it was subjected to systems of
control and we lost hold of that knowledge.  Now we look at nature with
anxiety and bewilderment, and we fear what terrible assaults might erupt
from it tomorrow.  Perhaps one day we will be terrified of what
explosive dangers might rise up from the creativity of human beings.


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