When is a theatre company not a theatre company?
The thought provoking and talented contribution to the creative life of the UK and beyond, made by companies such as Graeae, whose disabled and deaf artists and directors gave us such magical extravaganza’s as the opening ceremony for the Para-Olympics, could be squeezed by new constraints on government funding.
Whilst I accept that there is no limitless funding resource that the government can make available for people with disability, especially in times of national hardship, it seems to me that the government coalition’s rhetoric (both Conservative and Liberal Democratic) is in danger of being empty and unconvincing. Both parties represented in the current government present themselves as passionately inclusive but the slashing of disability allowances is shouting louder than their words and calling their integrity into question. There are two points I’d like to make in commentary.
- Firstly we enhance and empower our society and ourselves in proportion to the extent that we enhance the quality of, and empower the engagement with, opportunities for disabled and deaf people to play a meaningful role in society. The reason for this is that they are us and it is time we made room for the deaf and disabled amongst us. Very often deaf and disabled people yearn to invest their talents and capabilities and we would be the beneficiaries of their competence, not only because of what they give us, scientific expertise, sporting inspiration and entertainment, people skills in government and politics and extraordinary creative flair, but also because they raise our heads above self-absorption forcing us to extend our comprehension of what it is to be human and expanding our capacity to be kind (though not pitying).
- Secondly, many deaf and disabled people are reliant on exactly the same assistance all of us require. My contribution to the community has depended on me finding the right niche in which to develop and exercise my talents, a kind of charity with a small c, firstly as an art director and secondly as a philosopher and teacher. Deaf and disabled people are variously capable and confident, but in this particular sense the are not different. Every human person needs a niche in which they can flourish and benefit others. All of us, however talented or competitive, are in some way indebted to the people who spotted our potential, nurtured our self-belief and gave us a chance to try. Don’t let’s ignore the debt all of us have to the seen or unseen assistance we got and the breaks we needed to enable us to find our feet in the world.
Guaranteed success is earned. A chance to earn success should be an equal opportunity ideal which is not just a glib political mantra.
Take a look at some of the talent here… they don’t want any more than the rest of us, they want to earn success.
I’m off to Oświęcim soon
I’m off to Oświęcim soon,
I’ve been warned, and get to make my own way there-
I won’t be selecting portable wealth
Or be selected for my work-worthiness,
I expect to return though not unchanged-
Asking how, when dust and gas and fear has settled,
Rice fields, Wheat plains, Rocky Ravines, Grassy Uplands;
History’s killing terrain.
Doctors, Lawyers, Policemen and Teachers;
This story, like the others, cannot be forgot.
We dare not.
No excuse excuses the slaughter of the innocents, so
Don’t look away.
I’m off to Oświęcim soon
I’ve been warned, and get to make my own way there-
I’m off to Oświęcim soon © Peter Giles
I have accepted the 201 blogging challenge which suggests that writers need to be clearer about what they want to achieve.
This is not easy however especially as I have three primary goals. I’ve broken it down therefore into a threefold vision for my two blogs and then three specific targets one for each. One of the outcomes that I can already see being of benefit is finding out whether I need three separate bogs not two. My vision, all my aspirations and goals entail me getting on my soapbox and being heard.
My blogs are of course
https://thequestioningbeing.wordpress.com/ (Philosophy and Art)
http://thenonsensefilter.wordpress.com/ (A Novel and creative writing)
I am creative, in particular an artist and songwriter, and wish to develop my creativity in full view of an audience. I am also a philosopher writing a PhD thesis which I wish to test against the experiences of real people for that is what phenomenology is… the philosophy of experience. In addition to these aspirations I am writing a novel which combines wit, philosophy and travel. I want it to become a publishable novel not just a home hobby.
My threefold vision
1 Develop a wide audience for my songwriting and identify how well it communicates
2 Present my philosophical thesis to an audience who can test it against their own lives prior to submission and publishing
3 Write my Novel ‘The Nonsense Filter’ and prepare it convincingly for publishing as a book; with Vintage I hope
My threefold aspirations
Be a respected songwriter; people will sing my songs
Gain my PhD and participate in academic discourse
Publish my Novel the Nonsense Filter
My three goals
1 Increase the daily views and likes of my songs by 50% by December 31st
2 Increase the views and comments on my Philosophical Posts by 60% by December 31st
3 Gain 40 more followers who read the Nonsense Filter because they need their daily dose by December 31st
If I achieve these goals I won’t need additional Christmas presents (but don’t tell my family)
Mary Beard reminds me of a doughty campaigner, a veteran who’s got the enemy on the run, and even though wounded, is not going to retire until the rout is complete. I hope she carries on. For my money she strikes at the heart of machismo and misogyny, with the following question; ‘Was oratory then really so safely masculine?’ The answer is no.
One has only to look around the world to see that the cruellest of tyrants is the tyrant whose unassailable superiority is in doubt, and consequently assailable. Certain Caesars, certain Kings of England, Russian Tsars and Russian General Secretaries, and on and on.
The myth of male superiority has for too long buttressed itself in similar fashion. The myth of superior male communication has also been perpetuated forcibly, sometimes in verbal put-downs at other times with more aggressive tactics; and the strategy? ‘Shout loud argument weak’. As Mary ably showed, when fine words are attributed to women we often find posterity, in the form of male revisionism, reshapes woman in man’s image. Shame.
My thanks to Professor Beard is far from ironic, she has indeed made available some much-needed old-fashioned consciousness-raising about what we mean by the voice of authority and how we’ve come to construct it. (Please overlook the hyper-hyphenation-inflation here).
What makes a person authoritative? Where does their right to be heard reside? In the New Testament, not so far removed from the ancient world she describes, and as part of his advice to his younger colleague Timothy, the Apostle Paul forbids a woman to speak. ‘I do not permit a woman to teach’ he explains. Whether or not this raised a particular injunction against a particular woman of dubious theology, and whether or not this is merely a temporary injunction, there is little doubt that many male teachers have utilised it as a blanket ban on female contributions to serious theological and pastoral teaching. Tertullian, the 2nd century theologian once asked, in a characteristically uncompromising polemic against heresy, ‘What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” To put it as crudely as she has been forced to by her interlocutors, Mary Beard provides a polemic against corrupting influences of a different kind which may be summed up in the following question; “What do genetalia have to do with spoken authority?” Of course all kinds of crude innuendos may be offered in response, let’s side-step them. The answer to my mind is twofold; firstly authority has nothing to do with physical or psychological gender and secondly we impoverish society if we fail to overturn this falsehood.
I would like to offer two examples to my mind of women who wield words to powerful effect. Virginia Woolf, whose blistering indictment against the hollow patronisation of women by men who create her image to suit their ends can be found chrystalised in A Room of One’s Own. There she writes, ‘Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days’. In fact many do; I think of the writing of Margaret Atwood, Anita Shreve, Ayn Rand, Irène Némirovsky, Kate Atkinson, and Audrey Niffennegger. As I re-read Woolf’s polemic against male domination it reinforces the point I made earlier about male vulnerability. Man, or to be accurate, some men, want a woman he can worship without having to bow down. He wants a woman he can control –construct and dismiss –so he must resort to the worship of fictitious women. Virginia Woolf laments the plight of Judith Shakespeare. How broad is the shadow cast by a man’s expansionism, how easily overshadowed are invisible real women. And there I am afraid is Mary’s first mistake. She keeps on being real.
So much for the written word. I am pleased that women are less frequently forced to write as men writing. What about the spoken word? Last night I listen enraptured and cowed even, by the forthright and forcible rhetoric of Jess Green and her poetic polemic against Michael Gove. Of course my analysis of her speech is coloured by my own sympathies. Nevertheless, I am glad not to be on the receiving end of her reasoned, impassioned, authoritative practitioner’s invective. The power of her oratory argument, has deservedly become an internet sensation and can be found here…
What has gender to do with spoken authority? Nothing. It has to do with truth, relevance, reason and passion. I find these in many men. I also find them in equal measure in women such as Mary Beard, Jess Green, Aung San Suu Kyi, Julie Arliss, Mary Jane Drummond, Anne Widdecombe and Malala Yousafzai to name a few. Thank you to you all; please keep on challenging us to debate.
I want to finish by going back to the bible… well approximately. Given the opportunity to get out and see a film by a kind volunteer babysitter we went and watched ‘Noah’s Ark’. Critical as I was, as you’d expect a film-loving philosophical theology graduate to be I nevertheless liked its raw edges and primitivism. Too often the Old Testament is sanitised, however that’s another story. I also enjoyed a fiery speech given by Naameh (Jennifer Connelly: Noah’s wife) and a gentle rebuke given by Ila (Emma Watson as Noah’s adopted daughter). These women were not powerful in their speeches because they were beautiful, though I am glad of that. They were powerful because they spoke with truth, relevance, reason and passion. The great man Noah was like all men who would be great, indebted to the great women around them, J. S. Mill at least had the honesty to admit it. Hurrah for Mary Beard.
A reasoned and provocative defence for the place of Religious Education in UK schools is well made by Tom Bennett. RE, or RS does not teach students to be religious but to evaluate religion. Perhaps no child would need this skill if they were not surrounded by religion and its impact on the world, or if there were satisfactory evidence, universally accepted, indicating which religion was true or that none was.
He writes in the Times Educational Supplement magazine on 21st March contending that it is inadvisable to allow the subject to be marginalised. It seems to me that successive governments look askance at South Korea or Finland and are seduced by their educational successes. Society’s contemporary fixation with purposive thinking, new atheism, or skills based education, motivates many to negate this subject’s legitimacy.
‘Nothing could be more dangerous, nothing more nurturing of fundamentalism and misunderstanding’ writes Bennett, than jettisoning RE. ‘The study of religion wrestles with aspects of human existence that are unavoidable.’ As an RS teacher, in the classroom I have welcomed students of particular faiths or none, students that are speculative about faith or working out their humanist stance on life. I offer a safe and challenging environment in which that can happen. Where else can you learn discernment, articulate moral puzzlement or question your own existence?
Whilst religion should be entitled to respect it needs to earn that respect; as Bennett insists, ‘teaching religion formally in school permits us to drag dogma into the harsh light of comparative study, where believers and non-believers alike are forced to confront the origins of their spiritual axioms.’ As his capable article provokes us to see, how are students to be equipped to evaluate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or indeed any other, unless faith is a carefully scrutinised component? What is the alternative to informed evaluation?
He rightly challenges the critic in a way that is timely, for education is now remitted to parent children, teach them cyber safety, good nutrition, emotional literacy, and sexual responsibility alongside academic study. Nothing but ignorance blooms in the darkness however. When children learn about religion and faith together sharing the same room they recognise not only that people have different values, but why. ‘Child marriage; creationism; jihad; just war; the purpose of our lives; immigration; charity; abortion; the role of reason and the senses in appreciating truth: where else are these subjects explored in the curriculum?… Like most subjects, RE is easy to teach badly. Taught well, it is almost essential.’
It is impossible to understand literature, or history, or the birth, adolescence and death of civilisations, without understanding the impact of faith. It is, I believe, impossible to understand how the world works without understanding religion. I hope RE and RS will continue to be allowed to justify their existence and throw light on ours.
It seems to me that one of the highest accolades a person can receive occurs when enemies and opponents share alike in acknowledging that person’s integrity and honesty. Today Tony Ben, died at the age of 88 having been a towering, and divisive figure in British politics, an undoubted force for change, and a skilled political archivist. On the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, Tony Benn was remembered and there, in a recorded interview he remarked, “Believe what you say and say what you believe this is authenticity.” Though his identity as an orator who rejected ‘spin’, a privileged campaigner for the disadvantaged, an oxford graduate given to plain-talking, a stubborn socialist and committed family man will receive close scrutiny and continue to reveal his capacity to divide opinion, the quote above shows how he appropriated the world. The criterion that truth is better than approval, and conviction more worthy than advancement, give us an insight into his identity-sense.
I once took some sixth form students to a politics conference at Westminster Central Hall. I had been excited to hear at last this maddening hero of mine and cautioned them to listen carefully to this veteran fighter in the toughest of arenas. My students, Independently educated and divided on his views, were by the end of his talk sufficiently impressed by this servant of humanity to go and get his autograph on my behalf. I acknowledge the criticisms of Tony Benn, there will be many, he would acknowledge he made mistakes, in fact he suspected he had made them all and learned by them; nevertheless I will cherish that signature and regret his passing.