This blog contains book reviews, comments on interesting things and a smattering of self promotion. Enjoy.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Some things to worry about....

So, the new government has announced cuts in many areas. It's a recession; cuts are a necessary unpleasantness, and unsurprisingly nobody wants to be on the receiving end. The Socialist Worker Party has been putting up posters imploring people to protest against the cuts, but what's the alternative? Spending at the same rate in spite of our huge national debt?

So what am I worried about? At the moment, two things. The cuts to arts organizations, and the possibility of unlimited tuition fees at universities. If these changes come into place it will be too late to affect my degree, and despite the possibility that I might choose to return to university for a Masters, it's not for myself that I worry.

I have an uneasy feeling that, in a higher education culture which increasingly values business skills and employability over more traditional academic traits, it is the Arts and Humanities over which the sword of Damocles hangs poised, particularly the more purely academic subjects. Why study Literature when Media offers more employability options?

And combined with the cuts to funding for the arts, it offers the possibility of a particularly bleak future. A future where higher education costs at least twenty-one thousand pounds, and the more prestigious institutions cost much more. Where the already rich can afford the education it takes to make their way into politics and big business. In this distopia, no arts would ever be banned. They would merely die out with a whimper, financially unviable.

Obviously I don't believe things would really get this bad, but the arts which require a lot of funding, such as film, music, and most of the visual arts, could suffer badly. Obviously pop music (which I use in the broadest possible sense, to mean anything other than Classical and perhaps the more high-brow forms of jazz) will survive and probably even thrive. It is at once a multi million pound industry and a modern day equivelant to folk music, the music of the people. As ever, some of it will be very good, and some of it will be very bad. Street art could also do very well, and the often anti-authoritarian dialogue it presents will be particularly suited to the tough times ahead.

Where does literature fit into this? On the one hand the materials are relatively cheap, as are the books which must fuel the engine of any writer, and while publishing can still be relatively expensive, the advent of home printers and the internet make it easier than ever for your work to reach a wider audience. However, there is not much money in poetry, the short story or even the more literary novel, the changes in university funding mean that it will become increasingly difficult for people to study literature. The accessibility of electronic self publishing is also has its less attractive points. The internet is a big place, with no quality control, and obscurity is the curse of the blogger.

The arts have some difficult times ahead, and I think what literature needs is to learn from the unsigned band and the street artist. We need to develop a DIY culture which encourages good quality work, links to the great conversation of long dead poets, dramatist, authors, journalists and philosophers, but is also ready to experiment and carry that conversation forward into new directions. Of course, how we achieve this is another question...