A lovely article over at The New Criterion on the dangers of pundits – well worth a read as it rambles amiably around various topics. The last few paragraphs (copied below) caught my attention in particular, mostly because of the larger issues being discussed but also because (of less importance) they chime with my own views on our tendancy in design education to invite ‘experts’ in to talk, only to listen as they spout forth rubbish or even contradict everything you’ve been saying to students yourself. But because they are ‘experts’ you can guess who students are more likely to believe! (It doesn’t help that the trend is for guest speakers to come in and say something controversial like ‘don’t use sketchbooks’ or ‘everything you learn at university is pointless’). Brian Eno recently gave a speech on the ‘wisdom’ of letting artists teach art that I keep meaning to write about. Maybe later today.
Pundits & panjandrums by Anthony Daniels: “(Gunther) Grass predicted that the old and gracious buildings of Calcutta would disappear and yield to hovels as the city grew ever poorer, ever more desperate. (He also seemed to think this was a good thing, because hovels were authentic. “Once back in Germany,” he wrote, “[I] measure everything, myself included, by Calcutta.”)
Well, he was right about the disappearance of the gracious buildings, but quite wrong about the reasons for it. Next to the place I stayed in Calcutta was a wonderful old Indo-Palladian villa, literally falling into ruins before one’s eyes. To enter it was to risk death by stucco. There was one protected tenant still living in it – I could watch her at night through the dilapidated shutters moving about in the crumbling interior – but the owner wanted the building to collapse utterly so that he could avoid the city’s preservation regulations without having to pay too great a bribe to the regulators, and build a block of luxury apartments on the site instead. He would make a fortune, even if it meant the city became even uglier. Increasing wealth, not poverty, now threatens to destroy the city’s architectural heritage, a process that was started by demagogic pseudo-egalitarian regulation.
Of course, there is no gain without loss. You don%u2019t have to be an inveterate anti-globalist to have reservations, mainly of an aesthetic nature, about India’s headlong rush into modernity. Calcutta now has shopping malls, and its middle class can’t wait to consume western gewgaws (usually manufactured by the
cheap labor of the East) that are grossly inferior, aesthetically, to India’s own traditional productions. One of the great pleasures of India used to be its comparative immunity to the cultural hegemony – to coin a phrase – of Anglo-American pop music, but not only does its own popular music increasingly approximate that horrible and savage noise, but its shopping malls positively throb with it. Sensitive Indians themselves are alarmed by the process, though they know that it is unstoppable and that their country’s indefinable charms – as well as its more easily defined horrors – will inevitably yield to it.
It will take some time, and the old and new India will coexist for years to come. Emerging from a Calcutta shopping mall, where consumerism reigned in all its garish vulgarity, I noticed a large placard attached to the nearest lamppost: Female foeticide is illegal.
Once in India, I saw a holy cow grazing on a pile of computer printout. But there is no denying that globalization is lifting Indian cities from the most abject poverty (the countryside might be different, I don’t know), even if at the cost of a loss of aesthetic refinement.
The duty of intellectuals is to spell out proper distinctions as clearly and honestly as possible. The condition of being a pundit stands in the way of this, for it lends authority to a person rather than to evidence and argument. (Appropriately enough, ‘pundit’ is a word of Indian origin referring to a Brahmin who knows the Sanskrit prayers that accompany the arcane rituals of Hindu puja, or prayer. I once asked a highly educated Indian friend of mine to explain the prayers and ritual to me at a wedding, to which he replied, “I don’t know, it’s all Greek to me.”)”