The great swindle

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The great swindle

Artist Jeff Koons with sculpture. Photo by Bob Adelman/Corbis

From pickled sharks to compositions in silence, fake ideas and fake emotions have elbowed out truth and beauty

Roger Scruton is a writer, philosopher and public commentator. His most recent book is Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England (2012).

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A high culture is the self-consciousness of a society. It contains the works of art, literature, scholarship and philosophy that establish a shared frame of reference among educated people. High culture is a precarious achievement, and endures only if it is underpinned by a sense of tradition, and by a broad endorsement of the surrounding social norms. When those things evaporate, as inevitably happens, high culture is superseded by a culture of fakes.

Faking depends on a measure of complicity between the perpetrator and the victim, who together conspire to believe what they don’t believe and to feel what they are incapable of feeling. There are fake beliefs, fake opinions, fake kinds of expertise. There is also fake emotion, which comes about when people debase the forms and the language in which true feeling can take root, so that they are no longer fully aware of the difference between the true and the false. Kitsch is one very important example of this. The kitsch work of art is not a response to the real world, but a fabrication designed to replace it. Yet both producer and consumer conspire to persuade each other that what they feel in and through the kitsch work of art is something deep, important and real.

Anyone can lie. One need only have the requisite intention — in other words, to say something with the intention to deceive. Faking, by contrast, is an achievement. To fake things you have to take people in, yourself included. In an important sense, therefore, faking is not something that can be intended, even though it comes about through intentional actions. The liar can pretend to be shocked when his lies are exposed, but his pretence is merely a continuation of his lying strategy. The fake really is shocked when he is exposed, since he had created around himself a community of trust, of which he himself was a member. Understanding this phenomenon is, it seems to me, integral to understanding how a high culture works, and how it can become corrupted.

We are interested in high culture because we are interested in the life of the mind, and we entrust the life of the mind to institutions because it is a social benefit. Even if only a few people are capable of living this life to the full, we all benefit from its results, in the form of knowledge, technology, legal and political understanding, and the works of art, literature and music that evoke the human condition and also reconcile us to it. Aristotle went further, identifying contemplation (theoria) as the highest goal of mankind, and leisure (schole) as the means to it. Only in contemplation, he suggested, are our rational needs and desires properly fulfilled. Kantians might prefer to say that in the life of the mind we reach through the world of means to the kingdom of ends. We leave behind the routines of instrumental reasoning and enter a world in which ideas, artefacts and expressions exist for their own sake, as objects of intrinsic value. We are then granted the true homecoming of the spirit. Such seems to be implied by Friedrich Schiller, in his Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794). Similar views underlie the German romantic view of Bildung: self-cultivation as the goal of education and the foundation of the university curriculum.

The life of the mind has its intrinsic methods and rewards. It is concerned with the true, the beautiful and the good, which between them define the scope of reasoning and the goals of serious enquiry. But each of those goals can be faked, and one of the most interesting developments in our educational and cultural institutions over the past half century is the extent to which fake culture and fake scholarship have driven out the true varieties. It is important to ask why.

The most important way of clearing intellectual space for fake scholarship and culture is to marginalise the concept of truth. This looks difficult at first. After all, every utterance, every discussion, seems to be aimed at truth by its very nature. How can knowledge come to us, if we are indifferent to the truth of what we read? But this is too simple. There is a way of debating that disregards the truth of another’s words, since it is concerned to diagnose them, to discover ‘where they are coming from’, and to reveal the emotional, moral and political attitudes that underlie a given choice of words. The habit of ‘going behind’ your opponent’s words stems from Karl Marx’s theory of ideology, which tells us that, in bourgeois conditions, concepts, habits of thought and ways of seeing the world are adopted because of their socio-economic function, not their truth. The idea of justice, for instance, which sees the world in terms of rights and responsibilities and assigns ownership and obligations across society, was dismissed by early Marxists as a piece of bourgeois ‘ideology’. The ideological purpose of the concept is to validate ‘bourgeois relations of production’ which, from another perspective, can be seen to violate the very requirements that the concept of justice lays down. Therefore, the concept of justice is in conflict with itself, and serves merely to mask a social reality that has to be understood in other terms — in terms of the powers to which people are subject, rather than the rights that they claim.

The Marxist theory of ideology is extremely contentious, not least because it is tied to socio-economic hypotheses that are no longer believable. However, it survives in the work of Michel Foucault, and other intellectuals, notably in The Order of Things (1966) and in his witty essays on the origins of the prison and the mad-house. These are exuberant exercises in rhetoric, full of paradoxes and historical fabrications, sweeping the reader along with a kind of facetious indifference to the standards of rational argument. Instead of argument, Foucault sees ‘discourse’; in the place of truth he sees power. In Foucault’s view, all discourse gains acceptance by expressing, fortifying and concealing the power of those who maintain it; and those who, from time to time, perceive this fact are invariably imprisoned as criminals or locked away as mad — a fate that Foucault himself unaccountably avoided.

They illustrate a peculiar kind of academic Newspeak: each sentence is curled round like an in-growing toe-nail, hard, ugly, and pointing only to itself

Foucault’s approach reduces culture to a power-game, and scholarship to a kind of refereeing in the endless ‘struggle’ between oppressed and oppressing groups. The shift of emphasis from the content of an utterance to the power that speaks through it leads to a new kind of scholarship, which by-passes entirely questions of truth and rationality, and can even reject those questions as themselves ideological.

The pragmatism of the late American philosopher Richard Rorty is of similar effect. It expressly set itself against the idea of objective truth, giving a variety of arguments for thinking that truth is a negotiable thing, that what matters in the end is which side you are on. If a doctrine is useful in the struggle that liberates your group, then you are entitled to dismiss the alternatives.

Whatever you think of Foucault and Rorty, there is no doubt that they were intelligent writers and genuine scholars with a distinctive vision of reality. They opened the way to fakes but were not fakes themselves. Matters are quite otherwise with many of their contemporaries. Consider the following sentence:
This is not just its situation ‘in principle’ (the one it occupies in the hierarchy of instances in relation to the determinant instance: in society, the economy) nor just its situation ‘in fact’ (whether, in the phase under consideration, it is dominant or subordinate) but the relation of this situation in fact to this situation in principle, that is, the very relation which makes of this situation in fact a ‘variation’ of the — ‘invariant’ — structure, in dominance, of the totality.

Or this:
… it is the connexion between signifier and signifier that permits the elision in which the signifier installs the lack-of-being in the object relation using the value of ‘reference back’ possessed by signification in order to invest it with the desire aimed at the very lack it supports.

Those sentences are from the French philosopher Louis Althusser and the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan respectively. These authors emerged from the revolutionary ferment of Paris in 1968 to achieve an astonishing reputation, not least in America, where between them they run up more references in the academic literature than Kant and Goethe combined. Yet it is surely clear that these sentences are nonsense. Their claims to scholarship and erudite knowledge intimidate the critic and maintain fortified defences against critical assault. They illustrate a peculiar kind of academic Newspeak: each sentence is curled round like an in-growing toe-nail, hard, ugly, and pointing only to itself.

The fake intellectual invites you to conspire in his own self-deception, to join in creating a fantasy world. He is the teacher of genius, you the brilliant pupil. Faking is a social activity in which people act together to draw a veil over unwanted realities and encourage each other in the exercise of their illusory powers. The arrival of fake thought and fake scholarship in our universities should not therefore be attributed to any explicit desire to deceive. It has come about through the complicit opening of territory to the propagation of nonsense. Nonsense of this kind is a bid to be accepted. It asks for the response: by God, you are right, it is like that. And if you have earned your academic career by learning to push around the nonsensical mantras of the impostors, combining them in the impenetrable syntax that hoodwinks the person who composes it as much as the person who reads it, no doubt you will react indignantly to everything I have said so far and cease to read further.

It could be argued that the rise of fake scholarship and fake philosophy matters little. Such things can be contained within the university, which is their natural home, and make little difference to the lives of ordinary people. When we think of high culture and its importance, we tend to think not of scholarship and philosophy but of art, literature and music — activities that are only accidentally connected to the university, and that influence the quality of life and the goals of people outside the academy.

Art achieved a new importance during the Romantic period. As religion lost its emotional grip, the posture of aesthetic distance promised an alternative route to the meaning of the world. For the Romantics, the work of art was the result of a unique and irreplaceable experience, containing a revelation, distilled through individual effort and artistic genius, of a meaning unique to itself. The cult of genius gave art a new place at the centre of intellectual life, with academic subjects such as art history and musicology arising alongside literary criticism and the study of poetics. Together they lent credibility to the fine arts as subjects of study, as well as gateways to another kind of knowledge — knowledge of the heart. Important in all this was the sense of the artwork as an original gesture, a revelation of a unique personality, who had broken through all conventional forms of expression to provide a direct experience of the inner self.

The cult of genius therefore led to an emphasis on originality as the test of artistic genuineness — the thing that distinguishes true art from fake. Alhough it is hard to say in general terms what originality consists in, examples such as Titian, Rembrandt, Corot, Matisse and Gauguin; such as JS Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, and Schoenberg; such as Shakespeare, Diderot, Goethe and Kleist enabled both critics and artists to grasp the general idea of it. The one thing those examples ought to teach us is that originality is hard: it cannot be snatched from the air, even if natural prodigies such as Rimbaud and Mozart seem to do just that. Originality requires learning, hard work, the mastery of a medium, but most of all the refined sensibility and openness to experience that has suffering and solitude as its normal cost.

French painter Henri Matisse at his home, the villa "Le Rêve" in 1944. Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum

Strangely enough, the fake art endorsed by our museums and galleries today arose from the fear of fake art: fleeing from one kind of fake, artists created another. It began with the modernists, who worked in direct reaction against the sentimental art of their day. The early modernists — Stravinsky and Schoenberg in music, Eliot and Yeats in poetry, Gauguin and Matisse in painting, Loos and Voysey in architecture — were united in the belief that popular taste had become corrupted, that banality and kitsch had invaded the spheres of art and eclipsed their messages. Tonal harmonies had been trivialised by popular music; figurative painting trumped by photography; rhyme and meter was the stuff of Christmas cards; the stories had been too often told. Everything out there, in the world of naive and unthinking people, was kitsch.

Modernism attempted to rescue the sincere, the truthful, the arduously achieved, from the plague of fake emotion. No one can doubt that the early modernists succeeded in this enterprise, endowing us with great works of art that keep the human spirit alive in the new circumstances of modernity, establishing continuity with the great traditions of our culture. But modernism also gave way to a routine version of itself: the arduous task of maintaining tradition proved less attractive than the cheap ways of pouring scorn on it.

Hence for a long time now, it has been assumed that there can be no authentic creation in high art which is not in some way a ‘challenge’ to public culture. Art must give offence, stepping out armed against the bourgeois taste for the conforming and the comfortable, which are simply other names for kitsch and cliché. The result of this is that offence itself becomes a cliché. If the public has become so immune to shock that only a dead shark in formaldehyde will awaken a brief spasm of outrage, then the artist must produce a dead shark in formaldehyde — this, at least, is an authentic gesture. In place of the late American art critic Harold Rosenberg’s ‘tradition of the new’, we have the ‘cliché of the transgressive’ — a repetition of the would-be unrepeatable.

The great modernists were acutely aware of the need to build bridges to the public whose expectations they disturbed. They ended, like Eliot, Picasso and Stravinsky, by being genuinely loved by those who cared for the traditional high culture. But they began by being difficult — intentionally difficult — in order that an effective bulwark should exist between the high ground of art and the swamp of popular sentiment. Hence the stark choice set before them by the late American art critic Clement Greenberg, in the 1939 essay that made his name: avant-garde or kitsch. To be genuine, art must be in advance of its time; any slacking will mean a fall into the swamp of fake emotion and commercial effects.

Because they were difficult, there grew around the modernists a class of critics and impresarios, who offered initiation into the modernist cult. This impresario class began to promote the incomprehensible and the outrageous as a matter of course, lest the public should regard its services as redundant. It fostered a new kind of personality, determined to move with the times, while understanding less and less what the times might actually be. To gain the status of an original artist is not easy, but in a society where art is revered as the highest cultural achievement, the rewards are enormous. There is, therefore, an incentive to fake it, to produce a complicit circle; the artists posing as the originators of astonishing breakthroughs, the critics posing as the penetrating judges of the true avant-garde. We observe this phenomenon in the symbiosis of Greenberg and the abstract expressionist artist Willem de Kooning.

Another pertinent example is the American composer John Cage. With a singular skill for self-promotion, yet no prior evidence of musical competence, Cage made his reputation with his celebrated piece 4’33” (1952) — a happening in which a pianist in concert dress sits silently at the piano for exactly four minutes and 33 seconds. On the strength of this and a few similar pranks, Cage presented himself as an original composer, ‘putting in question’ the entire tradition of Western concert music. Critics hastened to endorse his high self-opinion, hoping to share in the glory of discovering a new and original genius. The Cage phenomenon quickly became established as part of the culture, able to call upon subventions from the cultural institutions, and recruiting a raft of imitators for whom, however, it was too late to cause a stir as Cage had done, by doing nothing.

Similar episodes occurred in the visual arts, beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s urinal and passing through Andy Warhol’s silk screen portraits and Brillo boxes to the pickled sharks and cows of Damien Hirst. In each case, the critics gathered like clucking hens around the new, inscrutable egg, and the fake was projected to the public with all the apparatus required for its acceptance as the real thing. So powerful is the impetus towards the collective fake that it is now an effective requirement of finalists for the Turner Prize in Britain to produce something that nobody would think was art unless they were told it was. On the other hand, original gestures of the kind introduced by Duchamp cannot really be repeated — like jokes, they can be made only once. So we find a habit of faking that is so deeply wrapped up in its own imperatives that no judgment is certain, except the judgment that this before us is the ‘real thing’ and not a fake at all, which in turn is a fake judgment.

To convince themselves that they are true progressives, riding in the vanguard of history, the new impresarios surround themselves with others of their kind. They promote them to all the committees that are relevant to their status and expect to be promoted in their turn. Thus arose the contemporary establishment — the self-contained circle of critics and promoters, who form the backbone of our official and semi-official cultural institutions. They trade in ‘originality’, ‘transgression’ and ‘breaking new paths’. But these terms are clichés, as are the things they are used to praise. Hence the flight from cliché ends in cliché.

It is not only beliefs and actions that can be faked. Fake emotions have played a decisive role in the evolution of art in recent times. Real emotion allows no substitutes, and is never the subject of a bargain or an exchange. Fake emotion seeks to discard the cost of feeling while receiving the benefit. It is therefore always ready to exchange its present object for a better one. The sentimental lover who enjoys the warm feelings of self-approval that accompany his love is also the one who moves quickly to another object should the present one prove too arduous — perhaps because he or she has developed some debilitating illness, or has grown old, weary and unattractive.

Love transferred is not real love, and the same goes for other emotions too. All that was made clear by Oscar Wilde in ‘De Profundis’ (1897), his great denunciation of the sentimentalist Lord Alfred Douglas, by whom he had been ruined.

Kitsch art, by contrast, is designed to put emotion on sale: it works as advertisements work, creating a fantasy world in which everything, love included, can be purchased, and in which every emotion is simply one item in an infinite line of substitutes. The clichéd kiss, the doe-eyed smile, the Christmas-card sentiments: all advertise what cannot be advertised without ceasing to be. They commit the salesman to nothing. They can be bought and sold without emotional hardship, since the emotion, being a fantasy product, no longer exists in its committed form.

The effect of the modernist revolution in the arts was to accuse those who attempted to resuscitate the old way of doing things — figurative painting, tonal music, classical architecture — of retreating from the authentic discipline of art. Of course, you can make the old gestures; but you cannot seriously mean them. And if you make them nonetheless, the result will be kitsch — standard, cut-price goods, produced without effort and consumed without thought, in the manner of most popular music today.

Fear of kitsch led to the routinisation of modernism. By posing as a modernist, the artist gives an easily perceivable sign of his authenticity. But the result is cliché of another kind. This is one reason for the emergence of a wholly new artistic enterprise that some call ‘postmodernism’ but which might be better described as ‘pre-emptive kitsch’.

Such art eschews subtlety, allusion and implication, and in place of imagined ideals in gilded frames it offers real junk in quotation marks

Having recognised that modernist severity is no longer acceptable, artists began not to shun kitsch but to embrace it, in the manner of Andy Warhol, Allen Jones and Jeff Koons. The worst thing is to be unwittingly guilty of producing kitsch; far better to produce kitsch deliberately, for then it is not kitsch at all but a kind of sophisticated parody. (The intention to produce real kitsch is an impossible intention, like the intention to act unintentionally. Deliberate naivety is really faux naïf.) Pre-emptive kitsch sets quotation marks around actual kitsch, and hopes thereby to save its artistic credentials. The same phenomenon can be discerned in music, with the repeated figures based on simple tonal chords that we find in Philip Glass and, to some extent, Steve Reich. In response to the argument that the triad is a cliché, such composers take hold of the triad and repeat it until you can be sure that they are aware that it is a cliché, and that they have put quotation marks around that very awareness.

In the place of modernist severity comes a kind of institutionalised fakery. Public galleries and big collections fill with the pre-digested clutter of modern life. Such art eschews subtlety, allusion and implication, and in place of imagined ideals in gilded frames it offers real junk in quotation marks. It is indistinguishable in the end from advertising — with the sole qualification that it has no product to sell except itself.

Pre-emptive kitsch offers fake emotions, and at the same time a pretended rejection of the thing it offers. The artist pretends to take himself seriously, the critics pretend to judge his product and the modernist establishment pretends to promote it. At the end of all this pretence, someone who cannot perceive the difference between advertising (which is a means) and art (which is an end) decides that he should buy it. Only at this point does the chain of pretence come to an end, and the real value of postmodernist art reveal itself — namely, its value in monetary exchange. Even at this point, however, the pretence is important. The purchaser must still believe that what he buys is real art, and therefore intrinsically valuable, a bargain at any price. Otherwise, the price would reflect the obvious fact that anybody — even the purchaser — could have faked such a product. The essence of fakes is that they are substitutes for themselves, avatars of the infinite mise-en-abyme that lies behind every saleable thing.

What exactly is at stake in the choice between the true and the fake in the realm of culture? Can we not go on faking it forever? Might this not be preferable to those authentic and sincere lives in which human passions flourish in all their uncontrolled, often wicked fullness? Perhaps the destiny of culture is to induct us all into a Disneyland dream whenever the dangerous lust for realities sweeps across us. When you look at the cultural institutions in democracies today, you might well be tempted to think that faking is their purpose, and that it is a purpose pursued for the good of us all.

Yet culture is important. Without it we remain emotionally uneducated. There are consequences of fake culture that are comparable to the consequences of corruption in politics. In a world of fakes, the public interest is constantly sacrificed to private fantasy, and the truths on which we depend for our rescue are left unexamined and unknown. But to prove the point is a hard task indeed, and after a lifetime of attempts I find myself only at the beginning.

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  • Lester

    What an extraordinarily long way of justifying cultural hegemony. Why not just say the "truth" is decided upon by the powerful?

    • Austin Kocher

      We could say that. But we would have to acknowledge that your argument relies on terms and theories from those philosophers that Scutton is trying to criticize. Sort-of defeats the purpose.

      • Lester

        Actually, no. Scutton may be attempting to criticize but he utterly fails to convince and as such the notion of Cultural hegemony stands firm. In fact it stands firmer through Scutton's oblivious illumination of the psychological and social processes that encouraged Gramsci to ponder the phenomena in the first place.

      • Cincinnatus80011

        Except that Scruton's dismissal of these philosophers leaves us with the inference that he and his select group of "high culture" arbitrators are the keepers of "truth." Which is more ludicrous to someone who is actually applying critical thinking as opposed to group-think?

    • Miguel Pedro

      Because, instead of them, you want to be the powerfull...

      • Jeff Blanks

        No. because we don't want ANYONE to be powerful--at least not in that way. I don't know if that's possible, though.

    • zoe

      Thank you for the summary! Saved me 30mins.

    • George Magalios

      As a practicing contemporary artist I do not see Mr. Scruton's essay as advocating cultural hegemony. This critique is a bit of a cop-out frankly. While I take exception to certain assertions, particularly the dismissal of Willem DeKooning, who I, as a fellow painter, regard as a master of abstraction, I think the link between decadence and private fantasy vs the greater common good of a society or community is worth exploring further.

      I am especially intrigued by Mr. Scruton's analysis of the cost of continued kitsch, of valuing irony and engaging in a mutual game of intellectual and emotional falsehood for some perceived status of cultural elitism. The art world can do what it wants, it always will... but when its values seep into criticism, journalism, higher education and the culture at large, this is where the danger appears and I believe there is a real human and intellectual cost to us all. The parallel between faker in the art practice and constantly looking for love in something or someone better is brilliant!

      I thank Mr. Scruton for this stimulating and thoughtful work that transcends art criticism and truly enters into the beautiful world of philosophy.

      • Brad

        That Scruton has produced in this thread so many virulent critics and vehement defenders suggests that at the very least, he has engaged us. This is not thin gruel. As an artist, I have been virulently attacked and much beloved: I have not been ignored, which is much, much worse than rejection. I'll take engaged detractors over a tepid reception. Good job, everyone. That the conversation continue is what is most at stake, in art and philosophy, in love and in politics. If one day we finally got everything "right," history would cease, and there would really be nothing new under the sun.

    • JS7

      Really? Who is more powerful than Warhol, Koons, et. al.?

      • Jeff Blanks

        Madison Avenue? Universal Music Group? ExxonMobil?

  • Paul Graham Raven

    "In a world of fakes, the public interest is constantly sacrificed to private fantasy, and the truths on which we depend for our rescue are left unexamined and unknown." Quod erat demonstrandum.

  • drokhole

    One of the greatest movies/"film essays" on fakery:

    F for Fake

  • Truculent Sheep

    Relativism is certainly no answer to hegemony, but that still leaves the most important question unanswered - what is culture? What is art? What is knowledge? The closest approximation would be the scientific method, and its stable mate, Secular Humanism, but the former is a means of observing only that which can be observed and the latter has been banished to the wastes and would, in any case, be reactionary if called back from its exile.

    What we have had for over a century is iconoclasm and raving egomania. Which is to say, revolutionary fervour, complete with the rogues, psychopaths and mountebanks who hijack it and lead us back to a new conservatism in all but name, and usually more oppressive than what went before. I may as well book a ticket to Pseuds Corner when I say Stalin and Robespierre have something intrinsically in common with Damien Hirst or Lacan, but the fact remains that when you destroy instead of reform, you end up with pickled sharks and mass guillotining; opaque swagger and boots stamping on human faces.

    For smashing the idols produces nothing more than rubble and dust. We need to build and rebuild. The first step would be to accept that our humanity is fundamentally contradictory and we must take this into account in all our decisions and discourses. Secondly, to remember that anything that tells us only what we want to hear or makes us objectify others is both destructive and wrong.

  • Marxist Nutter

    This reads like the tired old academic who has nothing new to say and is angry seeking to belittle the work of other more original scholars in order to sediment a sense of superiority that he suspects, rightly, is not warranted.

    Althusser was without doubt a very serious thinker, one need only read ISA to have this confirmed for themselves. One sentence quoted out of context hardly serves to even to begin to discredit him as a great thinker, whether you agree with his thought or not.

    The critiques of Scrutton position here are endless, I could go on, for example, about how disingenuous it is to quote sentences with very specific and technical phrases (such as 'lack') which are explained at length elsewhere, out of context, leading the reader to ascribe their common sense definition to words used in other ways. This is a deliberate attempt to make serious work appear as nonsense, Scrutton knows exactly what he is doing so there is little need to call him out on it. He is the very liar of whom he speaks.

    Regarding Lacan however I do have some sympathy. As a student of political theory I was very sceptical when I first came across Lacan - I was about as impressed with his obtuse language as Scrutton. However later, when conducting my doctoral research, I found hard to account for why and how subjects become gripped by (emotionally invested in) certain ideas which are often counter to their rational interests. This, I think is quite an important problem for political/social theory to address. After thinking about this problem long and hard and reading extensively around it and discussing it with colleges and students (this is what academics do, Scrutton may have forgotten) I found that Lacan's notion of the fantasmatic is useful in accounting for this. The approach I have in mind is explained here:

    This is hardly nonsense or 'fakery'; but actually a very useful way to understand concrete political phenomena - something Scutton's "work" has never been very good at!

    • primary school teacher

      What an unneccessary contrivance to be so rude and disrespectful.. even if you do disagree ... back to school with you to learn some manners

      • Marxist Nutter

        Am I the disrespectful one? Really? Scruton is the one dismissing large swathes of scholarship by assertion and without any respectful engagement with the work. A polemicist who likes to dress in academic robes.

        • Al_de_Baran

          I agree with you that Scruton's out-of-context quotations are not probative, but really, your own overwrought reply simply offers your own purely emotional reaction to having your particular ox (Marxism) gored. That is not much of an improvement.

          As for Althusser, those who wish to follow the admirable example he set in life are welcome to do so.

          • Marxist Nutter

            'Overwrought' in what way? The article is a polemic and contains no serious scholarship or engagement with key thinkers who are dismissed through a deliberate sleight of hand and other rhetorical devices. Thus there is no call to engage with it as if it were an academic work, to do so would give it credibility it does not deserve. I point out why In think Scruton is a 'liar' by his own definition and highlight where he is being disingenuous. Beyond that I need no more prove why I think he is an tired old hack of a conservative cretin than he does prove Althusser is a 'fake'. In sum, I merely engage the article at it the level it deserves.

            Were Scruton to offer a serious critique of Lacan or Althusser I may consider a more reasonable and considered reply.

          • Al_de_Baran

            "In sum, I merely engage the article at it the level it deserves."

            And I have merely engaged with your reply at the level it deserves.

            All you do is offer additional evidence of my original point, which is that your Marxist ox is being gored, and that that is really the basis for your differences with Scruton, not some dispassionate intellectual analysis.

          • Marxist Nutter

            Al_de_Baran Althusser had serious mental health problems. This is quite common with those of serious intellect and to mock this while making pretensions to good taste is hypocritical in the extreme.

            Personally I find Althusser a joy to read, his work is fascinating and he is without a doubt a very powerful thinker. I do not however agree with a great deal of what he says. I have, in fact, critiqued his position on a couple of occasions. Scruton does not even do that. He has not the intellectual resources , as an intellectuality bankrupt conservative thinker, to do so. This may explain his need to resort to sleights of hand and quoting him out of context in order to make himself feel superior.

    • Granite Sentry

      You just proved his point. Thanks.

      • Cincinnatus80011

        There is a rather substantial difference between your failure to understand his point -- or unwillingness to do another other than dismiss it -- and "proving" Scruton's ridiculous, anti-intellectual, and ultimately condescending tripe.

        • Al_de_Baran

          "Scruton's ridiculous, anti-intellectual, and ultimately condescending tripe."

          As opposed to your temperate, measured response?

          • Cincinnatus80011

            What of it? I called it as it is -- no relativism included.

          • Al_de_Baran

            No, you called it as you see it, as did I.

            My point is that, when you wish to appear superior to those whom you criticize, then it helps not to embody their faults in your reply.

    • Scott Locklin

      Lacan is a crass imbecile who uses words he doesn't understand, and anyone taken in by him is a fool.

      • Miguel Pedro

        You don´t understand and you don´t want too cause you like everything so simple...

        • Richard Wilson

          Mig---you do not really understand Lacan, even Lacan doesn't understand Lacan. Lacan is a wingnut. At least Zizek is entertaining.

    • Colin

      What a joke! Scruton possesses a degree of proven erudition and incredible prolificity (incredible because it is almost invariably conducted in simply beautiful prose) that far exceeds the likes of fakers such as the appalling bad writer and 'thinker' Althusser (and true fake - apparently Althusser never even read Kant, despite offering a materialist critique of him!). If you do not recognize the infinitely greater wisdom of Scruton as compared to Lacan, Althusser and so many other leftist fools of the last century, then you either haven't read him or them. Scruton is one of the wisest men writing anywhere in the world today.

  • Chris Swithinbank

    Your paragraph on John Cage and 4'33" displays a quite astonishing lack of understanding of the man, the work and the context. To suggest that 4'33" is a breakthrough work is incorrect — Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes from the previous decade received significant acclaim and he received a Guggenheim Foundation grant in 1949, three years before the work you say opened up large-scale subsidy. Regarding Cage’s "musical competence", his studies with Arnold Schoenberg, later meetings with central figures of the European avant-garde and friendship with Morton Feldman among others might allow you to class him as more than competent. (An aside: I believe that your view of competence here essentially boils down to "ability to reproduce those modes of artistic production already accepted and valorised by the hegemony of a ruling class", which suggests its importance to the creation of art is negligible to non-existant.)

    Regarding the "fakery" you accuse 4'33" of representing, consider that it was first performed here:

    It is not simply silence, it is a call to listen to your environment, an act you might perhaps more happily class as curation or directed listening, if you are so keen to wall off ‘music’ from such attempts at revitalising perception. In relation to what is meant by silence and how it has come to be an important part of certain artists’ practices, you may wish to read Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s ‘Some Recent Silences’:

    Rather than flailing blindly in reactionary fury, how about pausing for thought?

    • Dylan Thomas Hayden

      Thanks for this Chris Swithinbank. In attempting to denounce him as a charlatan Scruton blatantly misrepresents Cage's musical ability and achievements. Whether this is due to ignorance or deliberate deception it hardly speaks well of Scruton's scholarship. I agree with Scruton when he says "How can knowledge come to us, if we are indifferent to the truth of what we read?," and consequently find it difficult to take seriously an article containing such an obvious, practically slanderous falsehood as Scruton's characterization of Cage.

      • P.Sylob

        I don't really think 'musical ability' and 'Cage' can be combined truthfully in the same sentence. Clever showman, mediocre musician.

        • Robert Davidson

          What nonsense. He created lasting, beautiful music. That means he is a great musician - it's a plain fact. You have a limited view of what constitutes musical ability. There are many ways of being musical.

    • elizabethcostello

      So much of this article is unscholarly, unsubtle, and just, well, fake. It does share quite a bit with many of the figures Scruton decries; it is, at the very least, expressive. That is something.

      • John Borstlap

        It may be helpful to read Scruton's 'Why Culture Counts' and 'Modern Culture' to fully appreciate what he is saying in this article, which compresses much material expounded in the mentioned volumes. To call this article 'fake' is to miss the point entirely. Anybody with a minimum of intelligence and common sense recognizes all the things Scruton exposes as fake.

        • Turnip Truck

          Why would one need to read Scruton's whole books? Is everyone reading this article just in their 20s and too young to remember the Allan Bloom work he's regurgitating? At least Bloom was a serious scholar; this reads like someone's lecture notes from a first-year U of Chicago class, complete with name-dropping in place of analysis.

        • Robert Davidson

          Except for those with some subtly and knowledge, who recognise immediately his gross misunderstanding of Cage, Glass, Reich and others.

      • Al_de_Baran

        Your naked assertions are most convincing. Please, continue in that vein, so that your own personal authenticity will reveal itself convincingly to the rest of us benighted souls.

    • John Borstlap

      This all very, very naive, and revealing an abyss of cultural misunderstanding, thus unintentionally fully supporting Scruton's message in this article. Cage has been assessed by Schoenberg as 'not musical enough' to pursue a musical career. That the European avantgarde accepted Cage in the sixties was due to its own profound misunderstanding of culture in general and music in particular, a fact which is nowadays generally understood. The 'silence' in 4'33" is indeed the sound of the environment, but it does not need much intelligence and education to understand that, however nice and funny such a 'cultural gesture' is (for one time, by way of entertainment), it is not a work of art, it is not a musical work. There is not the slightest artistry needed for it, the claim that it is a 'work' is just demonstrating that it is a fake and it is THIS which Scruton demonstrates with Cage's nonsense things. To call 4'33" a 'revitalising perception' is proving Scruton's point entirely..... Perception is only revitalised by real works of art and real works of music. And, by the way, the early works of Cage are simplistic, naive, and do not require artistry as well. Dear Chris, go back to your desk and do some homework before you defend nonsense.

      • Robert Davidson

        I'm afraid you are revealing vast ignorance here. Cage's reputation has only grown in the field, and he is well appreciated around the globe. I write from Bali, where his ideas would never have been felt as particularly radical. What he really did was highlight some important ideas that Asians have not sidelined as effectively as the West did since the Renaissance.

        4'33" is indeed a profound musical work. Akin to the ideal Korean vision of the stringless zither, or the silently performed Ch'in music of ancient China.

        • RichardPatrock

          Profound. I wish I could listen to it in nature but there is almost always a car or a train passing in the distance. My only complaint is that Cage shouldn't have gotten up from his chair. He is much too brilliant to not continue the performance.

        • guest

          "4'33" is indeed a profound musical work"

          You must listen to it everyday and bask in the pretention then yeah? It's non music and a non statement.

          Cage mentioning the "sounds around us" and that we just have to listen is both naive and arrogant. He acted like he was the first person in the world to discover the thought and that no one would get that that was the idea behind the so called "piece".
          Anyone can perform it on any instrument by sitting around and doing nothing because it's not music and requires no effort from the "performer". The sounds around us have a life of their own which we have no bearing on whatsoever which means technically the "piece" is not even Cage's.

          If I had an exhibition at an art gallery with all blank canvasses and said people didn't "get" it because they didn't see the masterpieces that were painted on them, people would think I was nuts. 4'33 is not a contribution to anything except to be used as another useless topic for chin stroking pseudo intellectuals to beat off to.

          • Robert Davidson

            I take it you're rather new to Korean, Japanese or Chinese aesthetic philosophy.

          • Robert Davidson

            He certainly didn't act as if he was the first person to bring attention to this. Methinks you are rather new to his writings.

    • Al_de_Baran

      How funny to see the pseudo-intellectuals' flustered flailing when someone one indicates the nudity of their emperors!

      I wonder: Does Cage's complete inability to understand Beethoven fill you with the same indignation as Scruton's alleged incomprehension of Cage? I didn't think so.

      • Reiner Torheit


        • aearon43

          u mad bro?

      • Robert Davidson

        Beethoven is not the only artist worth understanding. What about Wu Ruk?

        • Al_de_Baran

          You miss the point rather spectacularly, but then, what other options do you have?

    • Al_de_Baran

      "Rather than flailing blindly in reactionary fury, how about pausing for thought?"

      How about taking your own wise advice?

      • Reiner Torheit

        How about shutting your ignorant gob???

        • Afonso Pimenta

          How about how about

        • Al_de_Baran

          Again, how about taking your own advice--as well as a Xanax?

    • Richard Wilson

      anything but "reactionary"! must never be a reactionary. Cage is bollocks. Most postmodern writers are dealing in bullshit. Most artists today are dealing in bullshit. Most humans who admire them admire bullshit. "not simply silence"???? Jesus H Christ, man! You can't get more silent than that. You need to be forced to dig latrines for a cholera stricken city. For the rest of your life, bring your postmodern artist friends.

      • Robert Davidson

        Spoken like someone who has never heard of the Gayageum

  • Austin Kocher

    If this is an alternative to "marxist gobbledegook", I'll take the gobbledegook.

    Scutton's arguments, while appearing straightforward, are an example of the kind of ridiculousness that many philosophers he criticizes tried to unpack. Let's take our own sentence from Scutton: "Yet culture is important. Without it we remain emotionally uneducated." What does this even mean? "Emotions" are most typically "developed", not "educated". And what makes Scutton think that his completely undefined notion of "culture" – as a concept – can do the educating? Where does Scutton provide even a shred of evidence – logical or empirical – for this claim? He doesn't. But he wants you to believe that difficult sentences lifted from their context is an example of erudite talk among "fakers". At best, Scutton is more efficient in his nonsense than those he criticizes.

    If we are going to start using difficult sentences as examples of nonsense, why restrict ourselves to philosophers? Why not use a complicated equation from mathematics, or the diagrams of organic chemistry as examples? Just because something is difficult to read, or just because you can't understand it at first glance doesn't make it nonsense: it just makes it difficult.

    On the other hand, if you want want simplistic, warm-milk-and-a-blanket goobledegook, Scutton has provided it for you here.

    • John Borstlap

      Just for the record: it is SCRUTON not SCUTTON. If this is the level of attention with which you read the article, your critique becomes fully understandable. It may be helpful to explain how culture educates emotion as follows: all thought and emotion develop through education (formation through example and imitation), which provides the means of turning thought and emotion into instruments of understanding reality. Education by culture is a refinement of these means, and when they function well, we can verify the results by experience. There are works of high culture which have stood the test of time, i.e. which have proven to innumerable people that they provide a trajectory of inner education which helps them to understand life better. These works then formed, over a long period of time, a 'canon' of high culture, which is accessible to anyone willing to enter this territory - since it requires merely a sincere intention to find-out truths, tools which relate to reality, inside as well as outside ourselves. Exactly because people like Foucault and Lacan use their own invented jargon, we can recognize them as fakes. In comparison, Scruton's language is always clear, intelligent, and well-formulated.

      • limcrim

        CROUTONS spends too much time NOT explaining his operative criteria for what constitutes authentic art (hanging a pic of Matisse midway doesn't obviate thorough preliminary argument) and probably deserves any and all anagrammatic misprision.

      • Robert Davidson

        The only trouble is that the vast majority of emotion and thought happens outside of education. No one needs to be taught language for example, or how to walk. We are evolved to grow a lot of our knowledge, and a great deal comes pre-installed.

    • Hugh

      I don't see a problem with the idea of emotional education.

      • Robert Davidson

        It's not necessary - just as no one needs to be taught walking or language.

        • DonPhil

          Can anyone deny that (if possessed of normal mind and body) almost anyone can be formally taught to walk or speak or write better than he taught himself?

    • Jotun Hunter

      you are a homosexualist

    • Thomas Mullally

      I love this guy below who immediately disputes you by saying that, emotions are developed... boy are we in trouble.

      You can't slide a piece of tissue paper between Scruton and the neoliberals he pretends to fight... he never stopped for a moment to think that the poor art is "manufactured" for a desensitized market. It is all about the money, it is all marketing, but somehow this is not about the unequal free market with the ballooned-out 1 percent, it is about some vaguely corrupted, think-tank ethics.

  • Steve Bolton

    Interesting to see various mis-spellings of Scruton's name, but nobody making the more obvious Freudian slip.

    • Marxist Nutter

      Ha - would be very appropriate. I think I even misspelled his name in a bibliography for an undergraduate paper as well and nobody picked it up !

  • Thomas Soderqvist

    I certainly agree with much of the substantial criticism of Roger Scruton's essay aired below. Yet I think he has a implicit point, which cannot easily be dismissed, namely how a rapidly changing culture, like the one we live in, can continuously develop quality criteria for intellectual and artistic products. I think this is a question of cultivating intellectual and aesthetic virtues and promote a critical public discussion about these virtues. So even though I disagree with Scruton's position, I respect his attempt to contribute to that discussion.

    • Cincinnatus80011

      What Scruton is bemoaning at its bottom is that culture is no longer the province of an elite few who create, define, and guard "high culture." While I have no particular fetish for many of the artistic works, songs, and the like that pass as culture these days, I also see the proliferation of these works as a natural function of the the transformation of cultural production into salable products, which often has resulted in their being reduced to a blandness that is discomfiting at best. The solution is not to return to the cultural hegemony (that he denies exists, but only because he is willfully blind) of the past, but rather to create a society of cultural producers -- musicians and artists who are also engineers and scientists.

      • John Borstlap

        Not true. 'High culture' is a mental space which is accessible to everybody willing to take the trouble to learn to understand it. This has nothing to do with 'cultural hegemony', which is a notion born from an egalitarian world view which denies the existence of value difference. The natural authority great works of art radiate, are understood as 'elitist' by people who feel intimidated by them; anybody who takes the trouble to read Scruton (for instance, 'Modern Culture') will find that this territory is fully accessible, due to his clear writing style and sharp intelligence. Scruton's great achievement is that he makes high culture accessible and understandable again, so the very opposite of returning to some sort of 'hegemony', which merely exists in the minds of marxists, left-wing egalitarians and intellectually lazy people.

        • Cincinnatus80011

          Your notion of "natural authority" is based on the very cultural hegemony that you would like to pretend doesn't exist! Indeed -- you fail to understand what "cultural hegemony" actually means, since you suggest that it somehow "denies the existence of value difference," which is a ludicrous falsehood.

          As one of the cultural 'elite' (as classically defined by most measures of the word) who prefers the works of Titian and Michelangelo to those of Warhol and Pollock -- and by "prefer" I mean that I tend to consider the latter category to be crap as a matter of personal taste -- I nevertheless find Scruton's (and your's) adherence to these ridiculous universal categories such as "natural authority" to be laughable.

          Intellectually lazy? Look in a mirror.

          • Tim Chambers

            Oh, bullshit! I am, by no means a conservative, let alone a Conservative, but what could possibly be more hegemonic than the cliche ridden Pop culture? It is all pervasive. It is everywhere. To listen to J.S. Bach, in most quarters, is to be considered Neanderthal. But Bach is the real thing, as most canonical artists are.

            The great composers of canonical works move the emotions with musical sound, whereas popular music relies on words, a secondary medium. Therein lies all the difference. Great works of visual art and literary art affect us in the same way, through mastery of the primary medium. Most of us understand more about film than any other art form. And we hate the reliance of pyrotechnics, rather than great film-making. Pyrotechnics are to film what lyrics are to pop music. They conceal the lack of mastery of the primary medium.

            There may be a few popular artists out there who are the real thing, too, who can express real emotion through their primary medium, but vast majority of them are mere entertainers, selling cheap sentiment, and in music, the lyrics are their medium, not not melody, harmony, and rhythm.

            The same goes for all the arts, the fakery sells, the shock value soon palls as we come to recognize how little else is there.

          • Reiner Torheit

            Bach, Bach, Snark, Spark.

            The reality behind the effeminate pseudo-intellectual garbage you and Scruton spew is that you are a closed-minded, shallow, poorly-educated charlatan - writing-off everything you can't understand, or have never known at all, as 'fakery'. It's YOU that's the fake, Tim. Your fake 'knowledge', your fake 'taste', your fake 'views' - all of it is FAKE, FAKED-UP to cover over your yawning gap of PIG IGNORANCE.

            You don't know ANY of Cage's work. None at all. You're pig ignorant. You don't know anything about Feldman, and you REVEL in shutting your pathetic empty mind off to anything that would challenge your weak, vapid, FAKE knowledge of music.

            You jabber about 'melody, harmony and rhythm' without being able to read the bass clef. You know nothing of the rhythmic elements in the work of Janacek or Stravinsky. You can't even *spell* Messiaen's name.

            But you read on the back of a cornflake packet that "Bach" (which Bach? Did you even know there was more than one, Dim Tim?) is "the real thing". Just like Coke, that's "the real thing" too - and that's the level of 'depth' your FAKERY runs too, Tim.

            Now mince off to a carol service, Tim, with your partner, I hope there'll be lots of "Bach" for you - since you are too DUMB to know or care about anything else, you MORON.

          • Tim Chambers

            What an ignorant diatribe. You know nothing about me. Granted I am not a highly trained musician, but I sang in my high school chorus, and studied voice in conservatory. But my curiosity, in my youth, regarding music was immense.

            My argument is with those who tear down the truly great, because it is approachable to the masses and was meant to be, and with those who elevate Pop, not with Janacek, whom I revere, or Messiaen, whom I find somewhat more obscure. I am aware that Bach had relatives, but their music could only approach his heights. I am also aware of John Cage, though his stuff never floated my boat in the way that Harry Parch, for example, does.

            To call someone a moron for preferring J.S. Bach to J.C. or W.F., or C.P.E. Bach is like saying I should prefer Salieri to Mozart.

            And I prefer McKinley Morganfield, Jimmy Read et al, to Elvis and their other white boy imitators, too.

            Now, go listen to you Brian Wilson recordings, and don't make asinine assumptions about others.

          • John Borstlap

            You are just right. But Mr Torheit has some self-knowledge, for he calls himself 'Torheit' which means foolishness. Give such people a position in artistic advisory committees or power over art subsidies and you have a populist version of fascism.

          • John Borstlap

            See my comment under that by Tim Chambers. You syhould do wise to keep your head under the cold tap until it has cooled off.

          • Richard Wilson

            You sound like Michael Jackson. Im guessing you like him too, yes? Smetana would bitchslap your dour mug.

          • Jeff Blanks


          • Robert Davidson

            Bach, Mozart, Haydn all relied on words - they saw vocal music as the heart of music. I guess it's not surprising to find that someone who can't understand popular music also fails to comprehend the great composers of the past.

          • Tim Chambers

            I am well aware of that, but the art is still in the music itself not the lyrics. The Great Mass in C minor, and the Vesperae Sollennes have some incomparable music in them, none of it dependent on lyrics, but expressive instead of the lyrics. It is rare that a pop song can say that.
            Mostly they depend on a sappy, sentimental key that classical would never use.

          • Jeff Blanks

            Conventional wisdom in the world of popular music would seem to be that words are the primary medium and that music is the secondary medium. You especially encounter this in the singer-songwriter world. We've actually gotten to a point where the word "songwriter" is more likely than not to refer to a lyricist, or at least to a point where a great lyricist who happens to write his or her own music is considered ipso facto a great songwriter. Popular music culture, whether Top 40 or "underground", is essentially being run (and has been for a long time) by people who don't think music can be, or even ought to be, a primary medium.

            For all that, just because "the lyrics are their medium", that doesn't mean they're necessarily "selling cheap sentiment". It depends on the lyrics.

          • John Borstlap

            It seems that you are aware of something of the value of your preferred art works, but don't draw the obvious conclusions from that experience. That is what I mean by 'lazy'. Artistic quality is something inherent in the art work itself and NOT added to it by an elite which misuses art to establish its 'hegemony' in a social context. If there are, or have been, people who misuse art in this way, this has nothing to do with the inherent qualities of art itself. Just think a little... and a little more. And maybe again a little more, it is not so hard! Typically, art works which are outstanding are often subjected to the sort of commentary you committed to this site. And such commentary is the fruit of an egalitarian world view, which attempts to bring-down 'unfair' quality standards so that Warhol can parade as a 'great artist'. So, your assessment as 'crap' for what is indeed, well, crap, is based upon a healthy instinct for reality. It is wholeheartedly to be recommended to develop that sense further, and make the findings conscious, for which Scruton's writings on culture are excellent means. Then you will find-out that there are indeed such things as 'natural authority', not in the sense of the authority of an elite, but in the sense of the integrity and inherent value of the work of art itself. Reality and truth have authority.... if we deny that, it is to our own peril, and then we attack defenders of reality instead of feeling confirmed by them.

          • Robert Davidson

            It's entirely culturally relative. Indigenous Australians have a very different way of measuring "natural authority" in art than say Beethoven. Who's right?

          • Jeff Blanks

            Read it again--the accusation is that "cultural hegemony" is a false concept thought up by "an egalitarian world view which denies the existence of value difference". IOW, the accusation is that you "deny the existence of value difference".

        • Mozibur Ullah

          Surely there's a difference between an egalitarianism of values, which I don't agree with, to that of egalitarianism of entry - either as an art student or as simply as an appreciator of music? I think its all too easy to conflate these two categories.

        • Robert Davidson

          He may be intelligent, but he writes about things he is very ignorant about. He does this a lot in the essay above, especially regarding music, about which he is woefully underinformed.

      • Mozibur Ullah

        I can't say I agree with your first statement at all. He makes serious points about the debasement of culture which you're implicitly agreeing with. The best by definition are usually few. High culture can be open. One need only look and listen. But it's also true that it does take work, and that some silly people use it as a badge of superiority. It takes a great deal of work to become a serious scientist, how do you expect someone to become also a serious artist too? To appreciate, sure - but to compose or to draw or to write - that's another thing altogether.

  • Alan Trevithick

    Wow. I'm like, totally, I mean, barf, about "pickled shark" and those people, but don't want to have a beer with Roger Scruton either. So it's difficult, you know?

    • John Borstlap

      But he is a very pleasant fellow to drink beer with. Only, you should have some conversation.

      • Robert Davidson

        And not mention anything too complicated that requires a bit of thought or knowledge. Stick to happy thoughts about the "great" composers.

  • formonitoring

    yeah really? what about fake opinion articles written on a secret retainer from the tobacco industry. What exactly is at stake between the true and the fake? You wouldn't know Scruton. You're a fraud and a hired mouthpiece, and that's how you'll be remembered

    • John Borstlap

      What a silly piece of text. The tobacco affair has been misrepresented & exaggerated. Scruton's point at the time was the danger of state control over people's lives, entering their private sphere, deciding for them what risks they should or should not take, etc. Because the question is: where will it end? Forcing everybody to become vegetarians? or atheists? or forcing all civilians to 2 hours of jogging on work days? or deciding for them when to die, or when to exercise abortion? Just foulmouthing about things you don't know about, is excluding yourself from any normal debate. Or even discourse, in Foucaultian terms.

      • garymandel

        Those who takes risks usually want others to bear the costs. Only the super-rich can be truly free in this sense.

      • AK

        Yeah formonitoring, how dare you make reference to the things a man actually did. What a horrible slander! We should all be free to engage in any wrongdoing at the drop of a hat, and to reference that corruption is libelous and unbecoming of discourse.

        Perhaps Borstlap here is the actual relativist.

      • Jeff Blanks

        What coercive action are you referring to here?

  • Granite Sentry

    Great diagnosis. Now where do we begin excising this cancer?

    • John Borstlap

      By reading the good stuff. Begin with Aristotle, Kant, and some volumes of Proust. And buy figurative paintings by contemporary artists like Helmantel, Heldens or Nordrum. And buy CD's of new serious music by Nicolas Bacri and David Matthews.

      • ckzs

        So what exactly are you planing to do with your "course of good taste"? Force the aforementioned authors to the "uneducated herd"? Create some kind of fascism of good (according to your understanding taste and incarcerate dissidents who enjoy Warhol and Derrida?

        Have you ever read anything from Foucault? I have read Aristotle, Kant and Proust, but to me it seems that you never looked in to writings of Rorty, Derrida and Foucault. Have you ever at least tried to understand Derrida or you just label it as vacuous because you are to lazy to get a grasp of the text? Go and educate yourself is you want to talk about Foucault, Derrida or Rorty. It is not appropriate to enter discussion with some vague facts from wikipedia.

  • Jim Jozwiak

    People don't bother to preserve or exhibit the bad art of the past so the current art scene will always seem to have more junk than the glorious past, but this is an illusion. To accuse people who try to create something of fakery just because their art isn't very good... for instance, I like Sebastian Bach's music a lot more than John Cage's music but in my mind that does not make John Cage a dishonest faker and Bach an example of honesty and high morality.

    • John Borstlap

      Not true. One has to look into the intention of the maker. Cage never wanted to be a composer, and became a decomposer. He tried, all his life, to 'cancel' the concept of 'work of art' altogether and let the sounds speak for themselves, without any intervention from the human mind. That's why he used random methods to arrive at 'objective sound' - which is silly since we have that all the time all day. It has nothing to do with art. Bach's art is, in comparison, a different planet.

      • Robert Davidson

        You need to get out more. Perhaps spend a year in Korea, then another in Yogyakarta.

      • PhilipN

        Both you and Roger Scruton reveal an extraordinary lack of knowledge of the whole of Cage's work. You might like to listen to In a Landscape (1949) or Dream for 5 Violas (1948) as an introduction to his more accessible pieces before moving on to a more difficult piece such as the Freeman Etudes (1977). Whether through ignorance or dishonesty, you and Scruton have completely misrepresented his work, and are thus far more fake than he was.

  • guest

    This would have been tired in 1986. Is Scruton unaware of the thousands of articles just like this one in every way—dismissing Lacan, dismissing Cage, blah blah blah—that have been published since the heyday of postmodernism? What on earth does he think he is contributing here? Has he had a stroke? (Not that it matters, but the sentences by Althusser & Lacan he thinks so nonsensical make sense.)

    • John Borstlap

      These quoted sentences are picked for their artificial jargon, as representative examples of a way of using language which is incapable of communicating some argument or meaning. If you believe that they make sense, you don't know what analytic thinking is. And considering the institutionalization of nonsensical, non-analytical thinking at university level and in the cultural field, there still is very much work to do to repair the damage these absurdists have caused. I know of students who are being 'educated' for mental institutions instead of for political science, philosophy, or the humanities.

      • AK

        ALL jargon is artificial. Language is, by its nature, created of symbols that refer to more complex ideas. He quoted sentences that contain terms which are defined in the work, and which, as such, are just as meaningful as beauty, art, knowledge, and the countless other conceptual terms which Scruton throws about. MORE meaningful, perhaps, as Lacan has to work to define his concepts rather than limply gesture at the beige sponge cake of history as Scruton does.

        • John Borstlap

          Given the artificiality of language, thus on a basic level, you can use it in a functional / communicative way or instead in a way that creates a barrier. There is a distinction between artificial artificiality and natural artificiality. There is language which is meant to communicate and language which, in contrast, is intended as an incantation, as incense around an object which cannot be known, or is not there at all. Read Derrida as an extreme example. Some scientists or philosophers develop terms which did not exist before, to enlighten their subjects, but if they want to use language as communication, they try to restrict this creation of jargon to a minimum. Scruton's quoted sentences are typical for the type of language used by people who, in fact, do not have much so say on their subject - that is exactly the reason why they produce an elaborate artificial language (i.e. an artificial artificiality) to conceal the fact.

          • Jeff Blanks

            "Natural artificiality"? I've heard it all now.

  • guest

    Someone should alert Alan Sokal about this Lacanian nonsense.

  • elizabethcostello

    This rant made me laugh out loud repeatedly. "Witty essays" of Foucault, filled with "fabrications." The grossly fake and reductive reading of Richard Rorty's work. The extremely myopic canon from which this philosopher draws his examples. And on and on. Really, how stupid do you think we all are? We see through your fakery too, and it is anything but persuasive. Droll, however, quite.

    • John Borstlap

      This reaction shows how necessary critique like Scruton's is. Scruton refers to 'canonic' texts for a reason: they have been shown to illuminate such a great territory of enquiry that they remain useful, and even more useful in these times than before. People like Foucault will fade away into oblivion because they lack this universalism. For instance, what Aristotle says about art and culture is so to the point that it is still relevant today. No modernist work of art from the last century can diminish that radiance.

    • Al_de_Baran

      The numerous factual errors in Foucault's "scholarship" are actually well documented. Perhaps you'd know this, if you weren't so busy laughing out loud repeatedly. But then, as your own hysterical rhetoric betrays, you aren't really laughing on the inside, are you?

    • aearon43

      tell me is the toilet in my bathroom art? if i sign it, will that make it art? why not? because i'm not an artist?

      • Mozibur Ullah

        No, it's not. Duchamp was being provocative, as even Scruton pointed out, it was an 'original gesture'. He understood why he did it. Banal repetition reduces it to kitsch. Which he also pointed out.

  • rigaud

    For a moment there is a flicker of recognition of the originality of Duchamp then the conservative fog descends-alas.

    • Al_de_Baran

      There is a moment of recognition of the intention of Duchamp--to be a joker.

  • Donny Duke

    “High culture is a precarious achievement, and endures only if it is underpinned by a sense of tradition, and by a broad endorsement of the surrounding social norms.” By beginning with this exclusionary statement that makes tradition and the social norm the
    very basis of high culture, its foundation, and consequently that of art as well, you don’t just clip the wings of high culture but cut them off, and by that I mean you don’t allow it room to take off, get off the ground, taking those of us interested in the heights up along with it; you don’t give it room to take us beyond ourselves, our traditions, our norms. And by beginning with such a narrow basis for high culture (of which art concerns me more here) you also in-between the lines define the truth of which you say is lacking in art today, which would be along the lines of established tradition and not something that reveals more than we know and see or allows us to see things differently. What is truth but what is actually going on whatever ground of reality we’re on, and after all this time do we really know what’s going on, and what is beauty in itself apart from creative eyes that can see it on any ground, even a garbage dump, and can we, who can only hold one field in view, think one train of thought, demonstrate other than in representative terms the beauty of living, the truth of existence? For this we have art, and whatever art’s doing and whatever it is, it has some hand in representing truth and beauty to us –showing us what’s going on–, which you identify as more or less absent in recent art, and not without cause, but however we define art it will always be bigger than our definition, as life will be, and it cannot squarely fit into
    the confines of truth or beauty however much it draws breath from those very things. The act of creating itself has the upper hand in art, and all other movements are secondary, else we have imitation and fakery, which, however much you feel in your very bones is what’s wrong with art, you’re feeding by planting art’s feet on the and tradition. At the risk of having this comment deleted by including creativity, this quote from a poem of mine says things much better and more concisely than I can in prose:

    Two varieties of art:
    What tries to be,
    What is.
    Contemporary notions
    Round the first.
    Every age.
    We’re not unique here.
    What would get you in the ballpark?
    Can’t say I drew that.
    I just drew that.
    Fine pencil.
    Now let’s look at contrived,…

    Art so often is the outsider, the trouble maker, more than the upholder of the mass mind, the common heart, making us see in ways we’re not accustomed and look at things we’d rather not (call that the provocative beat in art), and, largely by thinkers like you that have the ear of mainstream publications, that beat is more and more excluded from the public eye in this day of hyper-morality and ultra-sensitivity to what might be deemed offensive.

    Hey baby.
    Wait a minute,
    Before I could even decide wither
    Horn asked Moo:
    Is that the entertainment?
    We generally forget everything,
    Miss everything.
    Make you turn around
    Stick you in the compass.

    I think most would agree that as a species we can do much better. High culture, however much it entertains us, helps us pass the time higher in our brows, is the one place far enough away from the maddening crowd where we are free to explore the ideas and ideals we need to consider to be a better race, build a better world. Straddle it with tradition, the social norm, and it’s not high culture but some aesthetic resounding of low; take away its search for truth, its celebration of beauty, it can’t breathe real life into its creations. You’re at the heart of where we move forward or backwards, but not a doctor a security guard.

    • John Borstlapj

      It is exactly the territory of high culture which provides the springing- board to get 'off the ground'. All great art from the past is rooted in the fertile soil of tradition, and all great artists created their works with the means provided by tradition, re-interpreting them and thus, developing tradition. Social norms are not barriers to creativity but contexts in which it can happen, since art is meant for 'the other' and that is already a social act. Ego tripping into the infinite is nice but does not contribute anything to our civilization. It is a juvenile dream to think that 'tradition' is just suffocating rules and that by breaking them, or/and leaving them altogether, you would enter some sort of hollaballoo heaven of creation. Art is hard work. Scruton has the mind to point out the obvious and to give new meaning to misunderstood concepts like high art, social norms, culture. Read his 'Modern Culture' and all this will become clear.

      • ariel

        This all would be too funny if the premise and 99% of the responses were not
        so pathetic . What it shows here at least is that most folk have not
        the slightest concept of what the creative pulse is about whether it be Bach or Cage . The so called insightful responses are all conditioned primarily by whose "insightful " ox is being gored .There is no such thing as "high "
        culture or" low" for that matter .

        • John Borstlap

          If you had carefully read Scruton's article and the responses, you would have seen that the hollow and inane reactions fully confirm Scruton's vision. If we think that all opinions are merely conditioned by power games, as you seem to be insinuating, then there is no reality at all but only our opinion of it which can be changed at will. But reality is something with an inherent character that cannot be changed by our personal opinion.

          And again: there is an abyss of distinction between Bach and Cage, the first was a composer and the second a decomposer, a reality which presents itself by comparison of their works and intentions. If we think they are operating on the same level, we are disconnected from reality.

          That there have been, and are, people who dedicate their lives to finding-out about reality, be them philosophers, scientists or artists (respectively, realities of the mind, of matter, and of human inner experience) and have come-up with some concepts which can be confirmed by experience, means that there is indeed some real reality out there to be explored. Power games don't work - but people who have indeed achieved something, contribute to understanding of reality. To throw back all 'insightful responses' back to conditioning is confusing two different things.

          • Ariel

            We all are products of conditioning , how we cling to or depart from the original conditioning is also controlled by the "original" conditioning . It

            is not the matter of power games but how each person views reality

            as a form of truth or being , again going back to conditioning .

            It may be amusing to slam Cage as decomposing but to compare him with Bach make little sense either to Cage or Bach . They inhabit

            different worlds. It is a pointless exercise to try and prove one on a better level than the other as the creative pulse is not the same . One

            does not need endless studies on "reality " a fallen tree is a fallen tree
            but how we view the tree is a matter of conditioning .

          • ckzs

            "But reality is something with an inherent character that cannot be changed by our personal opinion"

            How can you prove that reality has this one meta-character that does not depend and vary from culture to culture and from century to century if there are plenty of evidence to the contrary? Are you familiar with discipline of anthropology (not "imperial", of course)? Do i have to remind you the obvious that world view of middle aged white westerner is not the voice of transcendental subject that can hold the truth?

            The reason why we are having so many different forms of culture (Da Vinchi, Worhol, Bach, Cage, Kant, Foucault, Western culture, Eastern culture, African culture etc) is exactly because this "inner character of reality" is dynamic and versatile. We can not adequately describe world of 2013 in terms of Enlightenment or that of Middle Ages - why this comes so hard to understand for Scruton and alike?

            People like Scruton and you are the ones who are trying to change this inherent character of nowadays reality by your personal opinion. And this opinion of yours is that art forms (music, theory, painting) of the past are somehow better that those of our times. You are rejecting this inner character of OUR reality by desperately clinging to the past - how is that healthy? Of course you can do that but why it is so necessary to hate those who dwell as an artists in actual reality and are looking for ways to reflect it? Why this resentment, bitterness and condescending attitude?

            It is up to you to prefer Bach over cage and Kant over Foucault but do not preach about your taste like it is the ultimate and only possible form of knowledge and taste. I respect Kant and Bach though i prefer Foucault and Cage but i am not saying that Kant is fake - he is reflecting the reality of his age as much as Foucault is reflecting on his. Sometimes i am surprised how ill-mannered conservatives can be bashing and labeling everything that they do not like.

            You are saying that Foucault was wrong on something (though, i did no find on what exactly) - yes, probably you are right but it does not give reason to dismiss all of his thought. Kant once speculated in his papers that there are beings on other planets who`s height is relative to the distance from the sun - it is plain rubbish, of course, but that does not mean that his "critiques" does not provide any insight. And i think you know about all those crazy ideas of Aristotle but still he can be meaningful. I cant quote few sentences form Kant that are translated from German to English out of context and they may also sound bizarre because notions in Kant`s critiques gain meaning from the text as a whole - it is a construction, a painstaking work of calibrating notions in order to express certain idea. Remove the whole carcass and those words will sound bare and weird. It is especially the case of Martin Heidegger - have you read any of his works? Take any sentence out of the body of the text and it will sound like random gibberish.

            P.S. English is my second language so please save your ad-hominem attacks related to my grammar etc.

      • Donny Duke

        You speak with authority, as one who knows. So I ask you: from the perspective of art, what is inspiration, and from where does it come, and what is its most developed form? Understanding that tradition is as you say largely simply what has come before in whatever form of art under consideration, and that even if an artist breaks with tradition they are still riding on the shoulders of artists of the past, standing on their laid foundations, else there would be no new direction possible, if there were a great discrepancy between one’s own inspiration and the established tradition of one’s form of art and the accepted norms of one's society, which would the more original artist choose?

        • John Borstlap

          Interesing question! If this inspiration were really true, he would recognize it in the tradition of his art form, because with his choosing of his art form he is reacting to a deep layer of inspiration which has carried that art form. But if his personal inspiration is, on every level, in conflict with the tradition of his art form and its surrounding society, he may have choosen the wrong tradition, the wrong art form. And, by the way, 'originality' is in itself no artistic category but a psychological one: a crazy crank, a psychopath can be very original but not an artist. Striving after 'originality'' is not possible, since it is a 'given' of the person like hair colour, shape of nose, way of walking or talking. Paradoxically, in first subjecting himself to a tradition, he will gradually discover his own artistic personality and originality but then, as a result of a trajectory and not as a goal after which he aimed all the time. The artificial chase after being original as an artist inevitably results in fake.... as we see all around us. If you read the biographies of the greatest artists of the past, especially the most original ones began by fanatically learning their craft from masters of the past, that is how they found-out about their own capacities and originality.

  • rameshraghuvanshi

    Be remember fake writing never remember for ever on the contrary true genuine writing is immortal .Can humanity forget Shakespeare or great Marathi port Tukaram ?From last three hundred years they are recited by people all over the world

  • beachcomber

    Fake it till you make it, dude. Which applies not only the the Andy Warhols (who never made it) but also to the wannabee blogosphere philosophers.

    On reading the fraught comments, I realize the difference between the third world society in which I live and the first world where the realities of living and surviving are so distant as to allow for the minute dissection of irrelevant philosophers and their academic concepts of existence.

    • John Borstlap

      Not true. First world existence luxury is a very recent achievement, while philosophers - including the ones Scruton quotes - lived in a world where surviving realities were as real as those now characterizing third world societies. Scruton talks reality, about culture providing the means of reconciliation with the human condition and that also goes for third world societies. It is the fakes like Faucoult c.s. who are the meaningless fruits of a degenerate society drowning in luxury goods.

  • Smkahoo

    To those critics of Mr. Scruton please help me understand the Whitney Museum charming display of human feces as art. When that is finished enlighten me as to the "art" of Robert Mapplethorpe with particular attention to the close up photograph of a whip handle protruding from an anus. (Never mind the crucifix submerged in urine as the art world was nearly unanimous in approval)

    • Googie Bergdorff

      They can't explain it because it is emotive rather than rational.

    • ckzs

      To answer this question you must explain how you understand the notion of art. You can not (obviously) apply the same criteria to evaluate Wagner as an art and feces in the can as an art - it is like saying that sofa is better than the fork. Conceptual art (feces) pieces acquire they status as an object of art because of the CONCEPTUAL value, that is, they REFLECT certain things, for example the very notion of art (what is art, the role of artist etc), some private issues, myriads of sociopolitical problems etc .And context is of vast importance when we talk about objects like these - of course anyone can pack their shit and present it as art but the art is not to shit and present but to have the intellectual vigor and artistic intuition to feel when packed shit of yours will have the power to transcends itself and become the symbolical commentary on contemporary word. Now you can shit as much as you like and nothing will happen because that would be FAKE, but when he presented this work (i think we are talking about Manzoni`s "Merda d`artista") it was as authentic as Wagner's music but from different perspective.

      It is simply a different paradigm - if by your standards and understanding art is only and nothing else then process of creation with perfected medium - classical painting, classical music, classical novels then things like feces in the can will never enter your perception as being an object of art but your perception can not be the arbiter of what art is in the last possible instance of judgement. People like Scruton think that some how (i can not imagine why) they are those arbiters and their taste reflect the standards of "real art" and rest is labeled as fake. It is surprisingly immature position for the guy of his age.

      I agree that we can and we should criticize particular works of contemporary art but to say that this kind of art as a whole is fake and that being fake is its inherent quality is quite ignorant, unproductive and "unanalytic".

      To act fake is to pretend that there has been some kind of golden age of art, taste and culture and that we can simply insert it in our own culture - wake up, Scruton, it never gonna happen, face the reality.

      • Smkahoo

        In the end, CKZS, you still end up with feces presented as art. C'mon. If there are no objective criteria for art , then there is no art.. The best description of modern art is, "all inspiration and no talent!"

  • rameshraghuvanshi

    From ancient time fake and original art are produced by artists.Genuine art remain forever fake art finished within few years. Why Mahabhrata ,Homer remained three thousand years?Why Shakespeare and great Marathi port Tukaram people recited from last three hundred years?Thousand of fake books published every year can readers remembered them one week also.Those who want cheap publicity they always want to created fake art but readers are more clever they know which is authentic and which is bogus

    • John Borstlap

      Just VERY true! Repeated exposure eventually makes nonsense evaporate. That is the way a 'canon' develops.

  • Meta4s

    I disagree with the overall premise, but in agreement with some of the points. If one assumes that modern art is largely a "mirror" rather than a "window", it is naturally reflecting the world around it. In this sense they are not exactly fakes, but "representational" of our society. Like assault weapons and mass murders, they are not the failure to regulate, but the failure to see first causes. But that analogy is apples and oranges here, as art has little significance on the state of world affairs, and is ultimately just a "mirror" phenomenon.

    In my own personal observation of the works created by the generations of artists since 1900 is a tendency to be reflexive of cultural anxieties in response to the ramping up of modernity, and the artistic response to it. This is still happening, and goes back to my point of first causes, that which you will probably never find. So get used to it. (Modernism did not "rescue the sincere" as much as it did to remove the sentimental.)

    In the music world there is a pervasive feeling of fatalism and/or sour grapes that there is nothing left to pursue in earnest, especially learning how to play traditional instruments. Musical ability is either too irrelevant in modern music, or not ironic enough. The objective seems to be to detach as much as possible from the emotions, and this is entirely understandable given the reflected world we see.

    I agree with the reader that panned your understanding of John Cage, Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. It seems that in your dismissal of certain kinds of art you throw away our collective understanding of it as it exists in the pantheon of art.

    What we need are new ways to view modern art in a more inclusive way, and I am glad that there are living artists and musicians that are directly engaged in embracing the new, even if they don't incorporate it in their own work.

    • John Borstlap

      It just has to be established what it is, this 'new' that has to be embraced. That something is 'new' says nothing about its quality or usefullness. It is a 20C cliché and as such, very helpful to cover-up incompetence. And then: is art always reflecting the world? Is it not also commenting upon it? Or reflecting the inner world of the maker(s)? Did a gothic cathedral reflect the world, or a belief system which had not much in common with the world as it was / is? Should we be so inclusive that we include, wholeheartedly, the fake, the incompetent, the pointless, the puerile? To what end: fairness to artistically challenged people? All that would be social policy but has nothing to do with the notion of art.

      • Jeff Blanks

        But something is certainly wrong when nothing new is happening.

  • Kleer Kutt

    Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar. Sometimes BS is only BS.

  • mkr

    I think the core of the argument is correct. Our culture has deluded itself into fake expression. Art and culutural expression have become reactionary, not because of a sincere need to rebel against mainstream culture - but because culture has defined itself as reactionary.
    Think Tattoos: What once was a meaningful cultural symbol has become mainstream - yet, the 17 year old prep school girl still believes that she is rebeling. It is now totally fake - for the tattoo artist, the girl and her parents, who forbid it. But the response to this fake culure is not to do something original - its to cover your entire body in tattos - - more of the same - even more fake.

    • Jeff Blanks

      This doesn't take account of the fact that there are still plenty of places that are conservative enough that a tattoo (or whatever you might substitute) really would be an act of rebellion. I think the artistic community isn't attuned enough to that, though.

  • riverbow

    scrotum hangs himself out to dry as soon as he chooses the word "fake" as one of his categories.....and opposes it to the true....and then rides out onto the battleground of art and culture. Typically most of his examples of "real art" date back a hundred years, if not more. Anything nearer and he's at sea without his cliff notes, I suspect. As an academic, he naturally writes about these subjects as if the creators of all this mal-intentioned kitsch operated in some grad seminar la la land in which food did not have to be bought, medical bills paid, dealers and publishers and maestros appeased, and the million other motivators that undergird a life of "culture making" did not exist. I'm sure his knowledge of John Cage's life or Duchamp's or Pound's or Eliot's or Philip Roth or Coetzee or Garcia Marquez or Mutis or Borges or Neruda or Transtromer would not overflow a thimble. For pleasure he probably reads thrillers, got a whole shelf of Ludlum or Lee Child hidden behind the crockery. (which is not a criticism in my book....but simple pleasure has no place in Scrotum's categories) No doubt his real target is Foucault and Rorty and their myrmidons in the academy (ho hum ho hum didn't the order of things take Paris by storm 46 years ago). No doubt the editors of this journal asked him to write the usual bit of scrutoniana.....round up the usual suspects and beat em around the head and shoulders for l500 words so can fill some space between the advertisements. Bottom line: the relation of a piece like this to what is actually happening in the culture field in 2012 is......well there is none. This man don't have a clue to actual conditions boots on the ground. His choice of the binary opp true/fake shows how tone deaf he is when it comes to discussing the "making" of a painting or a poem or a novel or a sonata or a pop song. Hack is a much better choice; it even fits philosophers.

    • Googie Bergdorff

      You lost me at Scrotum.

  • Reiner Torheit

    Roger Scruton is a washed-up and worthless moron whose own contributions to culture have been LAUGHABLE.

    Take his 'operas', which have been LAUGHED OFF on every occasion they've been performed.

    This man is a tedious,puffed-up pillock. His ideas are worth ZERO.

  • Roy Niles


    "To fake things you have to take people in, yourself included. In an important sense, therefore, faking is not something that can be intended, even though it comes about through intentional actions."

    Scruton is my favorite conservative, but then nobody's perfect. Faking us not really faking if you don't know on at least a subconscious level that you're doing it. All you have to do is be one of the million or so graduates of a US art school to be assured by decreed degree that you are now one of the new million originals let loose in the most modern cultural era ever. Joining the few million original writers who were taught that fakery can't be faked if it's fictional.

  • joshua lucas

    This reads like something written in Commentary in, like, 1991.

  • Miguel Pedro

    I hate comment boxes and all it´s pseudo- democratic "opinion" of ressentment

  • MF McAuliffe

    'M'kay. Got it. Everything Scruton dislikes is kitsch.

  • MF McAuliffe

    Ok, got it. Everything Scruton dislikes is kitsch.

  • Guest

    See Carrie Lambert-Beatty's essay "Make-Believe: Parafiction and Plausibility" for an enlightened take on the "fake," or what Lambert-Beatty calls parafiction.

  • Anon722

    While I agree with all Scruton's main claims, it is not true to say of Cage that he showed "no prior evidence of musical competence" before 4' 33''. His Sonatas and Interludes is an earlier work, of great beauty and musical intelligence. What is sad is that someone capable of such music should have given up and become a joker.

    • Robert Davidson

      He never did become a joker - he is one of the most serious composers in the Western canon

  • Ahmed Masood

    He is a big faker. That's why he has so much contempt for Prof. Noam Chomsky. He is not a man of serious scholarship.

    • Googie Bergdorff

      What a strange assertion.

  • Googie Bergdorff

    Does high culture even exist anymore?

  • LeeRonstadt

    In the early 1970s I went to an art show at the Bezalel Institute in Israel. One of the exhibits was composed of a number of cow's tongues in tanks of liquid - predating Damian Hirst by several decades.

    • Moodie

      well yeah Damian does ride on the shoulders of giants ... or copies a lot ... but originality isn't the point ... the point for me is whether it's worth seeing!

  • Virginia Bryant

    Keep trying! Perhaps fake culture and corrupt politics are symptomatic of each other? Chris Hedges makes this argument about the celebrity "culture". Long live idealism and dreams of what is good.

  • Jack Ramsey

    Great essay--articulates many things I've long felt. (Though a few dense sentences did border on the 'fake'.) In any event, disgusting as the celebrated fakery has become, I can't help but think that things have always been this way, and only time will sort the wheat from the chaff.

  • PaulfromNoVa

    Surrender, Scruton! You can't win this one based on absolutist notions of "truth" and a point of view that "ideas that in some way deny my faith-based belief in eternal verities are fake."

    • Robert Davidson

      Actually it would help if he just got facts right to start with

  • Frederick

    All well and true. But in the meantime Roger is a "scholar" at an outfit that specializes in promoting fakery, hype, plus religious economic and political lies, while all the time pretending otherwise. I am of course referring to the American Enterprise Institute

  • John

    Please check out these two references on Art, The Beautiful and Sacred Culture.

    Plus a related reference which features an image by the above artist.

  • Some Guy

    I don't profess to be an intellectual or have much breadth of knowledge in the art world, but the comments section of these online articles always makes me world-weary.

    Quite sad that even the 'cultural elite' have nothing to do but bicker in the most depraved manner of the internet about objective truths.

  • Ashu

    [The same phenomenon can be discerned in music, with the repeated figures based on simple tonal chords that we find in Philip Glass and, to some extent, Steve Reich. In response to the argument that the triad is a cliché, such composers take hold of the triad and repeat it until you can be sure that they are aware that it is a cliché, and that they have put quotation marks around that very awareness.]
    Anyone else here find this a bizarrely shallow and paranoid claim?

    • John Borstlap

      No, it's just how it is. Sound material in music derives its meaning from context. That is why the same triad can sound tedious in Glass and expressive in Mozart: in the latter's musical context there is so much more room for variety and expressive nuances, while Glass uses his material machine-like, bland, empty. Glass' cultural framework is the kitsch of a-cultural modern times, Mozart's the hierarchical culture where artistic quality was taught top-down and artists competed with each other to climb-up to the highest level they could reach.

      • Robert Davidson

        Such an ignorant statement. No idea of the larger Asian connection, without which you can't begin to get Glass' music.

      • Robert Davidson

        Glass' connection with popular music is also crucial to understanding his music.

    • Mozibur Ullah

      I like Phillip Glass. So yes I do.

  • dr

    The same model of anaysis applies to poetry from 1960 to present. As one middle-age professor of today puts it, "poetry is anything one calls poetry."

  • Morticia Nobunkum

    "They trade in ‘originality’, ‘transgression’ and ‘breaking new paths’.
    But these terms are clichés, as are the things they are used to praise.
    Hence the flight from cliché ends in cliché.", and other good observations. This article is food for thought, a bit bitter but still food...

  • Suzy Butterfly

    Fake was my favorite word in 1975 at university. It was my benchmark between direct knowing and the onslaught of the educators. Curious is my emotion to the author for his link between direct knowing and truth. To ask: Does author believe/understand concept of direct knowing?

  • Hans

    I agree with many points, especially regarding Art as this is the field I am involved in. Perhaps I have misunderstood, but I feel one must take care when using the term 'fake', as it may well be an authentic phenomenon. Perhaps culture is indeed undergoing a process of authentic decay; out of which another authentic - no matter how seemingly fake - culture evolve. After all, culture does reflect society.

  • Raul Miller

    I am having trouble making consistent with each other the ideas I think, when I read the text of this article describing john cage and the ideas I think when I read

    So now I am wondering, what does "evidence of musical competence" mean? How would I know which people that have been involved in musical endeavors for decades exhibit this competence and which do not? Must I rely on an expert opinion, such as is expressed in this article, to achieve this understanding? Are endeavors in particular genres or with particular musical qualities better evidence that endeavors in other genres or with different musical qualities? Is "musical competence" something that could be added to pandora's musical categories?

  • Robert Davidson

    The main problem here is with a shallow understanding of the artists decried. Would Roger have the first understanding of the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Cage for example? The silent piece was entirely serious, and it's just ignorant to think of it as a prank. Or the impact of Kathakali and Koodiyattam, not to mention Javanese and Balinese theatre and music on Philip Glass. His use of repetition is very much in keeping with the ritual pace of Asian theatre, and was not simply a diversion into kitsch. This is serious, important art - but you are not going to understand it if you stubbornly ignore non-Western cultures.

  • AnonymousMessiah

    I feel like my mind is a tree, and every experience is a ray of light on some corresponding leaf. More profound experiences which produce deeper revelations are analogous to brighter rays of light and more growth in the corresponding branch.
    Up until now a large section of my tree has been weak and small, undeveloped. But after this blast it has grown in one experience more than any other single experience has changed me.

  • Notagain!

    Here goes Mr Scruton again with a very simple argument: "We have left authentic high culture behind and just go through the motions of" - true culture, needless to say, is that one of the good old days, where women - and gay people - knew their place and where there was nothing like upper-class hunting to aspire to. Nice writing, some nice insights, but in the end more of the same: conspiracy theories, the powers of darkness against the well-established order Mr Scruton does not want to disappear.

  • Bruce Halpin

    I've come late to the party, but I'll have some say anyway. Scruton should stick to writing philosophy cliff notes and leave the heavy lifting to actual philosophers and critics like Arthur Danto. I admit I haven't closely read his screed, it's too boring. And pretty much the same as everything he writes: a drawn out exegesis of how cultural conservatives are correct and everyone else is wrong. I don't like all contemporary art, some is good some isn't. That's why we have critics and so forth. But anybody who throws it all onto the same heap so they can show how worthless it all is, is stupid,lazy, and dishonest.

  • Bigby

    Amusingly, the vast majority of the art buying public has no idea about what you are talking about and as far as they are concerned the art establishment doesn't even register on their radar. I put forth that the art establishment and the artists that participate in it have zero impact and no significance whatsoever as far as the rest of the world is concerned.
    0.0001% of the population visit establishment galleries. The circle of fakery, as you put it, exists in a tiny raindrop floating out in space somewhere... It has nothing to do with reality. Real art, ie aesthetic objects, are being made and sold every day by people who aren't part of that circle. And this is where the important work is taking place, the sort of work that is actually doing something good for people.

  • Moodie

    As someone who doesnt exactly understand po'mo' but sorta does ... can't kitsch n fakery be analysed from marxist perspective ... to show how fake it is????! Ditto po'mo' - the powers that be have just 'allowed' Lowry to be displayed at the Tate. Heaven forbid that this should extend to more of what the masses actually like ... Beryl Cook for example? Lowry is an interesting point - he painted people as part of a group rather than individuals ... something upper middle class may not have experienced or appreciate? Hence corruscating [good word eh Brian?] that Sewell et al seem to miss. Yes others have shown industrial landscape but not this - or am I wrong?
    As for Ms Emin's bed ... sorry to mention ... Roger [Scruton] - I am with you 100 per cent - she appears to *believe* the rubbish she spouts, which she spouts eloquently but ... art, skill ... never mind po'mo' can we just call it 'emporesses new clothes'?
    Moodie x

  • Kashif Ansari

    fake things too have a reality. maybe the greatest lie of all is the culturally beautiful stuff of which i dare not say the name for it is too sacred. but that does not detract from its greatness since it is taken on faith. we all need a life-lie in order to unconsciously assimilate this great mystery that is existence. and mind you it is a bittersweet brew that otherwise would be just plain bitter and unswallowable. even derrida spoke of how all drama, fashion and props too were as much a part of life as truth and infrastructure and the economy. the essential and the nonessential must coexist as a very inspirational teacher of mine told me.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Roger, I'm very surprised Dali's not in here. I would see him as someone who was earlier in life an actual modernist innovator, but later descended into schlock. Richard Strauss offers a parallel example, perhaps, in classical music.

  • S.Wartownik

    Rather good article.
    A bit short and superficial perhaps.
    Albeit there is nothing new in this type of anti-modernist-art philippics, but it gives certain people (unfamiliar with the painful issues of esthetics & sense in modern art) few bits to think about.

  • Oliver Milne

    What starts out fake doesn't have to stay that way. Think about Renaissance portraiture - flattering pictures of what the sitter liked to think they looked like, painted for cold hard cash. Technically excellent - as in, requiring skill and effort to produce - but, at the time they were made, as fake or faker than a lot of modern art. Yet when we look at them today, when we're at a distance from the gross necessities of their makers, the cowl of falsehood falls away. The same thing will happen to some of the rebellion-kitsch art of today: it will end up recontextualised in a setting that gives it an authentic value it doesn't currently have.

  • Jon

    Except, in many ways, 'tradition' and 'culture' are complicit social endeavours: what distinguishes this nostalgic vision of tradition from 'faking' except that everyone isn't ironically self-aware about it?

    The real problems lie in the way in contemporary times art and "high culture" prizes itself as important just because, without contributing real value to the community and humanity. Although, this has a negative bias towards rich ostentatiousness/decadence: which all of us are complicit: we are only separated by degree.

    I think there are important things modernism and postmodernism has done for us: we are entering a plurality without real distinction between good and bad in creative value, because let's face it, PoMo has droned on ever so often: value in the social setting comes from social complicity, and we tend to band together with those who share our all so often imperfect views: it's exploited in art anyway, and will continue to be exploited. There maybe implicit biogenetic standards for things like beauty and greatness in art, but beyond that the game is an open field, and you're being an awful prude by claiming that certain types of cultures in the creative fields are more "truthful" than others.

    Every artist has in some way played to the tune of society: even in rebelling, one conforms to the negative expression of his culture.

    We must not be pricks about this sad fact: let us hope that the new pluralism in our very much mediated world will give us our very own plot of land: so that we may with others partake in a cultured and transcendent masturbation perfect for us all.

  • Princess

    But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2Tim 3:13 We know that the most effective lie is the one people want to believe. I am disheartened to spend a lot of money for my kids to go to university to attain a credential, rather than get an education.

  • Shane

    I think it's a trap to polarise between what is original and/ or fake. Scruton makes a good case, a case I think better argued through seeing all human making as aesthetic activity or exercise irrespective, initially, of value laden judgments. Aesthetic here means more "aisthesis", the kind that Baumgarten, Herder et al understood as sensuous cognition and 'touch' as distinct from the purely noetic realms of human cognition. That is this "aesthetic" is prior to Taste and any convention. So, there is no "anti-aesthetic" when aesthetic here means the above mentioned "aisthesis".
    The next, I think is, is to look at modes of cognition in the broad terms of aestheta and noeta to speculate how intellecting and affective modes of cognition and experiencing relate and exemplified through things made. The point of all this is to to tap away at "fake" and "original" or genuine but to take less seriously as enfettering, the pit falls and rises of various "aesthetic exercises" whereby the deepest insights to reality connected to the life world of humans is not forfeited whilst being free to play with all and sundry; the junk-humanum including kitsch. What I think that does is limit the bracketing and compartmentalising that occurs in the superciliousness of art circles whilst also, potentially, offering the topos, for a "17 yr old" rebellious girl perspective on her emotional evolution as just one instance.

  • Ive Cooper

    A culture is based on a philosophy that is in it's turn based on a theology . Remove the theology and replace is with another or none. Then the foundations of that philosophy are removed leaving you with a house that is built on sand alone.

  • Sean

    Makes me think of Baudrillard's "precession of simulacra" and the phases of images he proposes. But anything might for a person who reads that kind of thing. And as such a person, I can't resist trying to attack the text with the same rhetoric which it explicitly condemns as empty nonsense. Then still, what other tools do I have? As someone who has never known the authentic, what should its shadow tell me? Should this be a more authentic shadow play than the others? Thinking of Kobo Abe's "Inter Ice Age 4", I'm left feeling a bit like a forsaken, gilled creature (this as opposed to being encouraged - or at least left - to swim). But what right do I have to be cross: the text wasn't about me, after all, but about culture; about a particular state of culture. Yet culture is important.

  • Mikael Lind

    I agree with you on Cage; he made interesting work with his prepared piano, some really suggestive music for string quartet, and the amazing piano piece In A Landscape. However, Scruton makes a point that is valid, with regards to 4'33 as a piece of art music. It's very clever, it gives directions, it tells musicians "don't just fill your scores with notes, listen to the silence in between musical phrases as well, and not only that... find out that true silence doesn't actually exist", and perhaps "what we perceive as silence is partly relative", kind of Wittgensteinian. But the piece itself is just a statement that can only be said once. You couldn't do a 4'32, or a 4'34 - that would be utterly pointless. That was a part of Scruton's argumentation.

  • hearingcrushed

    I think the core of the argument is correct. Our culture has deluded itself into fake expression. Art and culutural expression have become reactionary, not because of a sincere need to rebel against mainstream culture - but because culture has defined itself as reactionary.
    Think Tattoos: What once was a meaningful cultural symbol has become mainstream - yet, the 17 year old prep school girl still believes that she is rebeling. It is now totally fake - for the tattoo artist, the girl and her parents, who forbid it. But the response to this fake culure is not to do something original - its to cover your entire body in tattos - - more of the same - even more fake.