Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

To Hell with Culture. A Film about Herbert Read

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

To Hell with Culture. A Film about Herbert Read

Article excerpt

Huw Wahl, To Hell with Culture. A Film about Herbert Read (2014), 56 minutes

A man cultivating the earth, that is the elementary economic fact, and as a poet I am only concerned with elementary facts. (Read cited in To Hell with Culture)

The sounds of rainwater and contentedly cooing birds open Huw Wahl's film about the life and work of Herbert Read. They are followed by a citation from Read's speech, at the 1964 Dokumenta III, declaring the 'heroic struggle' facing art in an age of 'mediocrity and mass values'. This point of view is then endorsed by the filmmaker himself in a statement that criticises contemporary 'neoliberalism' and asserts the need to resist the commodification of culture. We move on to the clicking of an anachronistic slide projector showing images of the countryside. Read's voice blends in. He cites Thoreau: 'It requires a direct dispensation from heaven to become a walker ... ' Read concurs. He asserts the fundamental importance of free bodily movement, the rhythmic passage through a constantly changing environment, the stimulating and creative interaction with the living world around us ...

With these brief opening scenes Wahl elegantly introduces us to some of the distinctive aspects of Read's thinking and doing as laid out in his seminal essay To Hell with Culture (2002, p13):

The values which I am concerned with ... - values which we call the 'beautiful' - were not invented in ancient Athens or anywhere else. They are part of the structure of the universe and our consciousness of that structure.

We understand that for Read the 'aesthetic' should not be considered to be a mere leisure activity, for those who have the spare time and finances. For him, art is essential to a full life and being able to experience its pleasures is a highly-charged political issue. Indeed we are told that he made it his 'mission' to contribute to our re-engagement with art, and thereby with nature, in order to have 'a path of [our] own'.

The portrait of Read that emerges in the film suggests that this 'knight, poet, anarchist' certainly had a distinctive 'path of his own'. He is described as a fascinatingly 'contradictory' figure, both 'grounded' in rural Englishness and fully au fait with the latest innovations in European modernism; a well-established figure whilst being an antiinstitutional militant; 'kindly aloof', yet also passionate about his convictions, e. …

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