Cultural critics from around the world offer their views on the issue of the artist's responsibility to society. The contributors to this collection look beyond censorship and free speech issues to emphasize the subject of freedom. More specifically, they question the ethical, mutual responsibilities between artists and the societies in which they live. Their essays address an eclectic range of subjects: censorship, multiculturalism, the transition from communism to capitalism in Eastern Europe, postmodernism, Salman Rushdie, and the responsibility of young black film-makers to the black community.
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Debate about how artists express political content in their work "has been disappointingly constrained" in America, according to Becker in her introduction to this collection of essays by intellectuals and artists from a number of different nationalities and perspectives. Highlights of part one, "Personal Responsibility and Political Contingencies," include Page Dubois's discussion of autonomous art (as opposed to political art) as a relatively new idea and Kathy Acker's brassy parable of a post-modern writer struggling with her loss of belief in the possibility of "art in this culture." Part two, "Decolonizing the Imagination," features Becker's own prescription to read Marcuse as a "stronghold against the nihilism and denigration that at times threaten to engulf" our current sensibility; and Michael Eric Dyson's consideration of the "new black cinema" and its potential for effecting social change. The book ends in a section titled "Theorizing the Future," in which Henry Giroux's discussion of the false image of progressiveness in Benetton ads and B. Ruby Rich's first-person meditation on how the "old models for political engagement in art are not working" project views of an art world to come. While much of the language here is academic ("Rap developed as a relatively independent expression of black male artistic rebellion against the black bourgeois Weltanschauung "), the overall subject matter extends well beyond academe to post-revolutionary Czechoslovakia, an activist's prison life and struggling artists in Mexico City.
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