What good are manifestos? They don’t change the basic fact: human beings are shits. It took us millions of years to evolve into highly sophisticated but selfish (and paradoxically self-destructive) entities, and I don’t see us changing any time soon. I’ve never quite been able to subscribe to the Hegelian view that incrementally, collectively, we are making progress towards a more enlightened state as a species.
It is just possible that, very very VERY slowly, we are starting to achieve consensus – based on the uncontested principle of minimising harm – about the best ways of organising, regulating and liberating societies. But, as we see demonstrated in almost every South African news headline, principle and practice can be so utterly divorced as to make the former entirely unrelated to the latter.
So again, I wonder, what good are manifestos? Even if we could get everyone to agree to the sentiments expressed in a particular declaration, getting them to abide by those sentiments in their daily actions and interactions would be impossible. And, that contrarian voice in my head asks, would we want them to? What if we persuaded all members of a community, or citizens of a nation, to follow a manifesto? Doesn’t that come dangerously close to brainwashing, or fundamentalism, or even fascism?
Then a more honest, humble but brave voice speaks up. It tells me that all of these reservations are a form of intellectual posturing – a fence-sitting, passivity-endorsing, nay-saying excuse for not committing to a belief, to any belief.
Antony Cronin has written of Samuel Beckett’s work that it is “full of reservations and uncertainties, denials and admissions that something else might be the case ... Belief – or disbelief – was not something [Beckett] permitted himself. He thought it was better to live, and to admit to living, in uncertainty: better because more honest.”
I have often thought I might adopt this as my own credo (or non-credo, as the case may be). But when you’re living in a society where, let’s be honest, all too often “anything goes” – where rape and pillage and bigotry are allowed to flourish – agnosticism is simply too easy. And that’s why we need manifestos.
Manifestos, I have realised while reflecting on this bold new issue of Itch, are manifestations of courage and conviction in a world of cowardice and compromise. Manifestos are evidence that artists and writers are proud of what they do, what they feel, and yes, what they believe.
So I commend the contributors to Itch e.11 – and I heartily recommend them to you.