Death of the Imagination

England should be respected and revered as a land of great majesty, a scrap of earth in the middle of a tempestuous sea that has weathered times of great hostility since its creation from the tenth century. Instead it has inspired cynicism, contempt and condescension for everything including its traditions, its people, even its climate.

However it isn`t foreigners who are responsible for all of these attitudes, but the English themselves. In fact it is a particular group of English people, who are affluent and supposedly educated who turn their noses up at English culture. These are the same people who heap praises upon other European nations, professing the superiority of the music, religion and weather in these countries.

There is a kind of dullness associated with these people who cannot appreciate the beauty of their own nation, who fail to be moved by an Elgar concerto, by the words of the Book of Common Prayer, or by the dark tones of a winter morning so perfectly evinced within a Turner painting.

These dull critics believe that they are liberal minded and identify with that nebulous concept of being “European”. Consequently the erasure of English pride and identity has accelerated, as these are the privileged voices that dominate.

Alongside this has been a corresponding decline in imagination. There has always been a strong thread of philistinism running through our society which has looked down upon anyone prepared to be creative or unusual. Unfortunately many of our artists have had to seek refuge in other countries where they are understood rather than mocked or ridiculed. Ironically most people from European countries have a deep admiration for English culture.

The writer John Higgs has written extensively about the life and work of William Blake. Higgs has observed that Blake is loved by disparate English men and women, from tweedy aristocrats to youthful punk radicals with coloured hair. It is remarkable that no other English poet attracts so much adoration from people who have so little in common. Nonetheless he was derided in his lifetime, lived in penury and castigated as mad and dangerous. Then, as now, the establishment and wider society were suspicious of someone who was different and imaginative.

Blake could not be more English in his references to nature and character, but as conformity is so entrenched within our society he was misunderstood. The political and cultural establishment in this country continues to inhibit free thinking from creatives. Other countries respect this, regardless of how uncomfortable this may be. Higgs describes making a pilgrimage to Blake`s birthplace in London, but to his dismay all he finds is a cake shop, the kind that you find on every high street in this country along with Marks and Spencers and other chains. He also complains about the well heeled but stubbornly provincial residents of Primrose Hill who objected to a plaque dedicated to the eighteenth century druid and poet Iolo Morganwg. The plaque was unveiled on the hill to commemorate this island`s distant druid past and Bardic tradition, but the residents were too dull and suburban to appreciate it.

Higgs addresses this strange disdain that some people have for our national poets and by association our nation directly,

“A sense of connection to your land, it can be argued, is necessary for, not opposed to, a deep respect for people of all cultures and creeds. This position goes past the framing of nationalism and internationalism, or leave and remain, as our primary duality. Instead it divides the world into those who delight in what they love, and those who focus on what they hate.”

This is the most succinct and powerful address to our nation`s divide and a clarion call for us to respect our artists.

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