Monday, 13 June 2011

12-Pages Issue 7: Radicals Cover and Introduction

Introduction by Paul Mendez

A group of artists, writers, musicians and thinkers in the early nineteenth century, among them the British notables Mary Wollstonecraft, Lord Byron, Thomas Paine, William Blake and Mary Shelley, became known as the Romantics. Priding intuition and imagination over reason and empiricism, their original thought and free speech was a radical departure from Enlightenment rationalism, yielding a cannon of seminal works, such as Paine's Rights of Man and Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman, whose legacies are enduring.

It has become a topic of contention as to what the term 'radical' means today, such is its ever-changing context. Arguably, since the events of September 11, 2001, pejorative connotations have been dominant. Radical Islam and the threat of terror hang over the globe like the Armageddon of Revelation, precipitating a war between the secular and pious that has prattled on bloodily for a decade. Indeed, the 'radicalisation' page on Wikipedia focuses almost solely on the path to jihadisation and subsequent commitment to the performance of terrorist acts. It can thus be argued that, paradoxically, radicalisation today serves to create something conventional: a homogenous army of self-destructive followers as opposed to the individual, free-thinking, independent agent for positive change that each of the Romantics is remembered as being.

Indeed, worryingly, the gloved hand of the state, fearing the might of the people as demonstrated in the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, is frequently creeping round to silence such independent voices, even in the second decade of the 21st century. Following Ai Weiwei's arrest and detention by the Chinese government, the Booker-Prize-winning Indian novelist Arundhati Roy told The Guardian of the increasing persecution she has received as she continues to polemicise about the problems of the Indian state, its stance on Kashmir, its scant regard for the environment in favour of rapid development and its record on corruption.

Two hundred years after the Romantics paved the way for independent minds to help change the world for the better, and in a world where each individual has the capacity to express and propagate their opinions via free blogging software and microblogging sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it seems inevitable that governments will stymie the potential for anarchy these technological and social developments can engender, for better or worse. Individuals become more radical as societies homogenise. Something must break.

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