The curse of relevance

In the cultural or academic worlds, ‘relevance’ is surely the most horrendous concept ever invented. Whether it’s people wondering “what’s the point” of studying Anglo-Saxon, or directors sticking cack-handed references to Iraq war into Monteverdi, it’s based on the fundamental principle that there are no eternal verities, and nothing can be interesting or engaging unless it’s about ME ME ME and NOW NOW NOW. Well, bollocks to that.

There are eternal truths in old art and knowledge, as much as there are in modern life, that’s why we still study them. Maybe it involves a bit of thought to get at, and maybe it’s boring for some, but getting at those philosophical truths is how we work out our picture of the world. The end of the cult of relevance is a collection of individual pods, with dribbling morons being read Macbeth but with all the characters speaking modern English, named after the listener and her friends, and with the action taking place in her house.

The cause of this rant is not so much the new production of the hip-hop Così fan Tutte at Glyndebourne, reported here, but the BBC’s reporting of how boring Così is, and how down wit da kidz this new production is. One singer says:

I’ve been in traditional productions of this where the audience frankly was bored stiff. Sometimes I was too. It can be a hard show to enjoy. So why not keep what works and build around it?”

Why not? Boring old Mozart. Keep bits of the music, maybe a couple of the characters, and let’s build something NEW and RELEVANT and BETTER on that tired old classic. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas Mozart.