Shakespeare on Mars

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In the week I read Andy Aitken's letter (Feedback, Socialist Review, September 2008) I heard an emotional, blistering performance of Dimitri Shostakovich's 10th Symphony played by the Berlin Philharmonic at the Proms.

This large, dark, brooding work on the death of Stalin uplifts the human spirit, a spirit that even Stalin couldn't crush. After all, Stalin was the man who said the sign of a good song is one you can whistle.

All art, music and culture carry the ideas of our ruling class, but they also carry our humanity. Music played in "high" art institutions has different historical traditions: some was banned in its time, some sank under indifference, some despairs at the human condition, and some sets itself against the ruling ideologies. The cultural expression of our fears, loves, death and struggle is in the good work.

During the Cultural Revolution in Mao's China a playwright was imprisoned for "bourgeois deviation" after translating Hamlet for the Chinese stage. I remember Tony Cliff being outraged, saying that after the socialist revolution we would translate Shakespeare into every language on the planet, and then into Martian. Why? Because Hamlet transcends class and history to talk about our human spirit.

To be honest, I heard echoes of myself in Andy, but I came to ask why "they" didn't expect me at their cultural palaces. They meant I couldn't understand it. There's no "high" and "low" art, just good and bad, and I'll be fucked if they are ever going to stop me getting to it.

Roger Huddle