I prefer ‘Silent Night’ to be pure, and simple, and clear. I imagine drifts of snow frozen and crusted over, everything still, under a starry sky.
A bit of a prayer, really, but one of warmth:
It reminded me of this:
My fiftieth year had come and gone, I sat, a solitary man, In a crowded London shop, An open book and empty cup On the marble table-top. While on the shop and street I gazed My body of a sudden blazed; And twenty minutes more or less It seemed, so great my happiness, That I was blessed and could bless.
‘A YouGov poll on behalf of Homes & Antiques magazine has revealed that Banksy is Britain’s favourite artist.’
Dear Reader, I used to read ‘Homes & Antiques Magazine‘ religiously, hours of orange rinds scattered on my plate. ‘What can it mean?’
I used to drive half-dressed to the last parking lot on Earth, a few final photons bending through our atmosphere.
I could not outrun a racing mind, pacing among the dunes, staring out across an empty bay, salt winds curling the grasses: ‘Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are FOURTH on the yougov most popular food and snack brands list.‘
This calms me, anyways:
Once you accept the idea that a good work of art can play deep chords, elevating you, proffering wisdom, awe, and pleasure, you generally wish to preserve it and hold it close, sharing in its illumination. In such a light, a lot of other stuff can resemble so much kitsch strewn after a storm of technological and engineering progress..
Depending on how deeply and often you do this, you can become ‘refined.’
‘We have been replacing a lack of cultural quality with cultural quantity. Instead than having rare moments of beauty, power and insight, we (or, at least, many of us) face a ceaseless barrage of the cute, the curious and the clichéd. Rather than seeking out artworks which flicker in our minds long after we have stopped looking at them, we browse past endless images that light our brains up like catherine wheels. Images are almost too accessible. We can see everything, and nothing matters. Like. Like. Like.’
As I currently see things, there are always questions of artistic sorts feeling constrained by convention, tradition, repetition and practice. Money issues never really go away. Now there’s just an arguably greater quantity of crap with which to compete for a reader’s attention.
Perhaps there’s also the condition of the isolated individual artist alone, conceiving of himself as outside all meaningful conventions, traditions and practices. This, too, has become a convention, tradition and practice, for many artists and non-artists alike. Selves speak to Selves.
Just stay on the surface of things, and move through:
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.
“Democratic and aristocratic states are not in their own nature free. Political liberty is to be found only in moderate governments; and even in these it is not always found. It is there only when there is no abuse of power. But constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go.”
“That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
‘I’ll begin the critique with the last point. “We never see properties, although we see that certain things have certain properties.” (179) If van Inwagen can ‘peter out,’ so can I: I honestly don’t know what to make of the second clause of the quoted sentence. I am now, with a brain properly caffeinated, staring at my blue coffee cup in good light. Van Inwagen’s claim is that I do not see the blueness of the cup, though I do see that the cup is blue. Here I balk. If I don’t see blueness, or blue, when I look at the cup, how can I see (literally see, with the eyes of the head, not the eye of the mind) that the cup is blue?’
Many people aren’t content to live with the idea of conservation, nor tradition. It’s unseemly, backwoods, and quaint. Tradition is the place from which change must occur and new thinking must arise. You can’t step in the same river twice. The only constant is change.
All these aphorisms and heuristics, a clever saying or joke passed off as one’s own, or the sometimes chilling ‘that’s always the way we’ve done things around here.’ There’s no shortage of rules thoughtlessly accepted, blindly followed, and sometimes ruthlessly enforced.
Often heard : A lot of what came before isn’t merely an expression of what and who we are, to some extent, it’s just the winners talking. ‘They’ know when to break the rules and when to merely bend them. The main purpose of (H)istory, if such a thing exists, is to develop tools in the space modernity has created. ‘We’ must curate our (S)elves and make a society worth living in, towards the sacred secular ideals based on (S)cience.
How Best To Serve Man?
Current social institutions should be ‘critically’ examined, texts ‘deconstructed,’ and laid end-to-end on the table.
What I’ve encountered: Artists can live wildly in their thought and souls, and their lives, and sometimes all of the above. If the talent is deep, the skill fashioned for purpose, and the thing well-made, the work might live on. Many artists die unrecognized (a thousand tiny deaths until the real one). The mental state of artistic production can be a messy, glorious thing to behold.
The Romantic period brought the individual genius, towering above all else, to a central place in what I’d call ‘modern’ and ‘postmodern’ conceptions of the (S)elf.
Many in the humanities likely believe the goal is to challenge humanity itself. Via Hegelian dialectic, or various flavors of Marxist/post-Marxist thought, and through what I call the ‘-Isms’ (secular idealism up top, radical roots beneath).
What about a good ‘ol Humanities education with such profound institutional failure? What are some possibilities?
Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).
According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.
Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.
Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.
Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.
Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now
Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.
Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.
“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”
“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”
‘Many right-wingers dismiss Chomsky’s model because they reject his left-wing assumptions and the claims he makes about U.S. foreign policy in the name of the model. Many left-wingers, finding the model itself plausible and already sympathetic to some the political and economic assumptions Chomsky brings to bear when applying it, judge that the applications must be sound. ‘
What’s the problem with the streaming services model, and how can musicians and people trying to make a buck actually….make a buck?
If the Pareto principle holds, a few musicians will make a vast majority of the music people will want to hear (again and again and again). Even centuries after their deaths. It’s often tough to tell who’s making music (or who will make music in the future) which endures.
Add-in visual elements (streaming/video games), youth, beauty and technology, and you get the Pareto distribution reasserting itself across new platforms and amongst ‘pop culture’ anew.
We learn through stories, and may in fact visualize profound elements of reality through these stories. Music, along with the pleasure it gives, can encode vital information about ourselves and our origins, coming to dominate the all-important present.
Is Netflix already Betamax? What about owning something tangible? Listen in to two old fogeys with a lot of experience in music and the business of music.
Worth your time:
On that note, what about the best music, stories, visual arts and poem we have? What about the profound failures of stewardship these past generations?
O the month of May, the merry month of May, So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green! O, and then did I unto my true love say: “Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my summer’s queen!
Now the nightingale, the pretty nightingale, The sweetest singer in all the forest’s choir, Entreats thee, sweet Peggy, to hear thy true love’s tale; Lo, yonder she sitteth, her breast against a brier.
But O, I spy the cuckoo, the cuckoo, the cuckoo; See where she sitteth: come away, my joy; Come away, I prithee: I do not like the cuckoo Should sing where my Peggy and I kiss and toy.”
O the month of May, the merry month of May, So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green! And then did I unto my true love say: “Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my summer’s queen!”
I think you’ve got to look at Billy Joel’s raw talent; the prodigious musical gifts and compositional ability; the mimicry, the voices, the piano-playing which became a vehicle for so many of his hits. Add a quite nice voice and a road-warrior mentality trying to offer value at every show, and you’ve got quite a package.
An American Songbook kind of guy.
I can barely think of anyone more Lon-Giland, who put his abilities to the American grindstone, but whose talent often hovers above any chosen genre he finds himself in.
Nick Paumgartner on a Slate review of Joel:
‘He was terrible, he is terrible, he always will be terrible. Anodyne, sappy, superficial, derivative, fraudulently rebellious. . . . Billy Joel’s music elevates self-aggrandizing self-pity and contempt for others into its own new and awful genre: ‘Mock-Rock.’ ”
He [Rosenbaum] called Joel “the Andrew Wyeth of contemporary pop music.”
When I mentioned this to Joel, he said, “What’s wrong with Andrew Wyeth?”
‘In between pieces, he began to explain that these were variations on a motif and that they were telling the story of the history of Long Island, from its pastoral beginnings to the arrival of the Europeans—“I’m imagining the prow of a ship, and a Puritan hymn”—and then the bustle of the nineteenth century. Farming, fishing, the railroad. “Getting busy on Long Island,” he said. “This one’s almost Coplandesque, with big open fifths.” We were a long way from Brenda and Eddie. He played intently as the room went dark.’
That sounds like a pretty talented artist looking for roots and sifting through American history and Americana for inspiration to me…
Here’s a popular song in the seafaring style trying to do good for local people without the righteous self-flattery and regard stars so often bring to the table:
Mind you, this is Australia, but there’s probably a lot of overlap:
‘I don’t mean to suggest that every bright-eyed PhD candidate in anthropology today sees himself in a priestly role, or feels inspired by a religious vocation. Most are as sceptical of sorcery as of perdition. But what George Feaver has called the New Tribalism is a proud creed, and its gods are jealous gods. Syncretised with the pride and jealousy of the Old Tribalism the result is a powerful endorsement of totem and taboo…’
‘The Institute had been set up to “do science”, a secular activity. Yet in a curious way it has ended up “doing religion.” In its own eyes the Institute may have seen itself as a producer of scientific records; but in the eyes of Tribalism, both Old and New, its true role was that of a manufacturer of religious artifacts. And having become an archive of sacred objects it was hard to refuse doing priestly duty as the temple guardian as well. In this way a scientific body found itself gradually moving from the world of fact to the world of faith—and from the dull routines of research to the higher excitements of revivalism.’
We’ve got a lot of museum directors and academics I could see sinking into a kind of nebulous, humanist, institutional mysticism, quite frankly.
What many modernists and humanists can ignore are the deep impulses they have to make meaning, and to draw distinctions between the sacred and the profane, which in the West can manifest as a kind of sentimental Romanticization of Nature and Man (religious and anti-religious, truthfully).
Everyone wants to transcend and seek the timeless, the immortal, and the pure, I’m guessing.
There is a particular myth of the ‘Noble Savage,’ alive and well in the Western World, where the local tribesman or displaced native is celebrated as an exotic but worthy adversary, or some kind of anachronistic adornment.
This stuff can be true and inspiring in the arts, synthesized as part of the Romantic school:
Perhaps the native is to be included under the net of secular human idealism or given land, a casino or a museum somewhere on the Western Estate and left to many of his own devices (many further Left likely see a fellow oppressed class of victims with whom to feel solidarity on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom).
But certainly with the triumphs of trade and commerce, the many benefits and successes of Western expansion (the thousand injustices and brutalities of State and privately funded imperialism), comes a lot of doubt, guilt, and shame.
What is true and right?
How should I live and what should I do?
I can say Orwell, here, has caused me to think, reflect and take a look at myself in the mirror.
Much as the sciences require intellectual rigor, empirical evidence and much skepticism, there are bands of Western anti-science postmodernists in their wake, too, who can sink into a kind of nebulous modern mysticism, building museums as temples.
Just as there are humanists there are anti-humanists.
‘The paleo fantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution’s producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life forms, too, not just to people.’
There’s a lot of confusion out there in the popular mind, apparently. Fascinating discoveries going on right now in genetics, genome research, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.
Because nobody asked, I tend to be skeptical of the Noble Savage, Rousseau’s State of Nature, and some products of the Nietzschean, tragic, romantic tradition in Europe. There are also lots of folks milling around America seeking a kind of collectivist utopian harmony in nature, as well.
It can be a long ways to travel to get from Darwin back to God and organized religion (too far for many people) and this blog remains generally agnostic, defensive of the broad, but fragile, traditions necessary for civil society and individual liberty.
It can also be a long way from Darwin to arrive at Natural Rights, Locke’s life, liberty and property, as well as Roman and classical ideas of law and even to Montesquieu.
Check out Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas. Here’s the banner from the site:
‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Minogue framed it thusly:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.
As previously posted:
Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.
As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?
Those who rebel against authority, mindlessly, are more likely to embody a new authority.
Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.
Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:
‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’
There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’
“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”