Britten Psychoanalyzation Amendment
Thoughts on Post-Modernism in Understandin' Art
I've been looking through the archives here at Clownsilly Central ('Come for the hilarity, stay for the pie' tm
). A painful task for sure, full of embarrassment and 'shoulda been saids'.
One 'shoulda been said' off the top of my head is from my post about contemporary analysis of Benjamin Britten
The post itself was inspired by a reading of Britten's biography in the online New Grove Dictionary of Music. The author, who shall remain nameless (as I have forgotten him), delves into the British master off of the oh-so-trendy postmodern theory diving board, straight into Foucaultian waters of abstruse linguistic canopies 'highlighting' the power games that supposedly inform Britten's, and apparently everyone else's music and ideas, thoughts, actions, words etc. My post should have been made into a larger, more coherent attack on post-modern theory in general, and it's use (and disuse) in musicology.
I'll admit off the bat that I'm not as smart as someone like Jean Baudrillard. I'm probably not even as smart as Jean-Claude van Damme. But I think even smarty pants people can be very misguided, even so-called 'progressives'. Post-modern theory, deconstructionist theory, semiotics, cultural studies etc. has always been highly suspicious to me. It's the only philosophy that I've ever understood so quickly, which is never a good sign: "Oh I get it! Nothing means anything because only people in power control the meaning and everything is 'discourse' and 'othering' and 'rhetoric' and the best way to see this capitalist mental slavery is by studying the super secret tricks used to make me an ignorant Republican racist woman hater in Tampax advertisements!"
After reading thousands of pages of Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and hundreds of other faceless Kool-aid drinking hipster academics, I found not much deeper than the above sentiment. Post-modernism is at its worst, a sort of hyper-stylish computer-age epistemological Dadaism. Don'get me wrong: I love
Dadaism. But this bizarre post-Marxist philosophical Dadaism has none of the playful fun of a Alfred Jarry story or Satie's Parade.
It's all sorta...depressing. And bleak. And obsessed with simplistic generalizations of 'power' and 'desire' and 'signs'.
I myself count Bertrand Russell, Kant and Baruch Spinoza as my favorite philosophers. I consider myself a 'progressive'. I despise religion and dislike free-market capitalism and all that delightfully cool stuff. But I am no Marxist or Hegelian. I love my cozy Enlightenment era ideals of reason and logic too much. I like some ideas of both Hegel and Marx and even some post-war philosophers that could be considered 'post-modern'. For example Adorno's criticisms of mass culture resonate with me at times, despite not sharing his breathtaking levels of repulsion with it ("Jazz is slave music" et. al). His books on Berg, Wagner and Mahler have some beautiful pages and insights.
It is my belief however, that post-modern theory can never be very apt to deal with non-pop art. Great art, is too fluidly complex to be understood in terms of "author/reader function", or political/sexual control. Adorno using a term like 'bourgeoisie" to describe Stravinsky's music falls flat in my opinion, and is a gross disrespect to a creative mind and person as enormously multi-faceted as Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky is great because he is so endearlingly creative in an age of such anxiety and depression. Stravinsky is great because he wrote great music. Stravinsky is not great because his music is 'everything or nothing depending on what you get out of it'. Adversely, Stravinsky isn't bad because his music isn't obsessed with some Germanic notion of 'expression of the ego of man'. Stravinsky isn't bad because he had some kind things to say about fascism.
(If one reads the facts
-yes, there are facts and there is reality- of the man's life, you will see he was if anything, a old-school 'We could go broke any second so save your money!' Russian who had seen the revolution; A politically naive man more concerned with his music, concert tours, income and family's well-being than the plight of the proletariat. And weren't those "brilliant" post-modern heroes Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man Nazis? Didn't Sartre praise Chairman Mao? Didn't Hegel love him sum Napoleon? Didn't Marx hate those nasty Jews? Men are men. Artists are men. Artists create art. Men kill other men. )
It is comforting to me that analyzing art and humanity in general through this lens is undoubtedly a fad. In the end, Art will survive. Post-modern theory will evolve into something else as philosophy always does and will always continue to do. In fact, everything evolves. No doubt a millenia from now the great artists will have leg up on the Foucaults, the Adornos, the Derridas. We will continue to be moved by the profound drama of Peter Grimes
, the sublime ending of Symphony of Psalms
, the breathtakingly beautiful sand-paintings of Buddhist monks, the plot of the greatest novel of all time The Da Vinci Code,
and we will ignore and laugh at the silliness of these 'thinkers', as we do the misguided who thought the Earth the center of the Universe.