Sunday, January 18, 2009


As Guy Davenport is quite dead I don't have much reason to read the New Criterion anymore. Even so, I happened to catch a review of some new book on "Evolutionary Aesthetics" by John Derbyshire. Derbyshire is a British conservative curmudgeon who does most of his writing for the National Review. He is one of those conservatives, like Vox Day (no link-look him up-worst human being ever?) who likes to say OUTRAGEOUS and OFFENSIVE and CONTRARIAN things to get the ol' rile out of liberal pusses like me.
He also likes to imagine himself as very smart (as does Day). Thus its not a total surprise that the first sentence of his article, a long piece written in the top conservative arts magazine, is in fact, totally wrong:
"The modernist composer Anton Webern predicted that mailmen on their rounds would one day whistle his atonal non-melodies."

Actually, it was Schoenberg who said that; it is one of the more famous quotes from a modernist composer. And as for "non-melody," whatever that is, I'd love to hear John Derbyshire, or maybe even New Criterion's bow-tied editor and douchebag Roger Kimball's definition of what constitutes a "melody." Being the worldly, cultured dons of our country's right-wing I'm sure they've poured over Lach's 1913 Studien zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Ornamentalen Melopoie countless times.
Actually, I am almost entirely sure that neither Derbyshire or Kimball has never actually heard Webern, or much less understands what atonality actually is. They most likely have a cloudy, vague notion of some sort of elitist, avant-garde ideological pitter-patter designed by ideologues to make people feel dumb. And sure, atonality was/is often that. Perhaps Derbyshire and Kimball have René Leibowitz in mind, and then I'd have to agree with them; but if they haven't heard of Webern you can be sure they've never even heard of Leibowitz. And again, that's okay, because René Leibowitz sucked.

But lets take Derbyshire's bait. He seems to imply that a melody it something memorable, tonal, and right for whistlin'. A "tune," if you will. But if a melody is something memorable that you can whistle I can whistle you* countless atonal melodies! Just ask me to and I will come over and charm you and your children. Sure, I'm no genius like Roger Kimball, but I can whistle several snatches from the symphonies of Karl Amadeus Hartmann, sing just about the whole of Wozzeck, or tap the wacky, thorny rhythms of the second of Webern's Piano Variations, Op. 27 on your back (or thighs, for 10$ extra and a ride home). And although mailmen don't whistle atonal modernist music, do we really want them whistling at all? Why was that even a goal? Isn't it enough that every day the government sends a man in upsetting shorts to our door?

By the way, if you do a Googe for John Derbyshire's picture, you find that this is his most published photograph:

While I am surely no Lorenzo Lamas, I think you will agree that this looks like a pedophile's passport photo. Perhaps nubile 14 year-old, mail-ordered Cambodian boy-lover Rangsey Ung-Dim spiked his sherry with valium shortly before snapping it?

This is the above-mentioned Roger Kimball dressed as Orville Redenbacher. A typical article by Kimball will reference Anselm of Canterbury while defending Joe the Plumber.

*I cannot whistle.


Blogger Troy said...

Any interest in libretto writing?

11:48 AM  
Blogger PWS said...

E-mail me and let a brother know what's up.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Troy said...

hmmm - can't find it. Send me an email at thisisaholdup {at} gmail and I can write you back.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Henry Holland said...

I say this in all seriousness, but Wozzeck has some great tunes in it, as does Lulu. Even Schoenberg at his thorniest still couldn't shake off his love of Wagner and Brahms, much to Pierre Boulez' disapproval.

John Derbyshire is a pedophile --well, he likes 'em 15, so technically he's an ephebophile, but still-- of the heterosexual variety and he can DIAF for all I care.

11:27 AM  
Blogger M. Keiser said...

he DOES look like Redenbacher. thats incredible.

Also- vox day sounds, shockingly, a lot worse than Anne Coulter. I didnt know what was possible? I mean, aside from members of the american nazi party + klu klux i didnt't know there were that many other places in this country where you could find so much evil.

the only Leibowitz i could find online was some youtube video, supposedly it was about marijuana? 12 tone music about drugs? Thats gotta give him at least a few points for being creative. right?

1:06 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

OK, this is probably the fourth time I've read this post, and it's still making me spit various liquids out of my nose. +1, as they say.

9:51 PM  
Blogger solerso said...

Derbyshire is one of those Brits who love America because of our vibrant,loony, right wing movement. They can come here and vent to their old imperial, racist hearts content.They are usually more smarmy than gut turningdisgusting, like KIMBALL:
He dosent look like orville, he looks like a doughy, overweight American version of Himmlers nephew, which is essentially what he is. A real eletist. One thing the white trash right-wingnut movement has done,has been to coax the the REAL republicans,chippies like kimball to show us thier true selves.This is a blog for classical music enthusiasts so im not going to pretend I know anything about that. Instead,Im going to send an MP3 file of the most un-whistle-able frank zappa melody i can find to derbyshire.

11:08 AM  
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4:21 AM  
Blogger Carmina said...

I have had the opportunity to read John Derbyshire's work in school and I did like his insights on Aesthetics, I think I will have to read "Evolutionary Aesthetics" after I finish reading the Sildenafil Citrate by John Adams

6:09 AM  
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6:29 PM  

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