The only flame of the west that I know of, worthy of the title.
Sketched today, Friday, August 22, 2014.
The only flame of the west that I know of, worthy of the title.
Sketched today, Friday, August 22, 2014.
The model used for the sketch is a photograph by Leslie E. Spatt (copyright 1968 Leslie E. Spatt) taken of Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell in The Sleeping Beauty, 1968.
Antoinette Sibley joined The Royal Ballet in 1956 and became one of the foremost ballerinas of her time. When Anthony Dowell created the role of Oberon opposite her Titania in Frederick Ashton’s The Dream in 1964, he was yet to achieve fame as one of the century’s leading classical dancers. Their performances together propelled them to fame as one of the Company’s most successful dance partnerships.
- Ballet Calendar 2013 sponsored by the Royal Ballet titled Great Ballet Partnerships – Photo sourced from Royal Opera House Collections
When two dancers tap in time
To a melody created by one
For the pleasure of the other
A window of opportunity emerges
Through the flames of the purges.
A fire in the mind of one
Lights an answer in the other
The window glazes with their heat
As an inferno blazes to his melody
The window tightens to her swaying feet.
The sleeping beauty laughs
The sleeping beauty smiles
The two dancers tap
The tap dancers skip
Old friends rejoice
And tap to a new beat.
THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Chapter 4: Art and Cognition
Installment 13, Installment 14, Installment 15, Installment 16, Installment 17, Installment 18, Installment 19, Installment 20, Installment 21, Installment 22, Installment 23, …
If a gang of men – no matter what its slogans, motives or goals – were roaming the streets and gouging out people’s eyes, people would rebel and would find the words of a righteous protest. But when such a gang is roaming the culture, bent on annihilating men’s minds, people remain silent. The words they need can be supplied only by philosophy, but modern philosophy is the sponsor and spawner of that gang.
Man’s mind is much more complex than the best computer, and much more vulnerable. If you have seen a newspaper photograph of brutes smashing a computer, you have seen a physical concretization of the psychological process now going on, which is initiated in the plate glass windows of art galleries, on the walls of fashionable restaurants and of multibillion-dollar business offices, in the glossy pages of popular magazines, in the technological radiance of movie and television screens.
Decomposition is the postscript to the death of the human body; disintegration is the preface to the death of a human mind. Disintegration is the keynote and goal of modern art – the disintegration of man’s conceptual faculty, and the retrogression of an adult mind to the state of a mewling infant.
To reduce man’s consciousness to the level of sensations, with no capacity to integrate them, is the intention behind the reducing of language to grunts, of literature to “moods,” of painting to smears, of sculpture to slabs, of music to noise.
But there is a philosophically and psychopathologically instructive element in the spectacle of that gutter. It demonstrates – by the negative means of an absence – the relationships of art to philosophy, of reason to man’s survival, of hatred for reason to hatred for existence. After centuries of the philosopher’s war against reason – they have succeeded – by the method of vivisection – in producing exponents of what man is like when deprived of his rational faculty, and these in turn are giving us images of what existence is like to a being with an empty skull.
While the alleged advocates of reason oppose “system-building” and haggle apologetically over concrete bound words or mystically floating abstractions, its enemies seem to know that integration is the psycho-epistemological key to reason, that art is man’s psycho-epistemological conditioner, and that if reason is to be destroyed, it is man’s integrating capacity that has to be destroyed.
It is highly doubtful that the practitioners and admirers of modern art have the intellectual capacity to understand its philosophical meaning; all they need to do is indulge the worst of their subconscious premises. But their leaders do understand the issue consciously: the father of modern art is Immanuel Kant (see his Critique of Judgment).
I do not know which is worse: to practice modern art as a colossal fraud or to do it sincerely.
Those who do not wish to be the passive, silent victims of fraud of this kind, can learn from modern art the practical importance of philosophy, and the consequences of philosophical default. Specifically it is the destruction of logic that disarmed the victims, and, more specifically, the destruction of definitions. Definitions are the guardians of rationality, the first line of defense against the chaos of mental disintegration.
Works of art – like everything else in the universe – are entities of a specific nature – the concept requires a definition by their essential characteristics, which distinguish them from all other existing entities. The genus of art works is: man-made objects which present a selective re-creation of reality according to the artist’s metaphysical value-judgments, by means of a specific material medium. The species are the works of the various branches of art, defined by the particular media which they employ and which indicate their relation to the various elements of man’s cognitive faculty.
Man’s need of precise definitions rests on the Law of Identity: A is A, a thing is itself. A work of art is a specific entity which possesses a specific nature. If it does not, it is not a work of art. If it is merely a material object, it belongs to some category of material objects – and if it does not belong to any particular category, it belongs to the one reserved for such phenomena: junk.
“Something made by an artist” is not a definition of art. A beard and a vacant stare are not the defining characteristics of an artist.
“Something in a frame hung on a wall” is not a definition of painting.
“Something with a number of pages in a binding” is not a definition of literature.
“Something piled together” is not a definition of sculpture.
“Something made of sounds produced by anything” is not definition of music.
“Something glued on a flat surface” is not a definition of any art. There is no art that uses glue as a medium. Blades of grass glued on a sheet of paper to represent grass might be good occupational therapy for retarded children – though I doubt it – but it is not art.
“Because I felt like it” is not a definition or validation of anything.
There is no place for whim in any human activity – if it is to be regarded as human. There is no place for the unknowable, the unintelligible, the undefinable, the non-objective in any human product. This side of an insane asylum, the actions of a human being are motivated by a conscious purpose; when they are not, they are of no interest to anyone outside a psychotherapist’s office. And when the practitioners of modern art declare that they don’t know what they are doing or what makes them do it, we should take their word for it and give them no further consideration.
(April – June 1971)
THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
The question asked at the start of this discussion was: What are the valid forms of art – and why these? It can now be answered: the proper forms of art present a selective re-creation of reality in terms needed by man’s cognitive faculty, which includes his entity-perceiving senses, and thus assist the integration of the various elements of a conceptual consciousness. Literature deals with concepts, the visual arts with sight and touch, music with hearing. Each art fulfills the function of bringing man’s concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allowing him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts. (The performing arts are a means of further concretization.) The different branches of art serve to unify man’s consciousness and offer him a coherent view of existence. Whether that view is true or false is not an esthetic matter. The crucially esthetic matter is psycho-epistemological: the integration of a conceptual consciousness.
This is the reason why all the arts were born in prehistoric times, and why man can never develop a new form of art. The forms of art do not depend on the content of man’s consciousness, but on its nature – not on the extent of man’s knowledge, but on the means by which he acquires it. (In order to develop a new form of art, man would have to acquire a new sense organ.)
The growth of man’s knowledge makes possible an unlimited growth and development of the arts. Scientific discoveries give rise to new subcategories in the various branches of art. But these are variants and subcategories (or combinations) of the same fundamental arts. Such variants require new rules, new methods, new techniques, but not a change of basic principles. For example, different techniques are required to write for the stage or screen or television; but all these media are subcategories of the drama (which is a subcategory of literature) and all are subject to the same basic principles. The wider a given principle, the more innovations and variations it permits and subsumes; but it itself is changeless. The breach of a basic principle is not a “new form of art,” but merely the destruction of that particular art.
For example, the change from Classicism to Romanticism in the theater was a legitimate esthetic innovation; so was the change from Romanticism to Naturalism, even if motivated by false metaphysical views. But the introduction of a narrator into a stage play is not an innovation, but a breach of the theater’s basic principle, which demands that a story be dramatized, i.e., presented in action; such a breach is not a “new form of art,” but simply an encroachment by incompetence on a very difficult form, and a wedge for the eventual destruction for that particular form.
A certain type of confusion about the relationship between scientific discoveries and art, leads to a frequently asked question: Is photography an art? The answer is: No. It is a technical, not a creative, skill. Art requires a selective re-creation. A camera cannot perform the basic task of painting: a visual conceptualization i.e., the creation of a concrete in terms of abstract essentials. The selection of camera angles, lighting or lenses is merely a selection of the means to reproduce various aspects of the given, i.e., of an existing concrete. There is an artistic element in some photographs, which is the result of such selectivity as the photographer can exercise, and some of them can be very beautiful – but the same artistic element (purposeful selectivity) is present in many utilitarian products: in the better kinds of furniture, dress design, automobiles, packaging, etc. The commercial art work in ads (or posters or postage stamps) is frequently done by real artists and has greater esthetic value than many paintings, but utilitarian objects cannot be classified as works of art.
(If it is asked, at this point: But why, then, is a film director to be regarded as an artist? – the answer is: It is the story that provides an abstract meaning which the film concretizes; without a story, a director is merely a pretentious photographer.)
A similar type of confusion exists in regard to the decorative arts. The task of the decorative arts is to ornament utilitarian objects, such as rugs, textiles, lighting fixtures, etc. This is a valuable task, often performed by talented artists, but it is not art in the esthetic-philosophical meaning of the term. The psycho-epistemological base of the decorative arts is not conceptual, but purely sensory: their standard of value is appeal to the senses of sight and/or touch. Their material is colors and shapes in non-representational combinations conveying no meaning other than visual harmony; the meaning or purpose is concrete and lies in the specific object which they decorate.
As a re-creation of reality, a work of art has to be representational; its freedom of stylization is limited by the requirements of intelligibility; if it does not represent an intelligible object, it cease to be art. On the other hand, a representational element is a detriment in the decorative arts: it is an irrelevant distraction, a clash of intentions. And although designs of little human figures or landscapes or flowers are often used to decorate textiles or wallpaper, they are artistically inferior to the nonrepresentational designs. When recognizable objects are subordinated to and treated as a mere pattern of colors and shapes, they become incongruous.
(Color harmony is a legitimate element, but only one out of many more significant elements, in the art of painting. But, in painting, colors and shapes are not treated as a decorative pattern.)
Visual harmony is a sensory experience and is determined primarily by physiological causes. There is a crucial difference between the perception of musical sounds and the perception of colors: the integration of musical sounds produces a new cognitive experience which is sensory-conceptual, i.e., the awareness of a melody; the integration of colors does not, it conveys nothing beyond the awareness of pleasant or unpleasant relationships. Cognitively, the sensation of color qua color is of no significance because color serves an incomparably more important function: the sensation of color is the central element of the faculty of sight, it is one of the fundamental means of perceiving entities. Color as such (and its physical causes) is not an entity, but an attribute of entities and cannot exist by itself.
This fact is ignored by the men who make pretentious attempts to create “a new art” in the form of “color symphonies” which consist in projecting moving blobs of color on a screen. This produces nothing, in a viewer’s consciousness, but the boredom of being unemployed. It could conceivably produce an appropriate decorative effect at a carnival or in a night club on New Year’s Eve, but it has no relation to art.
Such attempts, however, can be classified as anti-art for the following reason: the essence of art is integration, a kind of super-integration in the sense that art deals with man’s widest abstractions, his metaphysics, and thus expands the power of man’s consciousness. The notion of “color symphonies” is a trend in the opposite direction: it is an attempt to disintegrate man’s consciousness and reduce it to a pre-perceptual level by breaking up percepts into mere sensations.
This brings us to the subject of modern art.
To be continued …
THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Music is an independent, primary art; the dance is not. In view of their division of labor, the dance is entirely dependent on music. With the emotional assistance of music, it expresses an abstract meaning; without music, it becomes meaningless gymnastics. It is music, the voice of man’s consciousness, that integrates the dance to man and to art. Music sets the terms; the task of the dance is to follow, as closely, obediently and expressly as possible. The tighter the integration of a given dance to its music – in rhythm, in mood, in style, in theme – the greater its esthetic value.
A clash between dance and music is worse than a clash between actor and play; it is an obliteration of the entire performance. It permits neither the music nor the dance to be integrated into an esthetic entity in the viewer’s mind – and it becomes a series of jumbled motions superimposed on a series of jumbled sounds.
Observe that the modern anti-art trend takes precisely this form in the field of the dance. (I am not speaking of the so-called modern dance, which is neither modern nor dance.) Ballet, for instance, is being “modernized” by being danced to inappropriate, undanceable music, which is used as a mere accompaniment, like the tinkling piano in the days of the silent movies, only less synchronized with the action. Add to it the vast infusion of pantomime, which is not an art, but a childish game (it is not acting, but expository signaling), and you get a form of self-affronting compromise more abject than anything seen in politics. I submit in evidence Marguerite and Armand as presented by the Royal Ballet. (Even the pratfalls or the walking-heels-first of the so-called modern dance seem innocent by comparison: their perpetrators have nothing to betray or to disfigure.
Dancers are performing artists; music is the primary work they perform – with the help of an important intermediary: the choreographer. His creative task is similar to that of the stage director, but carries a more demanding responsibility: a stage director translates a primary work, a play, into physical action – a choreographer has to translate a primary work, a composition of sounds, into another medium, into a composition of movements, and create a structured, integrated work: a dance.
This task is so difficult and its esthetically qualified practitioners so rare that the dance has always been slow in its development and extremely vulnerable. Today, it is all but extinct.
Music and/or literature are the base of the performing arts and of the large-scale combinations of all the arts, such as opera or motion pictures. The base, in this context, means that primary art which provides the metaphysical element and enables the performance to become a concretization of an abstract view of man.
Without this base, a performance may be entertaining, in such fields as vaudeville or the circus, but it has nothing to do with art. The performance of an aerialist, for instance, demands an enormous physical skill – greater, perhaps, and harder to acquire than the skill demanded of a ballet dancer – but what it offers is merely an exhibition of that skill, with no further meaning, i.e., a concrete, not a concretization of anything.
In operas and operettas, the esthetic base is music, with the libretto serving only to provide an appropriate emotional context or opportunity for the musical score, and an integrating line for the total performance. (In this respect, there are very few good librettos.) In motions pictures or televisions, literature is the ruler and term-setter, with music serving only as an incidental, background accompaniment. Screen and television plays are subcategories of the drama, and in the dramatic arts “the play is the thing.” The play is that which makes it art; the play provides the end, to which all the rest is the means.
In all the arts that involve more than one performer, a crucially important artist is the director. (In music, his counterpart is the conductor.) The director is the link between the performing and the primary arts. He is a performer in relation to the primary work, in the sense that his task is the means to the end set by the work – he is a primary artist in relation to the cast, the set designer, the cameraman, etc., in the sense that they are the means to his end, which is the translation of the work into physical action as a meaningful, stylized, integrated whole. In the dramatic arts, the director is the esthetic integrator.
This task requires a first-hand understanding of all the arts, combined with an unusual power of abstract thought and of creative imagination. Great directors are extremely rare. An average director alternates between the twin pitfalls of abdication and usurpation. Either he rides on the talents of others and merely puts the actors through random motions signifying nothing, which results in a hodgepodge of clashing intentions – or he hogs the show, putting everyone through senseless tricks unrelated to or obliterating the play (if any), on the inverted premise that the play is the means to the end of exhibiting his skill, thus placing himself in the category of circus acrobats, except that he is much less skillful and much less entertaining.
As an example of film direction at its best, I shall mention Fritz Lang, particularly in his earlier works; his silent film Siegfried is as close to a great work of art as the films have yet come. Though other directors seem to grasp it occasionally, Lang is the only one who has fully understood the fact that visual art is an intrinsic part of films in a much deeper sense than the mere collection of sets and camera angles – that a “motion picture” is literally that, and has to be a stylized visual composition in motion.
It has been said that if one stopped the projection of Siegfried and cut out a film frame at random, it would be as perfect in composition as a great painting. Every action, gesture and movement in this film is calculated to achieve that effect. Every inch of the film is stylized, i.e., condensed to those stark, bare essentials which convey the nature and spirit of the story, of its events, of its locale. The entire picture was filmed indoors, including the magnificent legendary forests whose every branch was man-made (but does not look so on the screen). While Lang was making Siegfried, it is reported, a sign hung on the wall of his office: “Nothing in this film is accidental.” This is the motto of great art. Very few artists, in any field, have ever been able to live up to it. Fritz Lang did.
There are certain flaws in Siegfried, particularly the nature of the story which is a tragic, “malevolent universe” legend – but this is a metaphysical, not an esthetic, issue. From the aspect of a director’s creative task, this film is an example of the kind of visual stylization that makes the difference between a work of art and a glorified newsreel.
Potentially, motion pictures are a great art, but that potential has not as yet been actualized, except in single instances and random moments. An art that requires the synchronization of so many esthetic elements and so many different talents cannot develop in a period of philosophical-cultural disintegration such as the present. Its development requires the creative cooperation of men who are united, not necessarily by their formal philosophical convictions, but by their fundamental view of man, i.e., by their sense of life.
Whatever the variety and the vast potential of the performing arts, one must always remember that they are a consequence and an extension of the primary arts – and that the primary arts give them the abstract meaning without which no human product or activity can be classified as art.
To be continued …
THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Among the performing arts, dancing requires a special discussion. Is there an abstract meaning in dancing? What does dancing express?
The dance is the silent partner of music and participates in a division of labor: music presents a stylized version of man’s consciousness in action – the dance presents a stylized version of man’s body in action. “Stylized” means condensed to essential characteristics, which are chosen according to an artist’s view of man.
Music presents an abstraction of man’s emotions in the context of his cognitive processes – the dance presents an abstraction of man’s emotions in the context of his physical movements. The task of the dance is not the projection of single, momentary emotions, not the pantomime version of joy or sorrow or fear, etc. but a more profound issue: the projection of metaphysical value-judgments, the stylization of man’s movements by the continuous power of a fundamental emotional state – and thus the use of man’s body to express his sense of life.
Every strong emotion has a kinesthetic element, experienced as an impulse to leap or cringe or stamp one’s foot, etc. Just as a man’s sense of life is part of all his emotions, so it is part of all his movements and determines his manner of using his body: his posture, his gestures, his way of walking, etc. We can observe a different sense of life in a man who characteristically stands straight, walks fast, gestures decisively – and in a man who characteristically slumps, shuffles heavily, gestures limply. This particular element – the overall manner of moving – constitutes the material, the special province of the dance. The dance stylizes it into a system of motion expressing a metaphysical view of man.
A system of motion is the essential element, the precondition of the dance as an art. An indulgence in random movements, such as those of children romping in a meadow, may be a pleasant game, but it is not art. The creation of a consistently stylized, metaphysically expressive system is so rare an achievement that there are few distinctive forms of dancing to quality as art. Most dance performances are conglomerations of elements from different systems and of random contortions, arbitrarily thrown together, signifying nothing. A male or a female skipping, jumping or rolling over a stage is no more artistic than the children in the meadow, only more pretentious.
Consider two distinctive systems, ballet and the Hindu dance, which are examples of the dance as an art.
The keynote of the stylization achieved in ballet is: weightlessness. Paradoxically, ballet presents man as almost disembodied: it does not distort man’s body, it selects the kinds of movements that are normally possible to man (such as walking on tiptoe) and exaggerates them, stressing their beauty – and defying the law of gravitation. A gracefully effortless floating, flowing and flying are the essentials of the ballet’s image of man. It projects a fragile kind of strength and a certain inflexible precision, but it is man with a fine steel skeleton and without flesh, man the spirit, not controlling, but transcending this earth.
By contrast, the Hindu dance presents a man of flesh without skeleton. The keynote of its stylization is: flexibility, undulation, writhing. It does distort man’s body, imparting to it the motions of a reptile; it includes dislocations normally impossible to man and uncalled for, such as the sideways jerking of the torso and of the head which momentarily suggests decapitation. This is an image of man as infinitely pliable, man adapting himself to an incomprehensible universe, pleading with unknowable powers, reserving nothing, not even his identity.
Within each system, specific emotions may be projected or faintly suggested, but only as the basic style permits. Strong passions or negative emotions cannot be projected in ballet, regardless of its librettos; it cannot express tragedy or fear – or sexuality; it is a perfect medium for the expression of spiritual love. The Hindu dance can project passions, but not positive emotions; it cannot express joy or triumph, it is eloquent in expressing fear, doom – and a physicalistic kind of sexuality.
I want to mention a form of dancing that has not been developed into a full system, but possesses the key elements on which a full, distinctive system could be built: tap dancing. It is of American Negro origin; it is singularly appropriate to America and distinctly un-European. Its best exponents are Bill Robinson and Fred Astaire (who combines it with some elements of the ballet).
Tap dancing is completely synchronized with, responsive and obedient to the music – by means of a common element crucial to music and to man’s body: rhythm. This form permits the dancer no pause, no stillness: his feet can touch the ground only long enough to accent the rhythm’s beat. From start to finish, no matter what the action of his body, his feet continue that even, rapid tapping; it is like a long series of dashes underscoring his movements; he can leap, whirl, kneel, yet never miss a beat. It looks, at times, as if it is a contest between the man and the music, as if the music is daring him to follow – and he is following lightly, effortlessly, almost casually. Complete obedience to the music? The impression one gets is: complete control – man’s mind in effortless control of his expertly functioning body. The keynote is: precision. It conveys a sense of purpose, discipline, clarity – a mathematical kind of clarity – combined with an unlimited freedom of movement and an inexhaustible inventiveness that dares the sudden, the unexpected, yet never loses the central, integrating line: the music’s rhythm. No, the emotional range of tap dancing is not unlimited: it cannot express tragedy or pain or fear or guilt; all it can express is gaiety and every shade of emotion pertaining to the joy of living. (Yes, it is my favorite form of the dance.)
To be continued …
THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
A brief word about so-called modern music: no further research or scientific discoveries are required to know with full, objective certainty that it is not music. The proof lies in the fact that music is the product of periodic vibrations – and, therefore, the introduction of nonperiodic vibrations (such as the sound of street traffic or of machine gears or of coughs and sneezes), i.e., of noise, into an allegedly musical composition eliminates it automatically from the realm of art and of consideration. But a word of warning in regard to the vocabulary of the perpetrators of such “innovations” is in order: they spout a great deal about the necessity of “conditioning” your ear to an appreciation of their “music.” Their notion of conditioning is unlimited by reality and by the law of identity; man, in their view, is infinitely conditionable. But, in fact, you can condition a human ear to different types of music (it is not the ear, but the mind you have to condition in such cases); you cannot condition it to hear noise as if it were music; it is not personal training or social conventions that make it impossible, but the physiological nature, the identity, of the human ear and brain.
Let us turn now to the performing arts (acting, playing an instrument, singing, dancing).
In these arts, the medium employed is the person of the artist. His task is not to re-create reality, but to implement the re-creation made by one of the primary arts.
This does not mean that the performing arts are secondary in esthetic value or importance, but only that they are an extension of and dependent on the primary arts. Nor does it mean that performers are mere “interpreters”: on the higher levels of his art, a performer contributes a creative element which the primary work could not convey by itself; he becomes a partner, almost a co-creator – if and when he is guided by the principle that he is the means to the end set by the work.**
The basic principles which apply to all the other arts, apply to the performing artist as well, particularly stylization, i.e., selectivity: the choice and emphasis of essentials, the structuring of the progressive steps of a performance which lead to an ultimately meaningful sum. The performing artist’s own metaphysical value-judgments are called upon to create and apply the kind of technique his performance requires.*** For instance, an actor’s view of human grandeur or baseness or courage or timidity will determine how he projects these qualities on the stage. A work intended to be performed leaves a wide latitude of creative choice to the artist who will perform it. In an almost literal sense, he has to embody the soul created by the author of the work; a special kind of creativeness is required to bring that soul into full physical reality.
When the performance and the work (literary or musical) are perfectly integrated in meaning, style and intention, the result is a magnificent esthetic achievement and an unforgettable experience for the audience.
The psycho-epistemological role of the performing arts – their relationship to man’s cognitive faculty – lies in the concretization of the metaphysical abstractions projected by a work of the primary arts. The distinction of the performing arts lies in their immediacy – in the fact that they translate a work of art into existential action, into a concrete event open to direct awareness. This is also their danger. Integration is the hallmark of art – and unless the performance and the primary work are fully integrated, the result is the opposite of the cognitive function of art: it gives the audience an experience of psycho-epistemological disintegration.
A performed event may contain a certain degree of imbalance among its many elements, yet still be regarded as art. For example, a great actor is often able to impart some stature and meaning to an undistinguished play – or a great play may project its power in spite of an undistinguished cast.**** Such events leave the audience with a sense of wistful frustration, but they still offer some partial element of esthetic value. When, however, the imbalance becomes outright contradiction, the event falls apart and tumbles outside the boundaries of art. For example, an actor may decide to rewrite the play without changing a line, merely by playing a villain as a hero or vice versa (because he disagrees with the author’s ideas, or wants to play a different kind of role, or simply doesn’t know any better) – and proceeds to present a characterization that clashes with every line he utters; the result is an incoherent mess, the more so the better the lines and the performance. In such a case, the event degenerates into meaningless posturing or lower: into clowning.
The disastrously inverted approach to the performing arts is exemplified by the mentality that regards plays as “vehicles” for stars. The traffic smash-ups of such vehicles and their riders are written all over the esthetic police blotters, and are not confined to Hollywood. The wreckage includes great actors performing trashy plays – great plays rewritten for a performance by simpering amateurs – pianists mangling compositions to show off their virtuosity, etc.
The common denominator is a crude reversal of ends and means. The “how” can never replace the “what” – neither in the primary nor in the performing arts, neither in the form of an exquisite style of writing used to say nothing, nor in the form of Greta Garbo exquisitely uttering a truck driver’s idea of a love scene.
To be continued …
**An example of the idea of a performing artist seeing himself as the means to the end set by the work of another that I experience frequently is attending an actual Bikram yoga class where a teacher is giving you the complete Bikram approved dialogue. The quality of the final and actual performance of the asanas depends on the listening ability of the student, the recitation, memorization and stylization abilities of the teacher, and the creative and development ability of Bikram himself. When the dialogue is given in its entirety by a dedicated teacher, typically a male teacher, the student’s performance becomes inspired by the spirit and soul of the original Bikram creation. In all the classes I have attended I have had this experience just a few times – this is when the entire dialogue including Bikram’s linguistic stylizations are retained. There is something in the rhythm of sentences, phrases and single sharp words, their sequence, and emphasis that is lost when a teacher, typically a female teacher, decides to substitute them for more linguistically appropriate words. As I understand Rand to put it, stylization is the consciousness of the creator and when it is replaced for more appropriate or more commonly acceptable phraseology, the creator’s consciousness is replaced not by the performer’s, but by that which the teacher feels to be safe and non-threatening to all, including those not keen to learn from the teaching. In such instances, a student can undergo a process of regression in their development, a psycho-epistemological disintegration in other words, instead of the progress and healing they seek as part of an ongoing psycho-epistemological integration.
***Having grown up listening to Hindi film music (equally applicable to other Indian language film industries) I experience this frequently with the songs in those movies sung by a variety of artists, all working towards expressing the overall work to a receptive and appreciative audience. An example of this experience in the context of Western music would be my preference for Bryan Ferry’s performance of “Make You Feel My Love”, written and originally performed by Bob Dylan.
****An example of a great play made with an undistinguished cast would be what the Oakland Athletics did to make it to the Major League Baseball playoffs in 2002 and 2003 with a cast of players undervalued by the market. I refer you to the book, “Moneyball” written by Michael Lewis.
THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
The epistemological aspect of music is the fundamental, but not the exclusive, factor in determining one’s musical preferences. Within the general category of music of equal complexity, it is the emotional element that represents the metaphysical aspect controlling one’s enjoyment. The issue is not merely that one is able to perceive successfully, i.e., to integrate a series of sounds into a musical entity, but also: what sort of entity does one perceive? The process of integration represents the concretized abstraction of one’s consciousness, the nature of the music represents the concretized abstraction of existence – i.e., a world in which one feels joyous or sad or triumphant or resigned, etc. According to one’s sense of life, one feels: “Yes, this is my world and this is how I should feel!” or: “No, this is not the world as I see it.” (As in the other arts, one may appreciate the esthetic value of a given composition, yet neither like nor enjoy it.)
The scientific research that would be needed to prove this hypothesis is enormous. To indicate just a few of the things which proof would require: a computation of the mathematical relationships among the tones of a melody – a computation of the time required by the human ear and brain to integrate a succession of musical sounds, including the progressive steps, the duration and the time limits of the integrating process (which would involve the relationship of tones to rhythm) – a computation of the relationships of tones to bars, of bars to musical phrases, of phrases to ultimate resolution – a computation of the relationships of melody to harmony, and of their sum to the sounds of various musical instruments, etc. The work involved is staggering, yet this is what the human brain – the composer’s, the performer’s and the listener’s – does, though not consciously.
If such calculations were made and reduced to a manageable number of equations, i.e., of principles, we would have an objective vocabulary of music. It would be a mathematical vocabulary, based on the nature of sound and on the nature of man’s faculty of hearing (i.e., on what is possible to this faculty). The esthetic criterion to be derived from such a vocabulary would be: integration – i.e., the range (or complexity) of the integration achieved by a given composition. Integration – because it is the essence of music, as distinguished from noise; range – because it is the measure of any intellectual achievement.
Until my theory is proved or disproved by scientific evidence of this kind, it has to be regarded as a mere hypothesis.
There is, however, a great deal of evidence pertaining to the nature of music which we can observe, not on the physiological, but on the psychological-existential level (which tends to support my hypothesis).
The connection of music to man’s cognitive faculty is supported by the fact that certain kinds of music have a paralyzing, narcotic effect on man’s mind. They induce a state of trancelike stupor, a loss of context, of volition, of self-awareness. Primitive music and most Oriental music fall into this category. The enjoyment of such music is the opposite of the emotional state that a Western man would call enjoyment: to the Western man, music is an intensely personal experience and a confirmation of his cognitive power – to the primitive man, music brings the dissolution of self and of consciousness. In both cases, however, music is the means of evoking that psycho-epistemological state which their respective philosophies regard as proper and desirable for man.
The deadly monotony of primitive music – the endless repetition of a few notes and of a rhythmic pattern that beats against the brain with the regularity of the ancient torture of water drops falling on a man’s skull – paralyzes cognitive processes, obliterates awareness and disintegrates the mind. Such music produces a sense of sensory deprivation, which – as modern scientists are beginning to discover – is caused by the absence or the monotony of sense stimuli.
There is no evidence to support the contention that the differences in the music of various cultures are caused by innate physiological differences among various races. There is a great deal of evidence to support the hypothesis that the cause of the musical differences is psycho-epistemological (and, therefore, ultimately philosophical).
A man’s psycho-epistemological method of functioning is developed and automatized in his early childhood; it is influenced by the dominant philosophy of the culture in which he grows up. If, explicitly and implicitly (through the general emotional attitude), a child grasps that the pursuit of knowledge, i.e., the independent work of his cognitive faculty, is important and required of him by his nature, he is likely to develop an active, independent mind. If he is taught passivity, blind obedience, fear and the futility of questioning or knowing, he is likely to grow up as a mentally helpless savage, whether in the jungle or in New York City. But – since one cannot destroy a human mind totally, so long as its possessor remains alive – his brain’s frustrated needs becomes a restless, incoherent, unintelligible groping that frightens him. Primitive music becomes his narcotic: it wipes out the groping, it reassures him and reinforces his lethargy, it offers him temporarily the sense of a reality to which his stagnant stupor is appropriate.
Now observe that the modern diatonic scale used in Western civilization is a product of the Renaissance. It was developed over a period of time by a succession of musical innovators. What motivated them? This scale permits the greatest number of consonant harmonies – i.e., of sound-combinations pleasant to the human ear (i.e., integratable by the human brain). The man-reason-science-oriented culture of the Renaissance and post-Renaissance periods represented the first era in history when such a concern as man’s pleasure could motivate composers, who had the freedom to create.
Today, when the influence of Western civilization is breaking up the static, tradition-bound culture of Japan, young Japanese composers are doing talented work in the Western style of music.
The products of America’s anti-rational, anti-cognitive “Progressive” education, the hippies, are reverting to the music and the drumbeat of the jungle.
Integration is the key to more than music; it is the key to man’s consciousness, to his conceptual faculty, to his basic premises, to his life. And lack of integration will lead to the same existential results in anyone born with a potentially human mind, in any century, in any place on earth.
To be continued …
THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Music gives man’s consciousness the same experience as the other arts: a concretization of his sense of life. But the abstraction being concretized is primarily epistemological, rather than metaphysical; the abstraction is man’s consciousness, i.e., his method of cognitive functioning, which he experiences in the concrete form of hearing a specific piece of music. A man’s acceptance or rejection of that music depends on whether it calls upon or clashes with, confirms or contradicts, his mind’s way of working. The metaphysical aspect of the experience is the sense of a world which he is able to grasp, to which his mind’s working is appropriate.
Music is the only phenomenon that permits an adult to experience the process of dealing with pure sense data. Single musical tones are not percepts, but pure sensations; they become percepts only when integrated. Sensations are man’s first contact with reality; when integrated into percepts, they are the given, the self-evident, the not-to-be-doubted. Music offers man the singular opportunity to reenact, on the adult level, the primary process of his method of cognition: the automatic integration of sense data into an intelligible, meaningful entity. To a conceptual consciousness, it is a unique form of rest and reward.
Conceptual integrations require constant effort and impose a permanent responsibility: they involve the risk of error and failure. The process of musical integration is automatic and effortless. (It is experienced as effortless, since it is unconscious; it is a process of cashing in on the kinds of mental habits one has, or has not, spent effort to acquire.) One’s reaction to music carries a sense of total certainty, as if it were simple, self-evident, not to be doubted; it involves one’s emotions, i.e., one’s values, and one’s deepest sense of oneself – it is experienced as a magic union of sensations and thought, as if thought had acquired the immediate certainty of direct awareness.
(Hence all the mystic clamor about the “spiritual” or supernatural character of music. Mysticism, the perennial parasite, here appropriates a phenomenon which is a product of the union, not the dichotomy, of man’s body and mind: it is part physiological, part intellectual.)
In regard to the relationship of music to man’s state of mind, Helmholtz indicates the following, in a discussion of the difference between the major and minor keys: “The major mode is well suited for all frames of mind which are completely formed and clearly understood, for strong resolve, and for soft and gentle or even for sorrowful feelings, when the sorrow has passed into the condition of dreamy and yielding regret. But it is quite unsuited for indistinct, obscure, unformed frames of mind, or for the expression of the dismal, the dreary, the enigmatic, the mysterious, the rude, and whatever offends against artistic beauty; – and it is precisely for these that we require the minor mode, with its veiled harmoniousness, its changeable scale, its ready modulation, and less intelligible basis of construction. The major mode would be an unsuitable form for such purposes, and hence the minor mode has its own proper artistic justification as a separate system.” (On the Sensations of Tone, p.302.)
My hypothesis would explain why men hear the same emotional content in a given piece of music even though they differ in their evaluations. Cognitive processes affect man’s emotions which affect his body, and the influence is reciprocal. For instance, the successful solution of an intellectual problem creates a joyous, triumphant mood; failure to solve a problem creates a painful mood of dejection or discouragement. And conversely: a joyous mood tends to sharpen, accelerate, energize one’s mind; a mood of sadness tends to blur the mind, to burden it, to slow it down. Observe the melodic and rhythmic characteristics of the types of music we regard as gay or sad. If a given process of musical integration taking place in a man’s brain resembles the cognitive processes that produce and/or accompany a certain emotional state, he will recognize it, in effect, physiologically, then intellectually. Whether he will accept that particular emotional state, and experience it fully, depends on his sense-of-life evaluation of its significance.
To be continued …
THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
In listening to music, man cannot tell clearly, neither to himself nor to others – and, therefore, cannot prove to others – which aspects of his experience are inherent in the music and which are contributed by his own consciousness. He experiences it as an indivisible whole, he feels as if the magnificent exaltation were there, in the music – and he is helplessly bewildered when he discovers that some men do experience it and some do not. In regard to the nature of music, mankind is still on the perceptual level of awareness.
Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music. (There are certain technical criteria, dealing mainly with the complexity of harmonic structures, but there are no criteria for identifying the content, i.e., the emotional meaning of a given piece of music and thus demonstrating the esthetic objectivity of a given response.)I
At present, our understanding of music is confined to the gathering of material, i.e., to the level of descriptive observations. Until it is brought to the stage of conceptualization, we have to treat musical tastes or preferences as a subjective matter – not in the metaphysical, but in the epistemological sense; i.e., not in the sense that these preferences are, in fact, causeless and arbitrary, but in the sense that we do not know their cause. No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it’s every man for himself – and only for himself.
The nature of musical perception has not been discovered because the key to the secret of music is physiological – it lies in the nature of the process by which man perceives sounds – and the answer would require the joint effort of a physiologist, a psychologist and a philosopher (an esthetician).
The start of a scientific approach to this problem and the lead to an answer were provided by Helmholtz, the great physiologist of the nineteenth century. He concludes his book, On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music, with the following statement: “Here I close my work. It appears to me that I have carried it as far as the physiological properties of the sensation of hearing exercise a direct influence on the construction of a musical system, that is, as far as the work especially belongs to natural philosophy…. The real difficulty would lie in the development of psychical motives which here [in the esthetics of music] assert themselves. Certainly this is the point where the more interesting part of the musical esthetics begins, the aim being to explain the wonders of great works of art, and to learn the utterances and actions of the various affections of the mind. But, however alluring such an aim may be, I prefer leaving others to carry out such investigations, in which I should feel myself too much of an amateur, while I myself remain on the safe ground of natural philosophy, in which I am at home.” (New York, Dover Publications, 1954, p. 371.)
To my knowledge, no one has attempted “to carry out such investigations.” The context and the shrinking scale of modern psychology and philosophy, would have made an undertaking of this kind impossible.
From the standpoint of psycho-epistemology, I can offer a hypothesis on the nature of man’s response to music, but I urge the reader to remember that it is only a hypothesis.
If man experiences an emotion without existential object, its only other possible object is the state or actions of his own consciousness. What is the mental action involved in the perception of music? (I am not referring to the emotional reaction, which is the consequence, but to the process of perception.)
We must remember that integration is the cardinal function of man’s consciousness on all the levels of his cognitive development. First, his brain brings order into his sensory chaos by integrating sense data into percepts; this integration is performed automatically; it requires effort, but no conscious volition. His next step is the integration of percepts into concepts, as he learns to speak. Thereafter, his cognitive development consists in integrating concepts into wider and ever wider concepts, expanding the range of his mind. This stage is fully volitional and requires an unremitting effort. The automatic processes of sensory integration are completed in his infancy and closed to an adult.
The single exception is in the field of sounds produced by periodic vibrations, i.e., music.
The sounds produced by non-periodic vibrations are noise. One may listen to noise for an hour, a day or a year, and it remains just noise. But musical tones heard in a certain kind of succession produce a different result – the human ear and brain integrate them into a new cognitive experience, into what may be called an auditory entity: a melody. The integration is a physiological process; it is performed unconsciously and automatically. Man is aware of the process only by means of its results.
Helmholtz has demonstrated that the essence of musical perception is mathematical: the consonance or dissonance of harmonies depends on the ratios of the frequencies of their tones. The brain can integrate a ratio of one to two, for instance, but not of eight to nine. (This does not mean that dissonances cannot be integrated; they can, in the proper musical context.)
Helmholtz was concerned mainly with tones heard simultaneously. But his demonstration indicates the possibility that the same principles apply to the process of hearing and integrating a succession of musical tones, i.e., a melody – and that the psycho-epistemological meaning of a given composition lies in the kind of work it demands of a listener’s ear and brain.
A composition may demand the active alertness needed to resolve complex mathematical relationships – or it may deaden the brain by means of monotonous simplicity. It may demand a process of building an integrated sum – or it may break up the process of integration into an arbitrary series of random bits – or it may obliterate the process by a jumble of sounds mathematically-physiologically impossible to integrate, and thus turn into noise.
The listener becomes aware of this process in the form of a sense of efficacy, or of strain, or of boredom, or of frustration. His reaction is determined by his psycho-epistemological sense of life – i.e., by the level of cognitive functioning on which he feels at home.
Epistemologically, a man who has an active mind regards mental effort as an exciting challenge; metaphysically, he seeks intelligibility. He will enjoy the music that requires a process of complex calculations and successful resolution. (I refer not merely to the complexities of harmony and orchestration, but primarily to their core, the complexity of a melody, on which they depend.) He will be bored by too easy a process of integration, like an expert in higher mathematics who is put to the task of solving problems in kindergarten arithmetic. He will feel a mixture of boredom and resentment when he hears a series of random bits with which his mind can do nothing. He will feel anger, revulsion and rebellion against the process of hearing jumbled musical sounds; he will experience it as an attempt to destroy the integrating capacity of his mind.
A man of mixed cognitive habits has, epistemologically, a limited interest in mental effort and, metaphysically, tolerates a great deal of fog in his field of awareness. He will feel strain when listening to the more demanding type of music, but will enjoy the simpler types. He may enjoy the broken, random kind of music (if he is pretentious) – and may even become conditioned to accept the jumbled music (if he is sufficiently lethargic).
There may be many other kinds of reactions, according to the many different aspects of musical compositions and to the many variants of man’s cognitive habits. The above examples merely indicate the hypothetical pattern of man’s response to music.
To be continued …