Saturday, June 24, 2017

fifty years after Leonard B. Meyer published Music, the Arts, and Ideas, some thoughts about what he called the problem of pastiche eclecticism

Fifty years ago, Leonard B. Meyer published a book called Music, the Arts, and Ideas.  I learned about this book reading Kyle Gann's blog over the last few years.  I picked up the book and it's been great reading.  The short version for those who don't plan to read it is Meyer proposed we were, in the West, looking at a new era in which teleological conceptions of history had been abandoned and there was an end to the avant garde. Instead of some new mainstream and dominant musical style there would be a plethora of styles and forms co-existing for the long haul.

As Gann recounted things at his blog this idea was apparently considered controversial and provocative.  Having been born in the final quarter of the 20th century it's impossible to see how Meyer's observations back "then" can be anything but pedestrian and obvious now.  Still, times change and perceptions change with them.  It would have seemed that anyone with a solid knowledge of the span of what we now call the Baroque era in music would know we've had this kind of breakdown of a unified international style making way for fragmentary isolated innovations in various regions and schools of thought before.  Ars perfecta gave way to the proto-Baroque and early Baroque styles.  Manfred Bukofzer has a nice, readable monograph on the topic.

One of the observations Bukofzer made that's worth noting is that in popular imagination people tend to think of the Baroque era and immediately think of the late Baroque period, or the "high" Baroque era first; very often it never even occurs to people to think of early Baroque composers such as Monteverdi or middle Baroque composers such as Heinrich Schutz.  Adorno isn't the only German writer on music to make the egregious mistake of treating Western music in general and German music in particular as spanning J. S. Bach through Schoenberg, it's a mistake that is prevalent in a lot of music education depending on where you live and who taught you what.  People committed to the era of tonality in the sense of major and minor keys are not interested in the wealth of pre-tonal music.  What's been interesting to me is seeing how within avant garde reactions to Romanticism what a number of composers sought to do was embrace elements of music theory and performance that date back to the Renaissance, the medieval era or the early and middle Baroque eras.  In a phrase these moves could be thought of as seeking to back to a kind of pre-eighteenth century set of options for music, or pre-Enlightenment musical options.   

There's a strand of lazy polemic against modernism, frequently straitjacketed to a polemic against Adorno and Marxist ideas that claims that Marxists were against tonality because it represented Western values.  This seems like a fairly impossible argument to sustain on historical grounds.  Was ... Hans Eisler really a champion of atonality?  Meyer pointed out half a century ago that it's impossible to seriously sustain an equation of radicalism in one sphere with radicalism in all other spheres.  He noted that some of the artists and writers who were most radical in one respect were deeply conservative or even reactionary in other respects.  Stravinsky and T. S. Eliot were innovative formalists in the arts while being pretty hidebound in political and social thought.  Schoenberg could be radical in musical invention while being a traditionalist in other respects.  As Richard Taruskin and others have tried pointing out, the embrace that composers like Schoenberg or Scriabin made of occult mysticism can't be ignored as systematically as has been done by 20th century musicology.   

That's mentioned in passing--the problem I'm describing at the moment is that there's a kind of conservative, reactionary sort who condemns modernism based on a stereotyped advocacy of atonality when a more honest survey of the modernist trends will suggest that many of the most explicitly avant garde musicians openly sought to go back to pre-eighteenth century possibilities or to cast about beyond Western cultural conventions.  You can complain about whether John Cage's ideas in music adequately or accurately reflect Buddhist beliefs, for instance, but the idea that Cage's ideas spelled the death knell of the Western tradition by way of an attack on its foundations is too flat a response.  Given the grisly and often hypocritical double bind arts critics subjected American music to in comparing new musical works to Beethoven or Wagner, it's not the least bit surprising that American composers rejected the terms of the game as laid down by institutional critics.   

So, now we're belatedly getting to some observations Meyer made half a century ago: 

Leonard B. Meyer
Copyright (c) 1967. 1994 by The University of Chicago
ISBN 0-226-52143-5

page 327
The most important of these ideas and values were those of Romanticism, especially the beliefs and attitudes associated with organicism. Organicism posits that all relationships in a work of art should be the result of a gradual growth in which a germinal idea (in music perhaps a motif, a harmonic progression, or even a sonority) develops into an inviolable unity (a movement or a whole composition), and that the process of development should be governed by an inner necessity and an economy of means such that nothing in the work is either accidental or superfluous.  

page 343
In the ideology of Romanticism greatness was linked not only to magnitude but to the prizing of genius; and genius was, in turn, bound to the creation of innovation. This coupling occurred because the Idea of Progress made innovation an important value and there needed to be causal agents of change. Geniuses were believed to be such agents. But if the future is unknowable and chancy, and if change per se ceases to be a desideratum, then the creation of categorical novelty (for example, the devising of new musical constraints) becomes less important, even pointless, because there is no assurance that innovation will "advance" musical style or lead anywhere--that is, be part of a coherent, predictable pattern. For these reasons, few "hats-off" geniuses will be hailed in the coming years, and creativity will involve not the devising of new constraints (for instance, serialism or statistical techniques) but the inventive permutation and combination of existing constraint-modes, especially as manifested in stylistic eclecticism.  

page 344
The theoretical problem of pastiche eclecticism in the arts has to do with what, if any, is the rationale for the interrelationships, both proximate and remote, among excerpts and styles within compositions: a problem that has scarcely been dealt with, let alone solved.   

To reformulate these observations in the 21st century with an eye toward the Baroque era in its full range of time, Meyer lived and wrote during a period of maximal fragmentation and innovation.  These cycles of consolidation and fragmentation come and go.  Perhaps we're in a swing toward the possibilities of consolidation.  At this point there are not exactly rules left to break for innovation's sake.  What rules you break depend on what style of music you mean to write.  If you break all the rules of Style X then you are not necessarily breaking any rules with respect to Style X, you might inadvertently be composing music in Style Y.  What is against the rules in one idiom is standard operating procedure in another.   

The idea of organicism is actually preserved rather than rejected in Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique and this is one of the foundational mistakes critics of Schoenberg can at times forget.  What they wanted Schoenberg to have not cast off were all the conventions of extended chromatic traditional Western harmonic practice from the previous century.  Schoenberg felt all those options were figuratively and literally played out.  Adorno thought so, too, to the point that he condemned jazz as being unable to do anything more than instantiate a brutishly commodified dance music that was, as the saying went, fun to dance to but dreadful to listen to.  Adorno has not lived down the infamy of that polemic and for good reasons but I'll get to those reasons later.  We'll just say for the moment that elitist racist snobbery is not strictly the confine of the right or the left where white people with a penchant for German music are concerned.   

What's interesting to consider here is that Meyer wrote on the one hand of the problem of pastiche eclecticism and on the other of the nature of organicism.  It would seem like a simple option to take gestural mutation and organicism as pathways to a pastiche eclecticism in which persistence of gestural identity could be explored across the syntactics and conventions of different styles. 

The Aesthetics of Survival: A Composer’s View of Twentieth-Century Music
George Rochberg
Copyright © 1984 by the University of Michigan
ISBN 0-472-10037-8

Page 241 (from “On the Third String Quartet”)
Granting pluralism, how is a composer to deal with it? From the inside out, i.e., from the internal psychic imagery which becomes the musical gesture to its artistic manifestation. Gesture, singly or in combination, successive or simultaneous, is the determining factor—not style, language, system or method. 

In sum, this possibility lays in being able to think of a single gesture as it could be realized or developed across panoply of musical styles.  This doesn't even have to be what is colloquially called a "postmodern" approach.  When Ferdinand Rebay composed his Historic Suite for flute and guitar where he subjected a theme to realization in the styles of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert this was explicable in a traditional teleological arc of history within German music.  You can accept or reject that teleological approach or decide you don't dig the music (I happen to enjoy the piece for flute and guitar myself but I've been admitted fan of a good chunk of Rebay's music for years now).   

If a composer were to attempt to do what Rochberg suggests, working from the foundational possibilities latent within a musical gesture regardless of style, language, system or method, then this involves not merely the acquisition of craft in the most general sense, it will involve mastering the syntactic conventions of every style to which a composer would want to have access in a possible pan-stylistic experiment.  You need to know what things you're trying to make a fusion of before you can make a fusion of them. 

The likelihood that such a successful fusion of styles and idioms in the 21st century will come from partisans of Romantic music seems remote.  Meyer's monograph on the Romantic era has a few statements I'd like to consult: 

ISBN 0-226-52152-4

page 142
... our age has conceived of creativity almost entirely in terms of the discovery and use of novelty. ... undue emphasis on the generation of novelty has resulted in almost total neglect of the other facet of creativity--choosing. Of course, choosing is always done by some individual. But the constraints that seem most to influence the compositional choices which shape the course of music history are not those peculiar to the psyche of the individual composer, but those of the prevalent musical style and of the larger cultural community.

page 220
Put aphoristically: radical individualism seeks to undermine the norms on which its expression depends 

page 221
The valuing of individual inner experience is evident in the shift from the eighteenth-century idea that music represented emotions (affects) to the nineteenth century belief that music expressed the feeling of the composer.

Feeling is all in all; the name is sound and smoke, obscuring heaven's pure glow.

Perhaps the way we could "translate" that last expression is to suggest that Romantic era thinkers wanted us to lean heavily on what Daniel Kahneman described as System 1 thinking in the book Thinking Fast and Slow. System 1 is a shorthand for the intuitive cognitive processes that happen so fast your brain doesn't even stop to consciously think about the fact that it is thinking in those terms.  You see a banana and recognize it as a banana without stopping to think that you're doing this.  System 2 is, colloquially speaking, the analytical and very self-aware range of thought processes where you set your mind to analyzing stuff.  Romantics wanted their art, if you will, to be apprehended immediately and in the most potent way by System 1 thinking, while also affirming a kind of canon in which System 2 analysis could be brought to bear.  If that seems like the set-up for a great big nasty epistemological and pedagogical double bind ... it might well have been. 

Meyer's proposal noted above was that 20th century theorizing about innovation and creativity had made a mistake in fixating on innovation and revolution at the expense of considering the simple fact that everybody makes decisions and everybody makes those decisions within the contexts of prior constraints.  The fact that some of us take time to think about the nature of the constraints doesn't mean we're going to end up making music or art or literature that has no "soul".  It is here that I would say an observation from Adorno is pertinent: 

Aesthetic Theory
Theodore Adorno
Copyright (c) 1997 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota
ISBN 0-8264-6757-1

from pages 337-338
Art without reflection is the retrospective fantasy of a reflexive age. Theoretical considerations and scientific findings have at all times been amalgamated with art, often as its bellwether [emphasis added], and the most important artists were not those who hesitated. Well-known instances of this are Piero della Francesca's discovery of aerial perspective and the aesthetic speculations of the Florentine Camerata, in which opera originated. The latter is paradigmatic of a form that, once it had become the darling of the public, was cloaked after the fact with the aura of naiveté, whereas it originated in theory, literally in an invention. Similarly, it was only the introduction of equal temperament in the seventeenth century that permitted modulation through the circle of fifths and, with it, Bach, who gratefully acknowledged this in the title of his great keyboard composition. Even in the nineteenth century, impressionist technique in painting was based on the rightly or wrongly interpreted scientific analysis of retinal processes. Of course the theoretical and reflexive elements in art seldom went untransformed. At times, art misunderstood the sciences to which it appealed, as is perhaps the case most recently with electronic music. Yet the productive impulse was little harmed by the rationality that was brought to bear on it. The physiological theorems of the impressionists were probably foils for the in part fascinated, in part socially critical experiences of the metropolis and the dynamic of their paintings. By means of the discovery of a dynamic immanent to the reified world, they wanted to resist reification, which was most palpable in metropolitan life. In the nineteenth century, natural scientific explanations functioned as the self-unconscious agent of art. The basis of this affinity between art and science was that the ratio to which the most progressive art of the epoch reacted was none other than the ratio of the natural sciences. Whereas in the history of art, scientific theories tend to wither away, without them artistic practices would no more have developed than, inversely, these theorems can adequately explain such practices. [emphasis added]

If at a number of points I consider Adorno to be an elitist snob I heartily agree with the idea that artistic creation and perception require more than a stereotypically "intuitive" appreciation.  And to invoke Adorno's observation by way of invoking contemporary scientific theories about the brain and mind, art should engage both the left as well as the right hemisphere of the brain.  If in the long run serialism and atonality have failed they have failed because, to invoke scientific theoretical explanations, they are styles of music that lacked the informational redundancy to permit their appreciation.  Even Adorno eventually registered a complaint that there were types of music that eschewed tonality for which there was no defense for its existence beyond an appeal to the precompositional procedures used to get the sonic result.  To borrow Adorno's own idiom here, there were those painters who defended their paintings by way of appealing to the palette they used to paint from.  Messiaen at one point reportedly complained about an international gray on gray ... . 

Meyer's observation about the whole of the Romantic era and of Romanticism is worth returning to. One of his most salient proposals about the era of the Romantics was that they did not, in fact, really introduce a whole lot of truly revolutionary ways of composing music.  For all the talk of rejecting conventions and traditions the Romantics were, in the end, kinda just posers.  Meyer put it more politely. 

page 222
In music, one of the discoveries of Romanticism was how to hide convention, yet have it too.  

He was more explicit about a foundational conceptual shift from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century European conception of musical forms. 

page 245-246
... While music of the Classic period employs plan-based patternings, these are almost always coordinated with and dominated by syntactic scripts. In the nineteenth century, the situation is more or less reversed: what had been specific syntactic scripts tend to be subsumed within or transformed into general plans. For instance, from this very broad point of view, the history of the practice and theory of sonata form during the nineteenth century might be interpreted as the transformation of a script--a tonally defined hierarchic schema of slots--into a thematic plan, often of a dialectic or narrative sort (thesis/antithesis --> synthesis; opposition/conflict ---. resolution). More generally, as suggested earlier (and argued later), the role of the secondary parameters in the shaping of musical forms and processes becomes increasingly important during the course of the nineteenth century. The forms and processes thus shaped are based on plans, not on scripts.

I would venture to propose that if you survey the academic literature discussing what sonata forms even are and how they are to be identified that the obsession with plans may have provided us with a giant body of pedagogical and theoretical literature that defined sonata forms in terms of plans rather than syntactic scripts.  The Romantic era that purported to shake off the shackles of 18th century convention may have codified sonata forms into a grand post-Beethoven SONATA FORM.  It's not that this vision of sonata form didn't correspond to a syntactic script that was frequently used in 18th century music; it's that it was presented as "the" plan for writing a sonata.  Thus you'd get someone like A. B. Marx propounding a sonata with a vigorous masculine theme followed up by an elusive feminine theme set in dialectical discourse by way of the sonata form in which the two are brought into tonal unity in the recapitulation. And so on and so forth. 

There's just this huge problem with that kind of presentation, it doesn't correspond to a detailed examination of what 18th century composers actually did.  For something like that ... 

Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth Century Sonata
James Hepokoski & Warren Darcy
Copyright (c) 2006 by Oxford University Press

there are books to be read.  But let's imagine that the 19th and 20th centuries transpired with this aforementioned fixation on plans. If you were to combine the perceived "exhaustion" of Romantic era planning and convention (because, as Meyer put it, the Romantics were busy disguising rather than truly rejecting conventions) where could you go?  Twelve-tone composers attempted to take the principle of organicism and thematicism all the way toward what Schoenberg once dubbed the "emancipation of dissonance".   

pages 335-336

With the advent first of atonality and then of serialism, motivic structure (together with the organizing capabilities of the secondary parameters) had to bear the main burden of musical process and form. As this occurred, the need for constraints governing the order of motives and variants became pressing. For not only does pure motivic variation lack any natural order or direction, but it is entirely open-ended (that is, a transformation can continue endlessly). Schoenberg, both the advocate and victim of this development of Romanticism, was aware of the need for constraints [emphasis added] ...  

Discovering a basis for (a set of constraints governing) motivic succession in the absence of the conventions of tonal syntax and form was only one of a host of problems bequeathed by Romanticism and its attendant composition strategies and proclivities. As many scholars have pointed out ... many of the beliefs and attitudes, as well as the compositional problems, of the nineteenth century have persisted through the twentieth, affecting the choices of composers and the conceptions of scholars. ...

page 338

Once the absence of a tonal center was allowed, compositional choices could no longer be thought of as departures, however distant, from the norms of tonal syntax. Conceptualization thus intensified the problems of compositional choice. What was needed was not new strategies, but new rules.  One striking manifestation of this need was the deep and abiding concern of composers--especially composers of "advanced" music such as Schoenberg, Babbitt, Stockhausen, Ligeti, and Xenakis--with music theory and aesthetics. [emphases added] 

The increased importance of motivic relationships in the music of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as the need for constraints governing the succession of motivic variants, was pointed out in Chapter 8. But a syntax of motivic succession was not realized. Instead, other strategies for limiting compositional choice were devised. Of these, the twelve-tone method was probably the most widespread and influential, perhaps partly because its constraints, though not syntactic, were explicitly formulated and hence could be readily taught, learned, and applied. Though composers of twelve-tone music invented ways of ensuring serial continuity (for instance, linking row forms through common intervals), no shared constraints governing the ordering of specific realizations of the row or of the motives derived from the row were devised. [emphasis added] 

page 339

The failure to develop such constraints explains in part why, despite the revolutions in pitch organization and the "emancipation of dissonance," the forms of the Classic style not only persisted, but were often used by twelve-tone composers in a more conservative way than they had been in the music of the preceding generation of composers. [emphasis added] For these forms--sonata form, rondo, theme and variations, dance forms, and so on--provided the constraints that enabled composers to choose appropriate melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic embodiments for their twelve-tone rows. What I am suggesting is that serial composers and others employed "borrowed" forms not solely (or even primarily) because they considered themselves to be heirs to the great tradition of European art music or because of latent neoclassical inclinations, but because they had virtually no alternative. [emphasis added] They could not do without some way of deciding how the motivic variants that they derived from the row should be combined with or succeed one another. ... 

It is at this point that, contra someone like Scruton, I might suggest that the atonalists were truly attempting to live out in their attempts at musical revolution what earlier Romantic-era composers were merely paying lip-service to, the casting off of conventions to embrace a singular approach to art.  But, and here we can cycle back to the simple existence of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, there's a world of difference between appealing to a kind of System 1 thinking that can readily grasp the implications of conventions and a kind of System 2 thinking that is put in service of trying to imagine new constraints for motivic/thematic articulation and expansion.  As Meyer put it, all the attempts to formulate a post-tonal syntactic macro-organizational paradigm for music in the West have largely failed to come up with a successful alternative.  Yet the sense that the tonal idiom has been "played out" has not necessarily gone away, either.   

Most interesting, however, is Meyer's statement that the atonal composers ended up embracing versions of the conventional forms of the tonal era and worked with them in ways that were even more rigid than those used by tonal composers.  And, as quoted above, Meyer suggested this was not so much because they really viewed themselves as heirs of the great tradition but because they had virtually no alternative

There's a potential "lesson" here, however.  What if it's possible to cast off any consideration for one constraint in musical art so long as you strictly observe another constraint in another parameter?   

Meyer noted the rather obvious but still useful point that  

... But serial composers were by no means the only ones to be plagued by the problem of how to order motivic variants in the absence of some sort of high-level constraints. Virtually all composers who wrote motivically based music employed traditional forms to shape large-scale organization. Bartok and Hindemith may serve as examples.  

This doesn't mean that Bartok and Hindemith necessarily employed major and minor key scales.  Both made use of expanded pitch organization, explicable within the twelve-tone equal-tempered scale but not necessarily bound to the tonal systems of the previous century. 

But let's get back to this idea that it's possible to be stringent in one parameter and mercurial in another.  I've written in the past about Hepokoski and Darcy's Elements of Sonata Form.  They propose a concept called "rotation". Suppose you were to employ that concept of rotation (that Theme 1 and Theme 2 and Theme 3 and their respective transitions appear in the same order through each macro-structural component of a musical work) and abandon traditional tonality?  What if you leaned more toward octatonic scales?  You might get something like the guitar sonatas of Dusan Bogdanovic, who has written sonata forms in which traditional tonality is nowhere to be seen and yet the principle of "rotation" is readily observed. 

Or we could go in another direction, the matter of pastiche eclecticism that Meyer mentioned in a passage quoted earlier--what if you employed "rotation" in a way where, in a sonata form, you presented your exposition themes in a musical style that is different from the musical style the themes get presented in in the recapitulation space?  For instance ...  say ... you could have a theme presented in a ragtime style whose gestures are re-presented in the recapitulation space as an aggressive Texas-blues slide guitar idiom.  Or it could be something like 18th century high Baroque counterpoint. 

The idea here is that if you were to heed organicism (which, in my case, I would be strongly inclined to base on something like Charles Ives' approach that J. Peter Burkholder described as "cumulative form") and a more or less conventional quasi-tonal idiom you could subject a set of themes to drastic stylistic alteration based on knowledge of the syntactics of a variety of styles while retaining the cohesion of the sonata form based on the concept of "rotation".  An audience could be primed to expect the themes to come back in precisely the order they were given them in the exposition, but the themes could be substantially reworked.  Haydn did this kind of thing as a matter of course. 

By recovering an approach to sonata forms based not on 19th century theoretical "plans" but on, as it were, a more recent conception of sonata forms as a range of syntactic scripts that were not necessarily even strictly codified in the 18th century in spite of their rampant use; and then refracting all of this through organicism; it could be possible to arrive at one possible "solution" to the problem of pastiche eclecticism as it was presented by Meyer in his Music, the Arts and Ideas.  It could be done by way of the path suggested by George Rochberg, through the manipulation and expansion of the gesture across style, language, system and method, not merely regardless of those things. Deploying the concept of "rotation" as a gateway to intra-opus stylistic mutation is just one possible "solution" to what Meyer described as the "problem" of pastiche eclecticism. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

comments from Cal P and hoosier bob at Mere Orthodoxy highlight a difficulty or two with the "man up" cottage industry

Over at Mere Orthodoxy a fairly predictable theme of the failure of young men in particular to man up and grow up has emerged courtesy of some ideas proposed by one Sasse.  This has also come up with reference to the "strenuous life" of one Bucer.  That inspired Cal P and hoosier bob to comment over at the following thread:
Cal P

Following Peter F's comment, I think this same recommendation falls into the same trap. A call for a Streneous Life, in the footsteps of TR and Muscular Christianity, is only a thin veil for the same identity-consumed narcissism that is all around us. Except now we are justified by our own self-perceived can-do attitude, and we can sneer at the "narcissist" namby-pambies who care about self-help and the therapeutic religion. But it's really only the flip-side of the coin. I don't see how this is much different than what Mark Driscoll tried to do, though with much more punch. This program is still just thinking about ourselves, but now refracted through the lens of other-oriented activity. Maybe we need to actually stop, and look around, and think about the local world around us. But many Evangelicals, like most Americans, are immune to reality, living off borrowed wealth and time.
This fits pretty well with the droning buzz of do, do, do, activity for the sake activity, etc. It fits pretty well with a world that is obsessed with activism and business. This piece seems like a straw-man, grounded in a shill politician trying to build his own brand of Conservatism. Maybe Sasse will be empty-headed and charming enough to become a new Reagan.
hoosier_bob Cal P
Another point that people gloss over is that many men correctly assess that the benefits of marriage don't outweigh its costs in our society. That's been the case for a while. Gary Becker wrote "A Theory of Marriage" nearly 45 years ago. Becker recognized that certain social and economic forces had changed the nature of what people are bargaining for in marriage. Even so, the "default rules" of marriage had failed to account for those changes. Thus, many people were entering into marriages under conditions that did not lead to transactionally efficient outcomes. Becker recognized well that no institution can survive that fails to produce benefits to its participants in excess of the costs of participation. For most women, marriage, as it is defined in our culture, still yields benefits in excess of its costs. That is not so for most men. For most men, marriage will fail to produce benefits in excess of its costs. [emphasis added]

Sasse and the "family values" crowd have been lecturing men for four decades now, trying to guilt them into entering marriage against their better social and economic judgment. But stigmatizing economically sound judgment can only last for so long. Moralism eventually loses its power.
If Sasse wants more men to marry, he should consider the reasons why many men have chosen to take a pass. It's one thing to exert "strenuous" effort if that effort is likely to deliver a payoff in excess of the effort. It's another thing to exert such effort when the likelihood of a payoff is dim. We easily forget that the "family values" take on marriage and family is largely an invention of late-19th-century social theorists. The "nuclear family" was invented as a social structure for transitioning people from the farm to industrial jobs in the city. We face different challenges today, and we need to reimagine again what family life looks like in terms of our current social conditions. Nostalgia for the good ol' days won't cut it. [emphasis added]

I find myself in basic agreement with Cal and Peter. This seems like the same kind of narcissistic, identity-focused, exclusionary vision of "manhood" that guys like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Tim Bayly, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, et al. have been pandering for a while. Perhaps we should welcome the fact that people are diverse in many respects and stop trying to create hierarchies that segregate the "real men" from some allegedly inferior breed of men who meet God's disapproval. After all, the phenomenon that this seeks to counteract largely evolved as a reaction to the "muscular Christianity" of an earlier era.

I was thinking about this Friday, when I went down to grab my morning Americano from the coffee shop in the first floor of my building. The local New Calvinist church was having a men's Bible study on the picnic benches out front. Out of the dozen or so guys, all but one had beards. The bears all looked about the same. A majority wore cowboy boots, despite the fact that none was likely a cattle farmer. All were carrying a few extra pounds around the middle. And while their physiques suggested that they may engage in some resistance exercise, it's likely that none of them participated in "effeminate" sports like running, cycling, yoga, swimming, etc. When I placed my order, I joked briefly with the cashier about how similarly styled these "real men" all were. He responded, "Yeah, it's the weekly insecure Christian dudes' Bible study."

Notions of masculinity and effeminacy are often somewhat culturally construed. I'd much prefer that evangelicals just focus on faithfulness, and spend less time trying to identity properly engendered construals of what faithfulness looks like.
Cal P hoosier_bob
I think part of the problem is the concept of gender as it was worked out over the 19th and 20th centuries. There is a fixation on some 'ousia' of our sexed bodies that can be abstracted and analyzed. Therefore, the discourse switches from sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers to masculinity or maleness. This is one of the major conceptual differences between Puritan and Victorian moral literature. Both were concerned with how men acted, but they had some different notions of what that actually meant. Can we understand masculinity and femininity as a binary pair abstracted from the concrete roles worked out within our given sexed bodies?

Quite clearly, the problem lies in the root causes of labor changes in the 18th century, with growing plantation slavery, the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the Bourgeoisie as a distinct class. It's too much for a comment, but I think if the crisis of gender is to be addressed (and it is a problem), we shouldn't dismiss it with an appeal to fidelity. Rather, the insecure bearded Calvinists represent the problem with the gender discourse from the ground-up. It's a similar phenomenon in what we see in the Alt-Right as identity politics, or in how sexuality discourse has turned sodomy into questions of homosexuality. The grammar of these ideologies constrains our ability to perceive the world.

In sum, the guys who tell other guys to "man up" by way of a cottage industry of polemical publishing rarely seem to recognize that they quite literally have the luxury of doing so. 

Back when I was at Mars Hill some guys recommended the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  I tried reading one of their books, the big one.  The introduction itself put me off from taking the rest of the book very seriously.  Manhood was defined as a kind of disposition toward womanhood and vice versa.  The definitions were not just incomplete but entirely circular.  Defining manhood is worth nothing if it necessitates that a man must literally be in the position to impregnate a woman for it to have the practical meaning a Christian social conservative of the Anglo-American variety wants it to have.  At this point there's very little opportunity to misunderstand that this is generally what is meant by a certain strain of John Piper admiring new Calvinist as it is. 

But since people mentioned Driscoll, it seems worthwhile to mention that in Mark Driscoll's case, and by his own account, he couldn't have gotten where he got to without the patronage of men who decided to give him things he didn't qualify for on the basis of his own credentials or credit.

Confessions of a Reformission RevMark Driscoll, Zondervan 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-27016-4

page 119
[this season begins in early 1999]
I had worked myself to near burnout and was still the only paid pastor on staff although there was enough work for ten people.

[remember that at this point Mike Gunn and Lief Moi still had full-time jobs, Driscoll's work was apparently part-time and he had a stipend from the advisory board and supplemented his income in other ways]

page 120
A friend in the church kindly allowed me to move into a large home he owned on a lease-to-own deal because I was too broke to qualify for anything but an outhouse. The seventy-year-old house had over three thousand square feet, seven bedrooms on three floors, and needed a ton of work because it had been neglected for many years as a rental home for college students. Grace and I and our daughter Ashley, three male renters who helped cover the mortgage, my study, and the church office all moved into the home. [emphasis added] This put me on the job, literally, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, as the boundary between home and church was erased.

We ran the church out of my house for nearly two years, including leadership meetings and Bible studies for various groups on almost every night of the week. It was not uncommon to have over seventy people a week in our home. Grace got sucked right back into the church mess. She was a great host to our guests. But I started growing bitter toward her because I was again feeling neglected.

I began working seven days a week, trying to save the church from imminent death. I had decided to go for broke and accepted that I would either save the church and provide for my family or probably die of a heart attack. I lived on caffeine and adrenaline for the better part of two years, ate terribly ,and put on nearly forty pounds. 
Then there's a sermon from 2001 where Driscoll mentioned what he decided to do to land some work:
starting at 54:45
Proverbs 29:21, “If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end.” These guys are pampered; totally pampered. Okay? And again, this is not a boasting on me. This is a – this is actually a tribute to my dad. I was eleven years old. I was going out for the little league all-star team, and I needed a new glove. My dad said, “Good. Go make some money.” I said, “Hey, dad, I’m eleven.” He said, “Well, you’re taller than the lawn-mower. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” True. So, I get the lawn-mower, and I go and I mow lawns to get my glove. And I come back and my dad says, “You owe me gas money. You used my gas.” It’s the nicest thing my dad ever did. Up until that point, I didn’t know gas cost money. Now, I do. Now, I appreciate gas.It comes to the point where I’m 15 and I wanna get a car. I said, “Dad, I need a car.” He says, “Good. Go get some money.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So, I falsified my birth certificate, I lie about my age, and I get a job at a 7-11 selling lotto tickets and liquor and cigarettes to people that are twice my age. I was not a Christian, so – I shouldn’t have done it anyways, but I wasn’t a Christian. And so, I’m 15, working at a 7-11 selling stuff. And I make a decent living, and I buy my first car, a 1956 Chevy that I should’ve never sold. That’s a whole other sermon. And – and so I’m 15, driving myself to work without a license, because I gotta go make money to pay for my car. [emphasis added] Okay? And again, I was not a Christian. Okay? So, I’m not saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

And I realize that, since I was young and I was strong, I could make more money. And so I started dinking around trying to figure out where to make more money. And I find out that guys in unions make a lot of money. And – at least compared to me working at the 7-11. And I got tired of getting robbed and held-up, too. ‘Cause if you run a 7-11 behind a Déjà vu, somebody’s gonna put a gun at your head. And after a couple of those, you realize, “For minimum wage, I’m not taking a cap. You know? I’m not gonna get shot for, like, a pack of cigarettes. I’m not gonna do that.” So, I lied about my age. I falsified my birth certificate again, and told them I was 18. Got a job working long-shoring down on the docks in Seattle. And I would go throw 100-pound sacks of peas, and unload trucks, and work hard. And they paid me tremendous money. [emphasis added] At the time, it was like $10.00-something an hour. This was, like, in 1986 or ’87 or something. And I’d work 40 hours a week, and over-time was double-time. And none of the guys would wanna work over-time. Usually it was on Friday, ‘cause they had to get containers out, and those guys all wanted to go to the topless club.

And so, I would work all the over-time at $20.00 an hour as a 16 year old kid. This is in the mid-‘80s. Right? So, I’m loaded. I have money, money, money, money. So, I buy a car, and I start saving for college, doing my stuff. And with my dad – I thank God for my dad. My dad’s like, “You’re a guy. You work. You pay your way. Good. It’s good for you.” And you know what? He’s right. He was totally right. Thank God for my dad. My brother and my other brother and myself, we’re all doing great, making good money, doing fine. My brothers are all in management leadership running companies or businesses. It’s great. You pamper a guy from his youth, and he just – he gets this course of action. All of the sudden he feels like if his hands are dirty, or his muscles are sore, or if he put-in a long day, or thought something was tough, that’s unusual; that’s abnormal. And so, he avoids it.

So by Driscoll's account he misrepresented his age to get a job he would not otherwise have been able to get back when he was in his teens.  Later, when he was married, he was given a lease-to-own deal for a home he wouldn't have been able to afford if the whole matter of buying a home had been a matter of what he qualified for with his own credit rating.  Even in this case Driscoll recounted that he and his wife rented spare rooms in the house to at least three single guys--the irony of Mark Driscoll holding forth as William Wallace II against irresponsible single guys not growing up was that without single guys renting the extra rooms not otherwise being used in the house Driscoll himself might not have been able to afford to stay for very long in the house he was in thanks to a lease-to-own deal he would later describe in his 2006 book.

One of the pervasive problems with any kind of Mark Driscoll or Doug Wilson-and-his-offspring approach to masculinity is that these are the kinds of American men where  a case could be made that without the benefits of high-rolling generosity on the one hand or a cultural industry that is not entirely averse to nepotism on the other these guys who sit in the seat of Moses to define masculinity could not have even gotten to the seats they now so often like to sit in.

A guy like Driscoll in particular has spent decades lecturing men as though the key problem is what he thinks they just don't want to do, when the problem may well be, as hoosier bob proposed, that the costs of doing the marriage thing as a Mark Driscoll prescribes it are so prohibitive nobody below the upper middle class these days might realistically be able to consider it and pursue it on those terms.  Mark Driscoll himself, by his own testimony, apparently couldn't do it without getting a hand up or two over the last twenty years. 

The idea that the nuclear family is an economically sustainable variant of family life in the post-industrial West has never seemed like a compelling long-term option to me.  When I was at Mars Hill I had a chance to survey, though briefly, just how many young married guys who invested in real estate went the "life together" or "community living" route.  These were often extended family systems of a literal or informal kind. 

So when yet some other guy holds forth on how it's a shame young men won't man up, it's a shame if the sort of guy who does this doesn't just so happen to be a senator, for instance, or a megachurch pastor.   As a certain Jewish teacher once put it, there are people who sit in Moses' seat and you should do what they tell you to do but be sure you don't follow their example.

Monday, June 19, 2017

HT Warren Throckmorton, The Elephant's Debt is back up online, revisiting the time James MacDonald was with Mark Driscoll when Driscoll decided to crash the Strange Fire conference.

from the executive summary of TED:

The Elephant’s Debt is a website dedicated to exposing some of the underlying reasons why many people have both privately and publicly questioned the character of Pastor James MacDonald and his lack of qualifications for being an elder and pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel of Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

By the close of 2010, Harvest’s balance sheet revealed that the church, while under the pastoral leadership of James MacDonald, had amassed approximately $65 million of debt, and in the midst of addressing the issues raised by this website, HBC Elders informed the congregation that the debt had been as high as $70 million.  While this number in and of itself is shocking, what makes it worse is that some elders and much of the congregation had no knowledge of the extent of the debt.  The rapid expansion of MacDonald’s ministry, for reasons of ego as much as concern for the Kingdom, was the cause for the sudden and surprising accumulation of debt.  The point in raising the surprisingly accumulation of debt is not to question the current financial stability of the institution, but it is put forth as an example of the underlying character issues of MacDonald that many people are now expressing publicly.

MacDonald was a guy whom Mark Driscoll described as having the spiritual gift of real estate acquisition at one point a few years ago.  Of course real estate always costs something and keeping it always costs something, too. 

Throckmorton also notes the following update:

So ... off the cuff, it's hard not to get a sense of echoes of another resignation on the part of some other guy who was supposed to be held accountable by MacDonald at one point when JM was on the BoAA.  Of course MacDonald was with Mark Driscoll when Mark Driscoll decided to crash the Strange Fire conference a few years ago.

Given that some folks could regard James MacDonald as having been an abject failure at holding Mark Driscoll accountable on matters of doctrine or character it's hardly a surprise if it turned out he came to a conclusion that ... maybe he wasn't the best sort of person to be on a committee that is claimed to have some advisory role to Trump. 

The details of the resignation and so on are admittedly academic here at Wenatchee The Hatchet.  This post is more or less an FYI.  It's of some interest to keep tabs on MacDonald's goings on in as much as he was at one point claimed as a friend and associate of Mark Driscoll.  Whether or not Mark Driscoll has said even one sentence to James MacDonald since his 2014 resignation is impossible to verify on this end but perhaps, if he were asked, MacDonald could clarify if he's stayed in touch with Driscoll since he bailed on the BoAA that let Mark Driscoll become a kind of 21st century Richard Nixon of megachurch pastors.

Alex Ross on the occult roots of modernism in the arts, via The New Yorker

John Bramble, in his 2015 book, “Modernism and the Occult,” writes that the Salon de la Rose + Croix was the “first attempt at a (semi-)internationalist ‘religion of modern art’ ”—an aesthetic order with Péladan as high priest. In the years that followed, radical artistic thinking and obscure spiritual strivings intersected in everything from Kandinsky’s abstractions to Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and the atonal music of Schoenberg.
Kenneth Silver expands on the connection in a thought-provoking essay in the “Mystical Symbolism” catalogue, entitled “Afterlife: The Important and Sometimes Embarrassing Links between Occultism and the Development of Abstract Art, ca. 1909-13.” The word “embarrassing” is taken from the art theorist Rosalind Krauss, who wrote, in 1979, that “now we find it indescribably embarrassing to mention art and spirit in the same sentence.” Yet in the early twentieth century Kandinsky, Pound, and other modernists absorbed what Silver calls “an amalgam of spiritual sources—Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, kabbalistic, alchemical, and just plain wacky.” Assuming the pose of a sorcerer or guru emboldened more than a few artists and writers in their quest to explode tradition and create a new order.
Fin-de-siècle spiritualism also had a radicalizing effect on music: “Le Fils des Étoiles” was only the beginning. In the first decade of the century, Alexander Scriabin reached the border of atonality under the influence of Theosophy; he devised an ear-burning, six-note “mystic chord” that voices a hitherto ineffable divine presence. Jean Delville supplied an image of a sun deity for the cover of Scriabin’s sumptuously dissonant score “Prometheus, Poem of Fire.” As for Schoenberg, he was immersed in mystical texts at the time of his atonal leap: in terminology reminiscent of Péladan, he explained that whereas conventional major and minor chords resembled the opposition of the two genders his new chords could be compared to androgynous angels. Even the cool intellect of Igor Stravinsky was touched by theurgic energies: the neo-pagan scenario of “The Rite of Spring” was co-created by the Russian Symbolist painter Nicholas Roerich, who went on to have a spectacularly strange career as a Theosophical sage. [emphasis added]

In the wake of two catastrophic world wars, mysticism lost its lustre. The ecstatic liturgies of the fin de siècle rang false, and a rite of objectivity took hold. The supernatural was all but expunged from modernism’s origin story: the great Irish-literature scholar Richard Ellmann insisted that Yeats employed arcane symbols “for their artistic, not their occult, utility.” In the narrative that so many of us learned in school, the upheavals of the modernist epoch were, above all, formal developments, autonomous events within each discipline. Clement Greenberg spoke of painting’s “progressive surrender to the resistance of its medium”; Theodor W. Adorno, of the “inherent tendency of the musical material.” Such sober formulas fail to capture the roiling transcendental longings of a Kandinsky or a Schoenberg. [emphases added]

Hence the disreputable allure of Péladan, who dared to speak aloud what usually remains implicit in the aesthetic sphere: belief in the artist’s alchemical power, in the godlike nature of creation, in the oracular quality of genius. (Think of how often prewar Expressionism is said to have anticipated the horrors to come, as if artists were clairvoyant.) The question we want to ask a figure like Péladan is whether or not he meant what he said—whether, in essence, he was a lunatic or a charlatan.


Adorno was, perhaps, ultimately insufficiently dialectical about Schoenberg and the emergence of atonality at at least two different levels. At the first level he may have insufficiently appreciated the necessary linkage between occultism and the inspiration for atonality as an expression of a transcendental state of being. He wouldn't have been the only academic to have so failed, of course, but by the same token Anglo-American Christian polemicists were generally not even paying attention.  A potentially useful application from Francis Schaeffer's phrase book would be to say that the atonalists were creating music that aspired to be above "the line of despair" but which became incomprehensible to ordinary people who didn't have access to the figuratively and literally occult knowledge necessary to understand what a Scriabin or a Schoenberg were aspiring to. 

The other level at which Adorno was insufficiently dialectical was in the sense that he was trapped in the mental rut of supposing we must still only divide the octave into twelve-equally tempered equi-distant tones.  As the innovations of Harry Partsch and his associates, including Ben Johnston, have managed to demonstrate in the last eighty or so years, it's possible to divide the octave into fifty-three pitches and to compose music that employs what has for a generation or two been called "microtonality".  To the extent that Adorno ignored efforts at musical innovations in the Soviet bloc and the United States he was ignoring the two regions on earth where attempts to break out of the strait jacket of the 12-tone scale were most readily documented. 

But it's not as though Francis Schaeffer, in his own way, failed even more than Adorno to entirely engage with some of the aesthetic and conceptual innovations in the arts of his respective time.  I can be sympathetic to Adorno's proposal in Aesthetic Theory that we can't forget that art involves an explicitly cognitive as well as an intuitive thought process. That doesn't mean I'm on board with him about the "necessity" of twelve-tone, let alone his polemics against jazz.  But I think it's possible to take on a few of Adorno's concerns as useful concerns about the way people theorize about art.  Then, of course, we can also keep in mind that it's good to not ignore the explicitly occult inspirations of any number of the early 20th century modernists.  Over the last year and a half I've been sort of toggling back and forth between some writings from the Frankfurt school and some writings from Schaeffer and a bit of Chesterton to see whether or not these two fairly different approaches to the arts in terms of the embrace or rejection of religious belief might yield some possible overlap in a proverbial Venn diagram. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

links for the weekend and a ramble on the problem of trying to cultivate "critical thinking" skills in contemporary Western education. And a frustration about cultural conservatives trying to treat Western cultural art like the canon is as closed as the books of the Bible

Over at Slate Mark Feeney describes how All the President's Men was a superhero movie for journalists

“Even before the outcome of Watergate was clear,” Robert Redford said on the set of All the President’s Men, “I thought there was a good story in how Carl and Bob were investigating Watergate.” It was just a natural. The old Hollywood’s history of infatuation with newspapering met the new Hollywood’s detestation of Nixon. Best of all, there was the way the story mirrored—no, demonstrated—the film industry’s most cherished beliefs about how happy endings can coexist with, and even triumph over, unhappy realities. The very title All the President’s Men, while ostensibly alluding to Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (and, at an additional remove, “Humpty Dumpty”), also communicates a sense of great and powerful forces arrayed against its author heroes. As Alan J. Pakula, the film’s director, told one of Woodward and Bernstein’s Washington Post colleagues, “It’s inherent in the story of Carl and Bob that they have become a kind of contemporary myth” whose experience affirms “that American belief that a person or small group can with perseverance and hard work and obsessiveness take on a far more powerful, impersonal body and win—if they have truth on their side.”
By the time Nixon flew off in disgrace to San Clemente, the legend of the heroic and indispensable role of the press in foiling him was the accepted version of what had happened—a version whose acceptance was helped not a little by the phenomenal response to All the President’s Men. Published three months before Nixon’s resignation, it became the fastest-selling nonfiction hardcover in U.S. history. Two years later, the film version was released and went on to become the fifth highest-grossing movie of 1976, win four Academy Awards, and, in the opinion of no less an authority than Ronald Reagan, ensure Gerald Ford’s defeat at the hands of Jimmy Carter. Even so well informed an observer as the New Republic’s John Osborne, probably the most respected and influential reporter covering the Nixon White House, could describe Woodward and Bernstein as having done more than “any officials did to expose the evil of Watergate and drive Richard Nixon from the presidency.”
The point isn’t the legend’s truth but its persuasiveness. As a newspaper editor tells James Stewart’s U.S. senator in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “This is the West, sir, and when fact becomes legend, we print the legend!” The legend of the crusading reporter, enshrined in dozens of movies of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, was what Nixon had bumped up against and one of the reasons he could never get ahead on Watergate was precisely this: Once it became apparent that the newspapers really were onto something, people instinctively felt they already knew the story—and Nixon had to be the bad guy. Just as Watergate was the logical moral climax to Nixon’s career—the man who saw enemies in so many places finally became one to himself—so, too, was it the logical Hollywood climax. The good guys—or at least the likable guys—were the ones behind the typewriters. To Richard Nixon’s dark, dour, disingenuous matter, the Hollywood image of journalists was absolute, annihilating antimatter. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Bring Down the Government” was the way one Post editor described the first draft of William Goldman’s screenplay, which isn’t far off as a description of the final version. In real life, as on screen, how could the public not go for something like that?

We could call it the Spotlight before Spotlight. Not to say these are bad movies but I can't resist making the joke that the superhero movies reviled by film reviewers just use the superhero in direct, unmediated form, whereas the journalist-as-superhero trope disguises the convention, perhaps so effectively that journalists don't realize that what Eagleton called the dogma of a double truth, of a set of ideals for the leadership-worthy classes and the common rabble, is still in play and journalists have elected themselves to the superheroic guild that is based not on physical prowess but on social and intellectual access.

Thing is, as Batman: the animated series played out decades ago it's perfectly possible for the superhero genre to concede that there's always going to be a "one percent" or even a "top twenty percent" and to ask questions in the most direct way possible as to what we want the conduct and ethics of that ruling caste to be.  In a different way Nolan's Batman films did the same thing and while Americans with lefty leanings tend to like to say those films are fascist I wonder if that's giving British film-makers and artists too little credit for admitting that frequently impermeable class boundaries exist and asking questions about what the nature of a society is or should be.  A patrician class that refuses to publicly admit how patrician it is can feel like it's endangered by other powers.  One of the tropes of Bat-lore is that Bruce Wayne never has any doubt he's of patrician stock and was born into the world with every unfair advantage possible.  But I digress. 

Other linkage for the weekend reading:

Over the last ten years I've had this impression that's hard to shake, that what Marxists describe as "alienation" is intrinsically bound up with what Christian teaching regards as the effects of the Fall.  This potent alienation of self from others, self from self, and the articulated alienation of the self alienated from self as identity and the self alienated from self in terms of labor and its results are all things pretty well spelled out in the narrative of Genesis 3.  Marxist discussion of alienation is in so many respects reinventing the wheel of Genesis 3.  But now that I'm not at Mars Hill I would venture to say there are different ways of rediscovering old things.  Each generation has to discover in its own way things discovered before by earlier generations.  Rediscovering and reinventing the wheel is part of the human experience.  What is relatively "new" is a cultural paradigm in which whatever "we" discover can be presented as something we invented or revolutionized. 

One Jacob Siegel has a rambly insider-baseball account of a thing with the editors of two magazines:

Davis: What kinds of values do you think education should be passing on?
Deresiewicz: Ultimately, colleges have inherited the spiritual mission of churches. As religious beliefs have declined with the rise of science, especially among educated people, people started to turn elsewhere to ask the big questions: What does life mean? What is the world about? People turned to works of art, to literature, music, theater, philosophy, which were in turn brought into college curricula.
That’s what the idea of a humanities education in college is and should be about, but part of that idea has very much declined. [emphasis added] It’s not about learning a specific body of information or skills the way other parts of a college education quite properly should be. Studying the humanities is about giving yourself the opportunity to engage in acts of self reflection, seeking answers to the kinds of questions you ask yourself not in a specialized capacity—but in the general capacity of being a human being, as a citizen.
Huh, that reminds me of books I've been reading this year by David Roberts on the total work of art as a failed substitute for Catholicism as the European civic religion

One of Richard Taruskin's many polemics about music historiography and music education over the last twenty years has been that the gap between the academic canon and the repertoire canon (the gap between what university programs say you have to study and what people on the proverbial street part with their own money to go voluntarily hear) has gotten too big.  The introduction of debates about the nature of canons in education and what should be canonical introduces a wrinkle here.  One possible side effect of consequence of this ... let's just say that in a way what I write could be a case study. 

One of my college friends told me he found it fascinating that I could write about episodes of Batman: the animated series in precisely the same way I could have written about Dostoevsky novels or poetry by Wallace Stevens. In a way this is a joke because based on the criteria of academic canon you're not "supposed to" take Batman or My Little Pony cartoons to even be able to address the nature of the human condition as being at the same level as poetry by Shakespeare or Milton or novels by Nabakov.  But at another level one of the implications of a lot of theoretical debates about the nature of canon formation and modes of analysis is that it seems like we "could" do this.  You could learn the tools of the trade in college that allow you to analyze this or that on the basis of having read Tolstoy or Austen or Melville but then you can turn around and apply this thought processes to, sure, a movie by Michael Bay.  How many people who can quote Walter Benjamin even want to affirm that, yes, you could use the Bayformers franchise as a way to describe where we are now.  You could do this for Star Trek, too.

That's all rambling set up for quotes from this:

Go to Inside Higher Ed, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, or read reports from Harvard University and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and you will discover that the humanities are in decline. Enrollments and majors continue to plummet.
But humanities professors themselves, like a delicatessen owner selling spoiled meat and blaming business failure on the vulgarization of consumer taste, fault their students. “All they care about is money,” they complain. “Twitter has reduced their attention span to that of a pithed frog.”
We tell a different story. For decades, literature professors have argued that there is no such thing as “great literature” but only things called great literature because hegemonic forces of oppression have mystified us into believing in objective greatness. One of the commonly taught anthologies among literature professors, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, paraphrases a key tenet of cultural studies: “Literary texts, like other artworks, are neither more nor less important than any other cultural artifact or practice. Keeping the emphasis on how cultural meanings are produced, circulated and consumed, the investigator will focus on art or literature insofar as such works connect with broader social factors, not because they possess some intrinsic interest or special aesthetic values.” (Editor's Note: This paragraph has been updated to correct a statement about the anthology.)
But if Shakespeare and Milton are no more important than any other “cultural artifact or practice,” and if they are to be studied only “insofar as” they connect with other social factors and not because of “some intrinsic interest or special aesthetic values,” then why invest the considerable effort to read them at all? Perhaps students who don’t take literature courses are responding rationally to their professors’ precepts?
The language about “how cultural meanings are produced, circulated and consumed” gropes for the prestige of something hard, unsentimental and materialistic -- in short, for economics, as a literature professor might imagine it. It appears that humanists’ key strategy for saving their disciplines has been to dehumanize them.

Now, sure, it's functionally an ad for a book.  But the concern is interesting.  The university systems as we know them in the West developed in the context of institutional churches with their literally religious concerns about a literary canon.  If you abandon this concept altogether yet still commit to the ideal that higher education should be about inculcating in people the capacity to acquire and employ critical thinking skills how do you set about doing this without a canon?  Can you do it?  For all the disadvantages canons have within poly-cultural contexts what a unified canon "could" provide is a common point from which all possible divergent readings could take place.  Christians can all debate about the appropriate interpretation of the Bible because while Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants of the Reformed or Wesleyan or Lutheran or Anglican or Pentecostal or Baptist or Mennonite or Moravian varieties may all disagree on various meanings and applications on a particular sacred text they will, at the very least, agree on what the sacred text is even if they can't agree on precisely who wrote the text and how authoritative and in what way said sacred text should be. 

Some of the battles in the last thirty years in higher education might have been to point out that if critical thinking skills are the goal we don't need a canon to inculcate those, do we?  Maybe we don't.   "If" we don't need a set canon in the arts for higher education then, as the authors quoted above propose, maybe it's a rational decision on the part of a lot of students to forego arts education in favor of picking up analytical skills in other ways.  This wouldn't have to be the STEM route that humanities fans sometimes fear, it could be history or political theory or ... maybe sociology and anthropology?  But in a way that gets us back the conundrum of the canon.  There is a canon of respected writings and contributors to the history of science., isn't there?  Newtonian physics may have needed a suppelement but Newton's place was not removed. 

What seems so lame about a swath of conservative and reactionary thought is this insistence that any attempt to add to the canon or supplement it might as well be the same as attacking the canon itself.  Look, I get why Christians would say you should not and cannot add books to the Bible.  We have those ecumenical councils and stuff.  But the idea that the canon, however we define that, in the arts, can't be a cumulative and additive thing seems stupid.  I admit that even if I were told by professors in college that Shakespeare or Hemmingway are real literary art I still enjoy Spiderman and Batman comics more than either of those, though the Bard really is pretty good.  I just admit that I like John Donne's poetry a little more if I get to choose Elizabethan era writers.  Even though both Beethoven and Mozart are regarded as more 'profound' than Haydn I disagree.  Haydn was the true luminary of that era if I "have" to pick one.  I'd rather not.  I even like Clementi's later sonatas more than much that I've heard by Mozart.  I've heard people actually gasp when I say that. 

But if we take this idea seriously that higher education is supposed to imbue us with critical thinking skills should we be that surprised if different people reach different conclusions about the arts? 

I guess I'm going to swing this back to my admiration for Haydn and how it can be explained in terms of his life and times.  Mozart and Beethoven's work, particularly after they both died, was anointed as canonical by the classes that identified with the marvelous beauty and ambition of the music.  There's a crude explanation that seems apt, the emerging middle class and entrepreneurial set could see themselves in Mozart and Beethoven because these were the two guys who were entrepreneurial about how they wrote their music and marketed their music.  Haydn was vastly more popular but he was working for the Man, for the Esterhazy court.  Even if Mozart and Beethoven were thoroughly indebted to the influence and interest of Haydn by the 19th century Haydn was admired and then, for want of a better way of putting it, ignored.  He had been canonized to the paradoxical effect of being sidelined.  As music theory began to explain forms with reference to the "deeper" composers, Haydn's more opaque and mercurial approach got shunted over to the side.  Richard Taruskin has, with cause, used Haydn as a case study of how the gap between what the textbooks tell us a sonata is supposed to be and what Haydn actually did couldn't be larger.  Haydn's unpredictable and whimsical approach to forms is so notorious that even in Elements of Sonata Theory, Hepokoski & Darcy just concede they drew more from Mozart and Beethoven and other composers for discussing formal options because Haydn was so playful it was hard to articulate any rules  about form from what he did.

Getting back to Deresiewicz's concerns about higher ed., I'm reminded of how I was advised by the late William Lane back when I was in school that if I did go into graduate studies for biblical literature to steer clear of the Ivy League.  He said the Ivy League had, unfortunately, lost its way and was completely sold out to what he called "the guild mentality".  It was all about the self-reinforcing dynamics of the guild doing things for the academic guild.  If you wanted to go into biblical studies with an eye toward serving the Church and as an act of serious Christian service he advised to go elsewhere and basically treat the Ivy League like a non-option.  That was, at the risk of reminding myself of the passage of time, more than twenty years ago.  It doesn't mean big schools can't generate wonderfully useful scholarship.  I've already name-dropped academics associated with the biggest possible schools in Western education.  Even in a case like, say, Taruskin, he's so committed a polemicist that there are plenty of people who maybe just barely grant he's a scholar at this point.  As a guitarist I've got my own little issues with his Oxford history of aired here at this blog. 

I suppose in our era of Trump the handwringing about critical thinking skills seems unfortunate because I get this sense that there's a set of assumptions laying behind invocations of critical thinking skills.  Who's to say that critical thinking skills, whatever they are, can be "taught"?  I've heard people say that you can't really teach jazz, not really.  Setting aside for the moment the annoying tendency of this kind of bromide being uttered by literal white guys ... no, wait, let's not set that aside!  I'm thinking here about Noah Berlatsky's riff against white guys like Lester Bangs and Robert Christgau using their roles as journalists to police the purity of black musicians; or a corresponding use of the role of the critic to condemn wholesale that genre of music known as prog rock.  I've had mixed feelings about prog rock all my life, loving parts of it and hating other parts of it and Haydn, in a word, has been my "answer", a composer who realized that you can do an awful lot with just a few hooks.  I view prog rock as a fine transitional experiment in high/low fusion of the sort I think a lot of us want to hear take shape, whether it's prog rock or Miles Davis' fusion period. 

Sometimes, and this is just me ranting for the weekend, I feel like the worst stuff that happened in Western academia all seemed to happen in the "long 19th century".  I've been anti-Romantic in my sympathies and convictions for a long time.  It's not without beauty or value.  I love some music by Chopin and to the extent that the Transcendentalists inspired Charles Ives that is the limit of my regard for them. 

But the canon status given to Beethoven and Mozart over Haydn exemplifies my recurring frustration with an approach to an artistic canon.  What's seemed clearer and clearer to me as I immersed myself in the early 19th century guitar sonatas on the one hand and in Hepokoski & Darcy's work on sonata forms on the other is that we're rediscovering fairly basic stuff about the 18th century music that's called "classical music". We're reinventing a wheel but we're reinventing it because, as I see it, we've been sold a bill of goods about the 18th century approaches to form by 19th century German idealists who, in the process of filtering the ideals of high art through their idolatry of Beethoven and Mozart, misrepresented the literature of the 18th century they were proposing to elucidate in the process. 

Part of me wants to go on at length about the beef I have with the Romantic era prescription of the "plan" in music composition vs the "Script" as was elucidated by Leonard B Meyer but it's the weekend and I wrote all that stuff earlier.

Recovering a more script based approach to sonata would open up the possibilities of incorporating ragtime and blues into sonata forms.  My worry sometimes is that the debates about the canon of Western music or the battles over cultural appropriation is that we have people enforcing purity codes that don't even have the explicitly religious foundations that could at least get them on the "sanctity" scale Jonathan Haidt has talked about in his work.  This might be where what people on the left call neoliberalism gets easier to identify.  Maybe it's what is going on when someone like Ethan Iverson vents that he dreads that Star Wars movies and pop music might pass for high culture in a century if we don't defend jazz and classical.  That the Beastie Boys ended up as "classical music" was one of the tossed off punchlines in Star Trek Beyond.

But, like I was saying, it is the weekend. 

former MH PR director Justin Dean has a new book out called PR Matters: A Survival Guide for Church Communicators (though it's not necessarily a survival guide for the churches themselves, is it?)

A Survival Guide for Church Communicators
Lessons learned from Justin Dean, former Communications Director at Mars Hill Church

Presented for the time being without comment.

updated 6-18-2017

The title is interesting.  It's a survival guide for church communicators.  This title does not imply that the church itself will necessarily survive.  But it telegraphs that it can be a survival guide for church communicators. Justin Dean's tenure at Mars Hill Church may truly be an instructive case study because during his stint as the person handling PR Mars Hill went from its soaring heights to complete institutional death. 

If anyone has come across reviews of the book it'd be interesting to see what the reviewers had to say about the book.  Given how high profile the implosion of Mars Hill Church was, Dean's book might be something would-be future historians of the movement might be curious about.

How Justin Dean fielded the discipline of Andrew Lamb in 2012 did chart a course for the public reputation of the church.  For those who don't remember what he said, he explained that due to unclear communication what was meant to be conveyed about Andrew's discipline within a small group context was made known to the larger MH community, which was not intended.  At the time we noted that this was about as direct an explanation of an action being caused by organizational incompetence as was likely to be seen in contemporary American discourse. 

Recall, too, that MH was laboring to state that they were interested in protecting the privacy of the parties involved regarding the church discipline situation. 

If you should want to read about thirty-five thousand words of analysis referring to social media use by former MH leaders and attenders showing how easily it was possible to connect all the dots between Matthew Paul Turner's blogging about Andrew's discipline and the identities of Andrew (Lamb) and the Noriega family) you can trawl through these tagged posts:

Mars Hill was in many respects a case study of early adoption of social media use. It was a church culture that tried to be cutting edge about media use and branding.  The upside of that culture was that they had a meteoric rise.  The downside of that culture, to keep things brief for a post such as this, is that we had a culture in which people had not thought through all the implications of social media as mass media, or social media as a means through which all varied uses came with the voluntary sacrifice of privacy.  As this blog documented in at times mind-numbing detail, MH leaders and attenders did not seem to always grasp just how huge were the streams of information left out there on the net for reference.  When I started to document how it was possible for a convicted felon on his second marriage to get fast-tracked into a high mid-level leadership position in the culture of MH after he played an instrumental role in getting a piece of prime real estate Mark Driscoll admitted he'd been wanting for Mars Hill for a decade, this was possible to blog about precisely because Mars Hill was a culture where all sorts of stuff was blogged and tweet from sermons and information was easy to look up.  I would not say that, per a tweet by Justin Dean, that "bloggers won".  Mars Hill was the kind of information culture in which revealing what was going on became easy to investigate because Mars Hill was a culture that couldn't help publishing stuff to prove how technically engaged it was.

Now's s good a time as any to ask whether we Americans throw around the word "survivor" too much, not least in days where people actually get shot and killed.   I've gone on record here saying I don't particularly like the term "survivor" blog.  I'm not saying something like PTSD can't be experienced by people who have been through emotionally traumatic experiences at church--but two years after the shooting at Emanuel AME there are people who aren't with us because they were murdered.  The men and women and children who were there and were not also murdered can certainly be regarded as survivors.  About a year ago the Pulse shooting occurred.  The people who didn't die in that incident who were present can also be described as survivors.  Dean's book may have tips on how to "survive" in a church communicator role but the word "survivor" seems over-used in American Christian social media and media use. 

Still, if you happen to know of any reviews of Dean's book, feel free to post a comment (comments are still moderated so they may not show up, or show up right away).

And now Mars Hill  is no more.  A normal person on the street might wonder whether or not the PR approach of the top level leaders wouldn't have been responsible in a crucial way for the decline of a church's reputation.  But the book title says it's a survival guide for church communicators, so if we judge a book by its cover, Justin Dean's book doesn't have to be about whether or not the church survives, just the person who has the job of handling it's PR.