a quote

From: Anatoly Vorobey (mellon_at_pobox.com)
Date: Thu 26 Nov 1998 - 00:46:57 IST


Though students do not have books, they most emphatically
do have music. Nothing is more singular about this generation
than its addiction to music. This is the age of music and the
states of soul that accompany it. To find a rival to this
enthusiasm, one would have to go back at least a century to
Germany and the passion for Wagner's operas. They had the
religious sense that Wanger was creating the meaning of life
and that they were not merely listening to his works but
experiencing that meaning. Today, a very large proportion of
young people between the ages of ten and twenty live for music.
It is their passion; nothing else excites them as it does; they
cannot take seriously anything alien to music. [...] It is
available twenty-four hours a day, everywhere. There is a stereo
in the home, in the car; there are concerts; there are music
videos, with special channels exclusively devoted to them, on
the air nonstop; there are the Walkmans so that no place - not
public transportation, not the library - prevents students from
communing with the Muse, even while studying. And, above all, the
musical soil has become tropically rich. No need to wait for one
unpredictable genius. Now there are many geniuses, producing
all the time, two new ones rising to take the place of every
fallen hero. There is no dearth of the new and the startling.

[...] But rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to
sexual desire - not love, not _eros_, but sexual desire undeveloped
and untutored. It acknowledges the first emanations of children's
emerging sensuality and addresses them seriously, eliciting them
and legitimating them, not as little sprouts that must be carefully
tended in order to grow into gorgeous flowers, but as the real thing.
Rock gives children, on a silver platter, with all the public authority
of the entertainment industry, everything their parents always used
to tell them they had to wait for until they grew up and would
understand later.

Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse. That
is why Ravel's _Bolero_ is the one piece of classical music that is
commonly known and liked by them. In alliance with some real art and
a lot of pseudo-art, an enormous industry cultivates the taste for
the orgiastic state of feeling connected with sex, providing a constant
flood of fresh material for voracious appetites. Never was there an
art form directed so exclusively to children.

[...] Picture a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the living room of
his family doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones
or watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over centuries by the
alliance of philosophical genius and political heroism, consecrated
by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the
most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated
the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike
electronic sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what
does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic
rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of
onanism or the killing of parents; whose ambition is to win fame and
wealth in imitating the drag-queen who makes the music. In short, life is
made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.

[...] Some of this culture's power comes from the fact that it is so loud.
It makes conversation impossible, so that much of friendship must be
without the shared speech that Aristotle asserts is the essense of
friendship and the only true common ground. With rock, illusions of shared
feelings, bodily contact and grunted formulas, which are supposed to
contain so much meaning beyong speech, are the basis of association. None
of this contradicts going about the business of life, attending classes
and doing the assignments for them. But the meaningful inner life is
with the music.

This phenomenon is both astounding and indigestible, and is hardly noticed,
routine and habitual. But it is of historic proportions that a society's
best young and their best energies should be so occupied. People of
future civilizations will wonder at this and find it as incomprehensible
as we do the caste system, witch-hunting, harems, cannibalism and
gladiatorial combats. It may well be that a society's greatest madness
seems normal to itself.

[...] My concern here is not with the moral effects of this music -
whether it leads to sex, violence or drugs. The issue here is its
effect on education, and I believe it ruins the imagination of young
people and makes it very difficult for them to have a passionate
relationship with art and thought that are the substance of literal
education. The first sensuous experiences are decisive in determining
the taste for the whole of life, and they are the link between the
animal and spiritual in us.

[...] The choice is not between quick fixes and dull calculation. This
is what liberal education is meant to show them. But as long as they have
the Walkman on, they will not hear what the great tradition has to say.
And, after its prolonged use, when they take it off, they find they are

Allan Bloom, from "The Closing of the American Mind".

Anatoly Vorobey,
mellon@pobox.com http://pobox.com/~mellon/
"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly" - G.K.Chesterton
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