18 May 2021

Give Me Back My Music, You Damn Romantic

McKenzie Wark
The Beach Beneath the Street (2011)

p. 106—music as the highest Romantic art; and Romanticism as the Dionysian opposite of classicism

Both taxonomies are trite, but I'd never considered them together, which places music precisely where polite Bourgie non-culture places it: unclaimed, mercurial, ultimately not to be trusted. As just one half of a dialectical pair (Apollonian-Dionysian), music is also incomplete, in need of grounding.

Incidentally, it is hard not to notice the complete absence of musicians in the SI and subsequent accounts of it, as well as similarly scant mention of music in SI theoretical statements. I suspect this has nothing to do with its Dionysian nature and much more to do with the Apollonian side of music's internal technical dynamics which the established mythology has reduced away.

Added Later: music CAN be just about perfectly balanced in the Ap.-Dion. respect. If anyone cares to pursue this. Probably true of all the arts. So, music pre- and post-dates Romanticism, but the Romantics get to claim it for their ends, and no one else's. Not productive! Music could, via a one-sided account, be posited as the ultimate Romantic art; but Romantics were hardly the ultimate musicians. In fact the opposite, strictly IMHO.

[from a post-it, 2017]
[the passage:]
The classical assumes a legitimate order, revealed by the light of the sun. God's in his heaven, the king's on his throne, all is right with the world. And what goes wrong can be rectified. Like Le Corbusier's plans, classicism favors the right angle and the straight line. It favors the form of the myth, in which order is destabilized, restored, legitimated. Its privileged medium is architecture. Its method is imitation. Everyone imitates the one above them in the social order, just as the king imitates God, and the whole social order imitates nature. Classical humor, from Molière to Sacha Baron-Cohen, ridicules failed attempts at imitation. In Molière's satirical attack on the Precious movement, provincial ladies shun some nobleman as beneath them, so these retaliate by having their grooms pretend to be Precious sophisticates. Hilarity ensues, but classical humor serves order.

The romantic is a corrosive fluid that attacks the classical on every front. It is a refusal of obedience. It lurks in the dark, in the mist, within the eclipse. Time is out of joint. It favors the wave, the vibration, the curlicue. It mixes forms, detaches symbols from myths, and puts them in play against all that is legitimate. Its medium of greatest affinity is music. Its method is creation, which it claims as a human potential, not a divine attribute. For Lefebvre the romantic intersects with a certain strand of irony. Unlike Jorn he idolizes the achievements of the Greeks, not least Socratic irony, which is the undoing of any order of belief. The subjective irony of Socrates anticipates the objective irony of history, which sweeps order away in its aleatory currents.

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