Is it still possible to produce avant garde music? R. Murray Schafer has suggested that the concept of music as a rarefied, separate entity, something to be enjoyed exclusively in aesthetic terms, is a concept unique to Western thought — and a concept of recent origin. He suggests that “In many cultures the word ‘music’ does not exist at all”; that in other cultural environments “music is effortlessly associated with dance, with physical tasks, with social festivities and celebrations of all kinds.” In European culture, by coctrast, “What makes it special is its abstraction from daily life, its exclusivity.” (105)
From Dummy by R.J. Wheaton
The analogy I wish to draw here is blatant. The rhetoric of beauty tells the story of the beholder who, like Masoch’s victim, contracts his own submission — having established, by free consent, a reciprocal, contractual alliance with the image. The signature of this contract, of course, is beauty. […]
The experience of art within the therapeutic institution, however, is presumed to be an end in itself. Under its auspices, we play a minor role in the master’s narrative — the artist’s tale — and celebrate his autonomous acts even as we are off-handedly victimized by their philosophical force and ruthless authority. […] And we, poor beholders, like the silly demimondaines in Sade’s Philosophy of the Bedroom, are presumed to have just wandered in, looking for a kiss, so Pow! Whatever we get, we deserve — and what we get most prominently is ignored, disenfranchised, and instructed. Then told it is “good” for us. (62-63)
From Hickey, Dave. “After the Great Tsunami.” The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty. Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1993. 55-64. Print.
According to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, our planet’s most pronounced topographical features comprise an approximate mirror image of the crust’s underside. The steppes of the Ukraine thus roof the cratonic platform which replicated them, while the Ural Mountains not only project into the sky, but in equal measure stab down like gunbarrels trained upon the magma on which our continents uneasily slither. To me, the thought that this world is doubled within its own red, liquid hell is a profoundly unnerving one. Chaos seethes beneath my feet. The chaos feels stifled; it wants to breathe. But chaos is by its very nature formalist deviation. I still believe in myself, but only in my own ugliness. (734)
From Europe Central by William Vollmann.
We [musicologists] have rarely known how to account for music that loves the quotidian because our methods have been based on aesthetic and moral preferences for the extraordinary, the original, and the convention-breaking inspiration. Our commitments as music scholars have been strongest, historically, to music that was never meant to be heard every day. (Listeners with strong constitutions may test this observation for themselves by trying to listen to something like the St. Matthew Passion or Gotterdammerung every morning, but I predict their endurance will fade rather quickly.) The heroic gestures that fill out most of the “great works” in virtually any kind of canon are the ones that modest songs usually refuse– they must forgo too much “greatness” if they are to accomplish their principal goal of living with us instead of living against us in moral-aesthetic agon. (19)
From The Persistence of Sentiment by Mitchell Morris.
Where the hell was this idea when I was dropping out of an MA in the humanities?
For [Dave] Hickey, writing near the beginning of the nineties, only a full-blooded acknowledgement of the pleasure and sociality that intersect in disputatious experiences of beauty could rescue the academic art world from its arid purism. (2)
From Mitchell Morris’ The Persistence of Sentiment.