Frank Kogan (koganbot) wrote,
Frank Kogan
koganbot

  • Music:

Is music up to the task of creating social critiques?

To continue my X-post extravaganza, I put this on both the BLEUGH thread and the Adjunct thread. Mark had brought up Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka, and I'd said — based on my unreliable memory — that, to Jones, "Black American culture contains — among other things — a critique of America, and he doesn’t want to see that critique blunted" (e.g., Black American musical practice contains a critique of America):

(1) Any opinion on Sidney Finkelstein? I read Jazz: A People's Music but can't recall specifically what I took from it; and I once owned but out of a combination of busyness and fear never read How Music Expresses Ideas (the fear because, when I opened it at random, I read something along the lines of "While the Soviet criticism of Shostakovich may have been heavy-handed, there was a fundamental truth...,"* and decided I just wasn't up for it emotionally; I'm sometimes very weak). Do remember considering the jazz book interesting and smart; also that Jones/Baraka cited him favorably — notice that for the title of my John Wójtowicz–Leroi Jones chapter I paraphrase the title "How Music..."

(2) A question we should go into — that we're implicitly raising — is whether Jones (as I've perceived or misperceived him) is right, that music (in comparison to, say, books and essays) is up to the task of creating a cultural critique, at least creating a critique that's more than merely incipient.

(3) Actually it's Otis Ferguson and Manny Farber and Andrew Sarris and ilk who really propelled me to the question. The way I thought of it in college was that the two great proto-auteurists, Ferguson and André Bazin, both treated filmmakers' aesthetic decisions (not just dialogue, but what to show, how to show it, whether to cut or pan, what angle to use) as ways of thinking. To put it crudely, Bazin reads movies for, among other things, the filmmakers' attitudes towards the world, whereas Ferguson reads movies for, among other things, what filmmakers are doing in the world. But obv. it's not either/or for those two critics or in general. Anyway, extend to anyone's behavior, e.g., musician choosing to play this note rather than that, singer phrasing this way or that, fan deciding to dance and deciding which dance, person wearing or not wearing band T-shirt, and on and on and on. Question is, does this hairstyle and acting out really take us far in the way of usable and repeatable critique, of effective understanding, rather than just placing us in Spot A or Spot B etc. in various social situations? (Ludwig Wittgenstein belongs here: we can include in our idea of language that it's more than just the utterances/words, it's also the social practices in which they're embedded, including events, actions.) Btw, what I drew from auteurism wasn't "the director is the author of the film" but rather that filmmaking is a series of choices, and these choices, no matter how original or how rote, constitute thought, no matter whom or what you assign the thought to — the actor, the screenwriter, the director, the studio, social habits, the social structure, the zeitgeist — and no matter how good or bad the thought is. Question is, how far does such thought go? E.g., how a cashier goes about scanning bar codes represents thought, but that doesn't necessarily mean one's scanning of bar codes is a form of social commentary, or can be extrapolated into social commentary.

*Can't locate the exact quote through Google books, which doesn't show any general excerpts and is sparing as to what from my searches of this book it's willing to show. The phrase "heavy-handed" gets me no hits. I did find this noxious sentence: "In the Soviet Union, criticism is a sign of the high regard the people have for music and its creators."
Tags: auteurists, ludwig wittgenstein, otis ferguson
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