Monday, September 28, 2015

Lost in Non-Thought

A long time ago, perhaps thirty or so years, I went through a phase when I read a great deal of writing about Buddhism and other Eastern religions. Recently I have re-read some Chinese philosophy. Interesting stuff. But, at the end of the day, I don't think that these ideas have much to offer Western Civilization. Asian countries themselves seem to agree as Japan, Korea and China have been making every effort to completely remake their societies according to the basic economic and technological ideas of the West.

But there has been, for several decades now, an effort by some enthusiasts to remake Western culture using ideas from the East. It seems clear, by this point, that this is a mistaken effort that would be best categorized as a sub-category of the Marxist critique of the West. In other words, this is a small front in the general effort to destroy the culture of the West by destroying its intellectual foundations. The two world wars of the first half of the 20th century have been called a "suicide attempt by Western civilization." Since that attempt failed, there has been a concerted effort to demoralize the West from the inside by attacking every foundational principle: logic, objective reason and evaluation, the rule of law, individual moral responsibility and the masterworks of Western art.

I just ran across an example of this that is so perfect that it almost seems a parody. The piece is a new opera called "Lost in Thought" that is a distillation of every idiotic new age idea, masquerading as a music drama--which it plainly is not. The article in the Guardian is titled "Turning opera inside out: how I got Lost in Thought." You really should read the whole thing, if you have the stomach for it. Here is a sample of the experience:
Perhaps 15 minutes later we’re walking in circles again. What are those strange, otherworldly sounds? Are they coming from the accordion? No, the mindfulness leaders are handing out swizzle sticks to wave above our heads. One is given to me. I can’t tell you how happy I am, twirling and walking, walking and twirling, making a sound like the owl of Minerva hooting wisely in the twilight of its existence. Possibly. Then a mindfulness leader approaches me as I walk, and suggests with eloquent eyebrow that I surrender the swizzle stick to someone else. I do and feel intensely not just the pleasure of giving, but the pain of loss. I loved that swizzle stick and the noise it made.
Here is the entire libretto (from Rumi):
“I have lived on the lip / of insanity, wanting to know reasons / knocking on a door. It opens. / I’ve been knocking from the inside.”
If you created something specifically designed to lower the IQ, evaluative capacity and perceptual acuity of a room full of people, to make them as stupid as possible, what would you do differently? Isn't it astonishing that we think that experiences like this are in some way valuable, instead of being the attempts at cultural suicide that they obviously are? Lost in Thought, or just plain lost?

After that, let's listen to a real opera, a masterwork of Western art. This is Don Giovanni, or, the rake punished, by Mozart on a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte:


David said...

Bryan, do you think it is possible that this extract from the "close to the end" paragraphs of the review reflects the writer's true take on the phenomenon of the Mindfulness Opera?:

"At every kids’ party I’ve ever presided over, I’ve had two feelings: one that this could go Lord of the Flies at any moment and, two, that I wish I’d brought my book. I have those feelings now. Thankfully, it is the end of the opera."

If given the chance, I would probably elect to stay home with my book.

The one good thing is that the capacity to participate in this cultural suicide seems to be relatively small (100 or so in attendance).

Having read the whole thing as you suggested, I'm going to take the Haydn Antidote now.


Bryan Townsend said...

Well, yes, the writer does a couple of times question the whole endeavor! But this quote might more fully reflect his opinion:

"but certainly, until that coda with its retro-East German-holiday-camp-cum-group-mind-meld mood of compulsory fun, I found the experience offered by Lost in Thought oddly touching, inspiring and, like life itself, absurd."

Haydn (or Mozart)! It's the cure for almost anything.

Rickard Dahl said...

Admittedly I don't know a lot about Western philosophy and less about Eastern philosophy but is it really wise to dismiss it? Surely there must be important insights, if not on a societal level then at least on a personal level? Of course it's not a good idea to just take Eastern ideas and apply them to the West just because it's non-Western (the usual SJW tactic of dismissing anything Western, especially if it's by white males). Well, my Chinese friend mentioned that a lot of the traditional Chinese values were lost on a societal level during Mao's regime. As for South Korea they still have a strong Confucian influence. Some of the principles they value are high respect for the elders and the individual's responsibility to society being more important than the individual's freedom.

As for the opera: I have no idea what it's about and I'm not going to read the article (given your brief analysis of it). Sometimes it's better to avoid such unnecessary information that clutters the mind.

Marc Puckett said...

I think I'm sufficiently well inoculated so proceeded to the mindfulness nonsense without the dose of Mozart; ack. But the essay is fairly amusing in places; "(c)ritics complain about the longueurs in Wagner...". My newest housemate has intrigued the landlady with his 'mindfulness' jabbering; we'll see how long this lasts. If history is a guide-- my landlady is an adventurous sort, after all-- it will last until he doesn't pay the rent for three or four months running, at which point her eyes will be forced yet again to contemplate the sordid realities of the world. The Spectator critic's tenants pay their rents on the appointed dates, believe me. :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

I did read quite a bit of Eastern philosophy and religion so I am not dismissing it out of hand. But while it may not be entirely wise to dismiss it, it is certainly efficient! Heh. Yes, Confucian virtues are quite interesting and a valuable part of Chinese culture, much though they have been diminished by the communist regime. But I am, frankly, much more interested in Western traditions, especially in defending them!

Christine Lacroix said...

Hi Bryan

Didn't you say somewhere in a post that you were wondering if you were a traditionalist? It seems so obvious that you are that it made me laugh when I read it. I don't even know you so I hope I'm not being presumptuous.

I read a lot of Eastern philosophy and Buddhism at about the same time you did. I seem to remember one book in particular, Zen Mind Beginner's Mind, being an eye opener. It gave a different perspective and was an interesting accompaniment to the recreational plants I was consuming at the time. I tend to agree with Rickard about not dismissing it all too quickly. And It doesn't really have to be all of one or all of the other does it? But remember I'm also not offended by a classically trained violinist prancing around on a stage in a ski cap playing He's a Pirate on a stradivarius violin! You know, your next favorite violinist after Hilary Hahn, David Garrett.

Bryan Townsend said...

I believe that Pierre Boulez (of all people!) once said something like there are times when a passage in C major is the most radical statement of all! Think of Terry Riley's "In C."

Right now, to be a staunch traditionalist in the arts is a very radical position and one that I feel forced to adopt. But one of the hardest things about it is to do something genuinely significant, which means that you cannot simply reproduce or imitate something from the past. That would not be art. My solution, at least in theory, is to be "racinative", that is, like so many great composers have done, work back or down to the roots of music, the fundamental truths of the art, and begin again from there. This is what late Beethoven did and it seems as if every major revolution in music history has, in some way, involved going back to the roots. I wrote a post on this:

I think that, to be a composer is to be married to your own particular vision of music. You have to pursue it faithfully and not be promiscuous!