Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Ann Althouse and I seem to be on the same page today. She quotes this fascinating passage from a Victor Davis Hanson piece in the National Review:
More and more Americans today are becoming Stoic dropouts. They are not illiberal, and certainly not reactionaries, racists, xenophobes, or homophobes. They’re simply exhausted by our frenzied culture.... Monastics are tuning out the media.... When everything is politicized, everything is monotonous; nothing is interesting... For millions of Americans, their music, their movies, their sports, and their media are not current fare. Instead, they have mentally moved to mountaintops or inaccessible valleys, where they can live in the past or dream of the future, but certainly not dwell in the here and now...."
Hey, that's where I went, incrementally, starting, oh, about forty years ago.

Let's listen to a musical metaphor for moving to an inaccessible valley. This is Bruckner, Symphony No. 7 conducted by Claudio Abbado with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

UPDATE: I was in a big hurry this morning and never got to the end of that Hanson piece (he does go on). But sure enough, the best was at the end:
Today at 6 a.m. in the dark, I stopped at a gas station in the California coastal foothills. The car next to me had, I thought, way-too-loud booming rap music of the “kill the ho,” “bust up the pig” generic type. Why listen to all that before sunrise? I decided, in protest to the early-morning noise, to leave my own music louder than his as I filled the tank. The first song happened to be a short old folk rendition of Carl Sandburg’s lyrical “The Colorado Trail,” a sad homage to a 16-year-old girl who died on the way westward: "Laura was a laughin’ girl, joyful in the day. Laura was my darling girl. Now she’s gone away. Sixteen years she graced the Earth, and all of life was good. Now my life lies buried ’neath a cross of wood." I then switched tracks to Joan Baez’s folk version of the 18th-century “Plaisir d’amour.” As it ended with Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment? Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie, the young driver, his neck and wrists spotted with tattoos, got into his car (he had earlier turned down his stereo around “Now she’s gone away”) and drove up alongside me. What next? He grinned, “Hey, I liked your songs, okay?”


Will Wilkin said...

Well Bryan, wasn't it just 4 days ago, in comments under your St. Patty's Day "Friday Miscellanea" article, when I invoked the (personal lifestyle) monastic solution as described by Morris Berman in his book "Twilight of American Culture"? Perhaps Mr. Hanson has read it too?


Regarding the vulgar and hollow popular culture around us, I find it too big to fight, a waste of time. Better to just tune out of it, switch frequencies and find the art and ideas and values (and food and lifestyle) that work for you. The people don't want to be saved.

Bryan Townsend said...

This is an idea that seems to be in the air. It is hard to tune out annoying music when it is thumping at you in a restaurant, though.

Marc Puckett said...

Personally, I have chosen to absent myself from much of what goes on in the wider society in terms of its music and social attitudes &c-- for reasons of temperament and belief &c &c, and so am sympathetic to the people VDH was writing about. On the other hand, of course (as the anecdote at the end of his essay implies), there are times when I ought to replace my 'retreating from' with 'advocacy for', for what I know is better (in this particular case, better music) and because I know that the poor tattooed fellow deserves better than the dreck he submits himself to. And isolating oneself in the guarded valley does also have the consequence that in the arena of politics one abandons the fight to those who do choose to act therein.

In the air, yes; in conservative and Catholic/Orthodox circles there is debate about the so-called 'Benedict option', a notion popularised ('popular' being a relative sort of notion, ha) by Rod Dreher, who used to blog but is now at... the American Conservative (I think).

Will Wilkin said...

A "beat" means musical jail-bars to me.

Will Wilkin said...

Marc, thanks for reminding me of Rod Dreher, I followed him for awhile on the American Conservative website but fell away as I drifted out of politics and deeper into music and health/fitness interests. Can't read everything all the time. But about Mr. Dreher and the culture wars of which he wrote, despite my youthful decades as a leftist and enthusiast for proletarian politics, I came to despise much of the left for their permanent victim mentality and for the identity politics that defined me as a white male (I thought I was just a human being) and assuming I'm a racist sexist xenophobe when actually I'm just a person who respects all people and don't feel the need to continuously testify and protest to prove it. I pretty much agreed with him that the cultural left have made outdated liberation movements into a permanent war of identities that is blind to all the good in tradition and that ends up crystalizing the divisions they proclaim to be against.

Bryan Townsend said...

There is a certain phenomenon, I'm not sure what to call it, where a certain idea, or style or meme gets amplified in the mass media to the point where it seems ubiquitous. Some examples of this would include the reigning styles of pop music and fashion, celebrities known for being famous, certain political and economic theories and so on. In music, it is the popular styles that seem ubiquitous. Nearly every restaurant, mall and other public space has pop music playing. But in reality, more people than you would think like classical music and a lot of people who have had little exposure to it, also find they like it when they do get a chance to hear it.