Thursday, September 21, 2017

Ad hominem plus guilt by association!

I wonder if my critique of the Musicology Now website a while back has not galvanized them into more activity. If that is so, I certainly apologize, because the heightened level of activity has not led to an improvement in quality. But given their core assumptions, I suppose that was to be expected. If Musicology Now is an accurate index of current musicology (which I don't believe), then they seem to have surrendered entirely to cultural Marxism. For an extended discussion, follow the link. But this quote gives some idea:
Cultural Marxists argue that all of life is a struggle against the forces of oppression and repression. Originally, classical Marxism focused rather narrowly on economic oppression and class conflict, but by the 1930s Neo-Marxists began to widen the scope of their cultural critique to include a broader range of social issues and even psychological factors – in particular, issues related to sexual repression. In their condemnation of Western culture, they emphasized social injustice and the plight of marginalized minorities – those victims of the bourgeois social order that included the working classes, racial minorities, radical feminists, homosexuals, and non-Christians in general. Therefore, it was within the context of their Neo-Marxist Critical Theory that they encouraged the politicization of the arts as part of a full-scale assault on Western culture.
The claim that all music, indeed every aspect of life, is political is a blatant ploy to end the discussion before it starts. If you disagree, then you are just another evil oppressor! My philosophical background leads me to reject all these sorts of arguments. One of my commentators alerts me to a recent post that really sums up what is wrong with this approach. The post is titled Does "Music Trump Politics"? Dennis Prager and the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra. The first part is a re-hashing of the recent controversy over a conservative pundit conducting a benefit performance by the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra. The discussion is little more than an ad hominem smear as if you follow the links you will find that Mr. Praeger has been seriously misrepresented. The author, Ted Gordon, complains that the performance, instead of bringing people together, was divisive. Ironically, it is precisely the identity politics of cultural Marxism that result in deep social divisions. We are not allowed to enjoy a concert without dissecting it for political aspects. All of life is a struggle against the forces of oppression and repression! Of course, as it is the cultural Marxists that define what oppression is and who are the oppressors, they turn out to be the major force of repression.

The second part of the post is all about guilt by association. Apparently, as poor Joseph Haydn wrote a slow quartet movement that was later used as the anthem of the Austro-Hungarian empire, he has a "long history with politics." Another sin was to be admired by the music theorist Heinrich Schenker. Haydn himself appears to have done nothing wrong except to write very fine music. But still
"As scholars, we must think seriously and carefully about what we mean when we talk about "classical music"--and how to remain vigilant against the promotion of "Western Art Music" in the name of "Western supremacy" built on hatred, fear, and bigotry."
These are not arguments: they are nothing more than vicious ideological assertions with no basis in reality. But wow, a lot of people fall for them.

Let's listen to that hateful, fearsome and bigoted piece of music by Joseph Haydn, the "Kaiserlied," originally the slow movement to the Op. 76 "Emperor" Quartet. The performers are the Veridis Quartet:


UPDATE: Misspelling of "ad hominem" corrected.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good post -- though I am a little disappointed that someone of your erudition would confuse the accusative singular with the genitive plural of the third declension. For all of his faults, Adorno would have never made that mistake.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Anonymous!! When I was writing I had this little twinge in the back of my mind that I needed to check the correct spelling of "ad hominem" but I ignored it! I wonder if there is another blog around that has at least two commentators that can correct Latin grammar? (You and Marc)

Will Wilkin said...

When I was a young student of history at university, and newly radicalized, my professors warned me against judging the past by present standards. Although even then I believed they must have a valid point, I didn't yet have the historical perspective required to suspend my very modern standards. Such immature and presentist mindset promotes a wholesale condemnation of all that came before us, and blocks an understanding and appreciation for what it meant to be human and in society in earlier times and other places. Over time, in a process that started with aesthetics and gradually expanded into larger social understandings, I came to appreciate a "conservative" perspective that values tradition and tries to understand people of the past as situated in the ideas and customs of their own time and place rather than mine. So many of these younger musicologists (such as who write at Musicology Now) don't yet seem able to step out of their own immediate agenda to see earlier musicians as people of their own time and culture rather than ours. And because so many of those young musicologists are hyper-political, they read politics into EVERYthing (including music) where often there was none for the composer or audience, or is none in today's appreciation of the music. And even when there were political circumstances surrounding the creation of certain music, for a work to endure as genuine artistic genius it must have aesthetic quality enough that it still moves us today in very different circumstances, devoid of its original context. And all that is just a general critique of the trend in thought at Musicology Now; if I had more time I could get down to the level of specific misrepresentations and terribly flawed logic in the cited article and many others at that blog...but instead I think I'll turn this computer off and pick up my violin.

Bryan Townsend said...

Very well said, Will. The reason I keep beating the drum for aesthetics is because the reason we listen to music from the past is primarily because it has aesthetic value. That is a pretty simple thing to understand. But people like Ted Gordon, as you say, are so caught up in their political agendas, which they think are terribly clever and "nuanced" but are really just blinkered and, to be honest, mistaken.

Will Wilkin said...

They're just kids, Bryan. They mean well. Hopefully they'll grow out of it and into a genuine historical perspective.

Marc Puckett said...

I had missed this post but that was probably a blessing since apparently you had committed a grievous crime against the goddess Latinity which I've been spared the sight of. :-)

'Nothing more than vicious ideological assertions with no basis in reality!'-- the initialism or acronym NMTVIAWNBIR should be introduced into Internets usage. It would save lots of virtual space.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Marc! So I may have finally achieved a kind of immortality? IYKWIMAITTYD?

Marc Puckett said...

Am not going to admit how long it took me to realise that when I came up against one of those abbreviations online that I was unfamiliar with... I could search, and be relieved of my ignorance-- many Internet years ago now, of course. There was one that I puzzled over for a couple of hours on and off before giving up.

Bryan Townsend said...

I had the same experience! Little ones like LMAO and IMAO used to puzzle me until I finally realized that I could Google the definitions.