Sunday, October 8, 2017

Peterson and Paglia


This rather lengthy video on YouTube has been making the rounds this week. It is a long conversation, over an hour, between Professors Jordan B. Peterson of the University of Toronto and Camille Paglia of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. There is a lot in this and as Internet video commentaries go, it is head and shoulders above. One quote from Peterson:
It seems to me that a tremendous amount of the mode of power that drives the post-modernist--let's call it, it's not a revolution, --transformation, seems to be driven by resentment of virtually anything that has any, what would you say? any merit of competence or aesthetic quality.
And that has been a recurring theme here, not so much the resentment, but the noticing that the denial of aesthetic quality seems to underlie so much cultural commentary. And once you spike that, you are pretty much talking about fashion or sales, aren't you? He goes on, a moment later to say:
There's the destruction ... of the aesthetic quality of the literary or artistic work, it's reduction to nothing but some kind of power game, and then, surrounding that, the reduction of everything to something that approximates a power game, which I can't help but identify with jealousy and resentment.
That's rather pathetic isn't it, if the whole post-modern attack on the values of Western Civilization, including most especially aesthetic values, is motivated at its base by the petty resentments of mediocre scholars who simply lack the creative ability to sustain and develop these aesthetic values? I have never quite taken that step of speculating on the reasons for the disparagement of aesthetics. Who knows, perhaps he is correct?

I'm not sure if this is the ideal envoi for this post, but let's listen to Richard Strauss' Death and Transfiguration. This is the Dude, conducting the Vienna Phillies at Salzburg in 2014:


UPDATE: I didn't make it all the way through the Peterson/Paglia conversation myself, but even the first ten or fifteen minutes are quite interesting.

16 comments:

Will Wilkin said...

Ha! Good one! My sentiments exactly.

Will Wilkin said...

...some hours later...

I've watched probably 30 YouTube videos in my life, never anything longer than 10 minutes (except maybe once some Ole Grand Oprey episodes starring Porter Wagoner). But I just watched all 103 minutes of this one! My love and admiration for Camille Paglia only increases over time. I now resolve to read all her books.

Bryan Townsend said...

Later on I watched quite a bit more, but still not all. But I have watched a lot of Jordan Peterson's videos. I read Camille Paglia's book Sexual Personae many years ago, around when it came out. But I likely need to read it again. One gets the distinct feeling that if academia is going to recover itself, it will likely be as a result of the efforts of these two.

Will Wilkin said...

Bryan you may have noticed I have an underlying optimism about the long-term, even if a pessimism about the short-term. As in the hard times now faced by classical music, so too with the western canon of literature and historical understanding I am confident that whatever philistinism and infantile rage might now eclipse on campuses and in popular culture the greatness of our western heritage, that greatness itself will never die and will always be the seeds to be rediscovered and continued by individuals and by larger popular trends as people outgrow or see through the silliness of our time. It may take longer than we wish, and thus Peterson and Paglia may just be voices in the wilderness to be someday re-discovered as examples of how behind every eclipse still does the sun shine.

Will Wilkin said...

And Bryan, I can't resist inviting you to read a short article at Musicology Now and my response published in the comments below it.

http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2017/10/quick-takes-still-playing-games.html

I'm not trying to add to your to-do list by asking you to comment on it (it's too trite), but just want to show it to you so you'll see that I attempt an ongoing discussion there that never gets much response. But I don't take it personally as I am usually the only commenter under any of their articles, as if nobody actually even reads them....

And Bryan, one other related point of information to annoy you by confirming your despair over the state of the arts establishment in Canada:

http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2017/10/quick-takes-trailers-for-coming.html

"...a study of music and sound in cinematic trailers, a result of the Trailaurality research group that has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada."

Steven Watson said...

I admire Peterson and nod along to much of what you and Will say, but you seem too optimistic that Peterson and Paglia will help rescue academia. Their followers seem more interested in producing silly memes and yammering about PC than reading good books, listening to serious music, going to art galleries, theatre (not holding myself up as at all exemplary here). They seldom cultivate the things they claim to be preserving. They seem to like the war, but care little about the peace. So when the postmodern fog has cleared, it’s not clear that we’re any less doomed. I am thinking of this essay (The Right Needs Joy) in the magazine Jacobite. An excerpt:

'Young conservatives and reactionaries, much as they flail their hands at the death of Western civilization and the loss of wisdom, do very little in the way of actually preserving the beauty and truth underlying this great tradition. If joy is truly a result of love, man must be very careful to develop the right affections in his breast. Right now many on the right seem hellbent on cultivating affection for dank memes rather than for truth, goodness, and beauty.'

I always think of my grandad, who died in 1970, I think, long before I was born. He left school at 15 or 16, never had a particularly good job, yet read serious books (Chesterton, for example) in his spare time, cultivated an interest in classical music, particularly Haydn, and generally became quite cultured. When I first saw his diaries, I felt extraordinarily sad, not just because I never got to meet him, but because the culture which gave him this rich life seemed to be in its death throes. It's more than just academia, is what I think I'm trying to say.

Bryan Townsend said...

Will and Steven, thank you both for very thoughtful comments. I am reminded of another quote by Samuel Johnson who commented on a friend's second marriage as "The triumph of hope over experience." Yes, Will and I are both hopeful. I suspect so because Peterson and Paglia, when given the chance to debate in a fair format, tend to win the argument. But despite that and despite Peterson's testimony for the Canadian Senate, the vile bill C-16, criminalizing the use of "incorrect" pronouns was still passed and became the law in Canada.

I hope that here at The Music Salon we do indeed practice what we preach, but Steven, I take your point that in the arena of the cultural war, the followers on the right seem a shallow lot. There are fewer and fewer people like your grandad around these days. But that says to me nothing more than that it is time for the pendulum to swing the other way. After all, the great cultural tradition of the West is so much more powerful than the pathetic rags and bones of post-modernism that I think that will eventually win out.

Will Wilkin said...

Steven, your points are well-taken, but I don't think facebook is a good barometer because it is a medium that seems by design to destroy attention-span and trivialize discussion into tiny snippets and "silly memes." Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps the culture war really is a society-wide storm that includes us all, but in comments under a recent article here I said to Bryan that:

...if you could hear the vulgar vacuous illiterate rap music my workmates listen to, if you could know that together the whole crew reads less than a book every few years if ever, if you could appreciate what it means that many millions such people are all around us --and that they are basically good people, hard-working and honorable-- you'd remember that culture wars have always been a worry of the "elite" who take a historical and schooled view of society and culture (and thereby of art), that the majority have always been illiterate at the fundamental if not formal level, that "fine arts" and literature have always hovered above the common man who has no interest in what he's missing....you might take comfort that fine arts have always been islands that survive the centuries and millennia even in that larger sea, and that, aside from some special aristocrats and elements in the church, patronage of the arts has always had the aesthetic and spiritual corruptions of the mucky market and vulgar tastes even from the very rich and now over these brief recent centuries joined by a middle class....I take comfort that serious artists and serious music will survive because in the human diversity there will always be a small set of people who yearn for maximum inventiveness combined with historical consciousness and respect for tradition and the disciplined study and practice that are required to make the best music. That aesthetic will not die, no matter what the popular culture does.

Bryan Townsend said...

Hear, hear.

Steven Watson said...

Yes, I actually remember reading that comment! Indeed, I don't buy the idea that enlightenment inevitably spreads as freedom grows; most people will not be interested, as you say. I am very much still thinking these issues through -- postmodernism, academia, elitism/egalitarianism in music etc. -- and will have to think some more. I do wonder, though, whether you somewhat underestimate the ‘common man’. Under strong cultural conditions, generally those quite unlike freedom -- stigma, authority etc. -- most people appreciate *some* high culture. There was once a time, or so I’m told, when most Protestant households in Britain had a copy of the Authorised Bible and knew it well, when good music formed part of national ceremonies, when the minds of many schoolchildren were adorned with poetry that I may barely know… But quite possibly I’m romanticising the past.

It also seems to me that we don’t have to narrow the debate to only ‘serious’ (and I dislike that term) music. One gets the impression film scores, musicals, folk music have all got worse -- yet the old stuff, which was often very good, was appreciated by many. More Gilbert and Sullivan, more Singing in the Rain, and less Hamilton. Vulgar vacuous rap music wasn’t always the norm.

Just to finish, I’ve been reading a collection of essays by Simon Leys, the chap who helped enormously to destroy the Mao cult prevalent in the West among intellectuals. It turns out he was interesting on many subjects, and in one of his essays he writes, 'The need to bring down to our own wretched level, to deface, to deride and debunk any splendour that is towering above us, is probably the saddest urge of human nature.' That seems to me what we’re always fighting, and to go back to what I said originally, sometimes I worry the way this ‘empire of ugliness’, as Leys termed it, creeps into ‘our side’ too.

Sorry to go on. As I say, still thinking a lot of this through.

Anonymous said...

Will Wilkin,

I agreed with your comment on the most recent Musicology Now blog dated October 10 -- but I wanted to alert you that 4 people were mocking you on Twitter this afternoon.


Click here and scroll down to see them.


https://mobile.twitter.com/willxcheng/status/918531030872657921

Bryan Townsend said...

Steven I don't know Simon Leys, but it sounds as if I ought to!

Anonymous, yes, those are some finely argued tweets, aren't they? /sarc off/

Steven Watson said...

Reading those tweets, that Leys quote is even more appropriate. And what was it that our now-forgotten former Prime Minister, David Cameron, once said -- in fact the only wise thing he ever said: 'too many tweets make a twat'.

I can thoroughly recommend Leys' The Hall of Uselessness. Brilliant, under-appreciated thinker, and a great essayist. His 'fable from academe' is particularly funny, as is his essay on the idea of university, andI suspect they align well with your thinking.

Bryan Townsend said...

Steven, I just ordered the Leys book of essays The Hall of Uselessness yesterday from Amazon!

Will Wilkin said...

Funny how by coincidence I just stumbled upon this article published today with some interesting quotes by Simon Leys regarding music, philistines, etc:

https://sluggingavampire.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/simon-leys-on-music/

Bryan Townsend said...

Not so coincidental at all! Steven, who comments here (look two comments above) is the author of the blog "Slugging a Vampire"!