shakey ground
Saturday, May 08, 2010
  "creativity" part II
Creativity" is a mushy word today but with a simple Latin etymology, creare=to bring into existence, which could be the animal act of giving birth and not related to art or how to live one's life. It gets its fully positive valuation only from Christianity, which referred to the universe as created by God out of nothing, such that the entire world exists as vestiges left by Him for our spiritual edification. Creation was valued such that it would have been blasphemous for medieval artists to think of what they did as creative, or to think of themselves as more than anonymous craftsmen. What we today would call creative artists were closer to the classical "homo faber", a comparatively mixed bag, since man can make things for good and ill, or well and poorly. What moderns added to the Latin meaning of creare was the notion of human originality, to create then meaning to make something unique and unprecedented, so that the object now reflects back on its maker just as the world used to reflect back on God in its perfection. This self-flattering substitution didn't bring down the wrath of the deity in any obvious form, so it stuck. Hence "creativity" as a quality, which would have made no sense applied to God, or to homo faber, sitting at his bench making shoes or gargoyles. As a quality Creativity is something you either got or don't got, a valued possession, a trace of nobility for the socially valued individual in a politically flattened world. This related creativity to art and the art genius, as represented in the Romantic movement, which it seemed no democratic plebs could overthrow or bring down to its level. From the democratic perspective, it should be remembered, the (English) Romantics saw themselves as leaders, nobles reborn as leaders of mankind.

The dynamic of post-war and post-humanist society, in the name of democratization, has led it to appropriate "creativity" as a personal trait and quality no one should be denied, detached from the noble genius. It has joined the other, more material human rights and has evolved to mean simple individuality. If Everyman can't be his own autonomous self, in our highly socialized world, he can at least be his own Artist. According to this pervasive view, creativity is what best distinguishes the individual, whose freedom it represents. Just as with the iconic artists it means to have something unique that resists social conformity, mass production/consumption, the industrialized, homogenized man, etc. All this is part of the liberal and self-esteem blather we've been hearing since the late 19th century at least (the so-called anti-modernists) and is now triumphant in the cultural left. In our dichotomized society anyone who questions this is painted as a conservative-how could you criticize creativity unless you were on the other side?

I picked up this quote somewhere as an example of how this word is used today: "I'd like to see a society in which people are free to be creative, rather than having their creativity constrained or eliminated."--George Ritzer. Who would dispute this? Performative expressions like this that can't be disputed are useless as far as understanding their meaning, but can have immense ideological weight, which means convincing motivational force for many. Creativity=freedom, which everyone has by right and is only constrained by society, institutions, the need to supply material needs, so the story goes. Maybe "freedom" has been taken over by conservatives, as the threatened American way, so liberals have to ask, free for what? And supply the vacuous "creativity" as the spiritual content of freedom. What harm could it do?

If creativity is a version of freedom then it is difficult to see how a practicing artist would be willing to be constrained by disciplined training, study, and years of drudgery. Art would even have to be free of materiality, which was not even possible for Concept Art, which did its best to escape it. Musicians might be able to create any sound imaginable but can't create a sound that is not the movement of molecules. The filth on our hands from working with matter is the reason artists were at the lower end of the human species for so many centuries. Materiality is not a quality of freedom, but some relatively durable or evanescent terrestrial thing. As such it mixes with all other such movement and is separated out with difficulty-Cage of course fits in here. The artist is also not free of the historical context of every mark on a page or canvas, nor of the non-producers, without which an object will not be recognized as art at all. Those who take uniqueness as the aim of their work are wholly dependent on all that already exists, but must pretend to be at least an inch visible above the crowd. Is the vaunted creative freedom then just a feeling, a kind of happiness? Then what about the feeling of being stuck and dissatisfied, is one not creative when facing the frequent feeling of defeat either by materials or by mood, which many practicing artists consider their usual mode? So I don't think we can use this word, nor strive in any way to be creative, or think of some people or certain acts or vocations as more creative than others. I'm sounding harsh here, but I think this word, and the belief that some such quality exists will obstruct our actual messing around with sound, color, shapes, etc. In other words, the quality adds nothing and even detracts by distracting us from our focus.

In my own work I might replace it with less culturally-loaded words from my personal lexicon. I think of those rare moments in playing when I suddenly feel entranced, outside my normal thinking apparatus, my anxiety and self-consciousness, my oft-cursed habits. "Connected" is one word I spontaneously apply to it. When I am less physically involved, as when I write, and that sense of connection appears I might fall into tears, or collapse into a strength I don't wish to claim. Joyce's "epiphany" is analogous, I imagine, an event rather than a lifestyle or activity, and beyond what he can fully express. One can build a life around the notion of creativity, take reasonable steps to enable it, surround oneself with it and with similar others, but what I'm talking about here merely happens. It cannot be my life. Instead of aiming at this, it seems to have aimed at me. Alan Watts used to joke about the self-contradictory effort one makes to relax; it only yields tension. Contrary to all the effort I put into playing, what happens in these moments is closer to grace, a movement that is pure reception, an end of striving. Creativity, as I see it conceived in our culture and language, is an "it" which striving takes as its goal, but which the trickster Hermes playfully snatches away from us. On the other hand, "art" (with a slash through it, as conceptual artists do), pertains to these moments I speak of; it is not something I can say I am good at or have, nor is it readily apparent to listeners. In some obscure way it is what I am serving. If Joyce has Stephen Daedalus proclaim with adolescent vigor, "non serviam", invoking the figure of Satan, it is also to confess what he does serve, this god, we have good reason to call it, whom we do our best to turn into our servant.

As for creative vs. non-creative (day-job) work, I’ve worked as a laborer and jack-of-all-trades, but never thought of myself as doing that to support my creative work. I think of it as all one life, not divided into tiered compartments. What was painfully difficult was shifting gears from practical tasks, time and money efficiency, to the inefficiency and pointlessness (from a plumber’s point of view) of playing music. But I’m reminded often of what a relief it is to turn to practical work, where either a pipe or a roof still leaks or it doesn’t, a kind of satisfaction missing from music. On the other hand, the practical work of building a career instead of a house is to me debilitating; I collapse under the weight. Fortunately, as I now see, fortune frowned on my youthful desires to be a musician (I had scheduled myself to go to Oberlin), such that when I did finally throw in my lot I had already expanded in many contradictory directions. What is often missed in the praise of individuality is the complexity of the individual person, the crushing distortion that comes of bending ourselves to one singular desire, and ignoring the kaleidoscope that each of us is. I have always recommended that would-be musicians, painters, etc., should find money jobs whose activity in which they can imagine some real personal interest, that engage another part of their psyche than playing, and not think of the day job as support for what they “really” want to do. Otherwise life is deadening, sad, a big complaint, with idealism and false sacrifice propping you up until you find yourself heart-breakingly bitter at thirty-five or forty, just mentally pushing a broom down the hall.

For a good laugh at the proverbial waitress pawing at the ground for her chance to act, the waiter scorning the rich clientele until his book is published, I recommend Gilbert Sorrentino's novel "Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things", written in 1971, when the NY world of would-be artists was still in its infancy.

I've never thought of myself as creative, the word has not functioned for me, was never part of my motivation. As soon as I was playing I was doing what I loved, and that was enough (I was mostly pissed, in those days, that I couldn't find enough people to play with). I'm not an artist either, except sociologically; to the IRS I'm an entertainer. I'm just working with sound material guided principally by feeling, technical capability, and accident. This work is a form of play, and doesn't enter into artworld discourse because it sounds self-indulgent and undistinguished. My divergence from the artist as homo faber, and where I part company with the common conception of Artist altogether, is that for me feeling is a very bad guide for doing things well. I am not aimed at a product that has the exquisiteness and uniqueness of the art object, that embodies my genius or muse in some way and is therefore precious and valuable. I'm happy to have my product, the result of my work, be considered as worthless to others as it is to me, at best contingent, indeterminate, dependent on a momentary appreciation. Every humanistic writer today and for years past puts Art on a pedestal, and for all the challenges and modifications of this there it stubbornly remains, a pillar for the contemporary world as it was for the bourgeois. They're not talking about what I do but rather about the creation of objects, which are a step upward in our cultural value system from pure materiality. That's what the university and wider culture means when they say Art has social value: it edifies and ennobles, it's good for you, especially when it "challenges out-moded conceptions". My attachment to playing the acoustic instrument, my love for the sensuality of sound as a medium for feeling, my acceptance of "musicality"-these are certainly out-moded. This puts me on the other side of divide from Art which is intended to challenge, which has never been my intention to make, however much I have gained from experiencing it.

For Hannah Arendt art consists of objects, which puts the emphasis on visual art as the fundamental form of art, the model. An object is conceived as metaphorically outside the artist and viewer, and what we perceive through our eyes has a greater relation to our concept of the "real" world than the invisible molecules invading off our eardrums. Visual art also seems to have permanence, can be viewed by us today in the same form as it had thousands of years ago. She views musical compositions and presumably dance also as objects, but unable to equal the "objectivity" of the visual, the stone against which we stub our toe, they can never have the same preeminence. Yet such objects are the result of thought, which in the Western cultural tradition is transcendent, timeless. As embodied thought (the object pre-conceived in the artist's mind) it is separated from the world of objects for use, designated as "craft". Their very materiality is transformed into the spiritual, since thought in the Western tradition belongs to the realm of spirit, uncorrupted by time.

Arendt's humanist and modernist conception of Art as the legacy of mankind has not proved very durable however; less than ten years after she wrote "The Human Condition" this notion was history, and not only to those practicing artists, musicians, dancers, writers who scorned the masterpiece and embraced the everyday. She probably didn't know this, but the museums got on board, and Conceptual Art flourished. With all those dancers just walking across the stage, and musicians toying with scrap metal they had just found in the street, writers presenting lists of daily chores, what are we supposed to value, where's the object, the talent? But those were days of revolutionary fervor, there were many who wanted to resurrect durability back onto the pedestal. Only as objects, edifying mankind, can art be ranked, with some objects of more value than others, and some producers above others. Despite the efforts to conceptual artists to sink into anonymity, artists were sorted into icons, especially those like Duchamps and Rimbaud who renounce art, because true art, once again, was made to rise above the "mere" object, the getting and spending of the art market, etc. etc. This story has been pounded into us from the universities to the popular press, and is the grounds for ranking all of us as worthy, creative, geniuses-and this means also--mostly not. From there the ranking becomes the basis for us judging ourselves, which is the worst part of the deal, the introjection into our belabored psyches of a superior model as the only way we know how to value ourselves.

If there's something we need the word freedom for it's here: we must be free of this burden, which constrains and inhibits us and makes us second guess everything we do. If there's no one better than me at playing whatever I play it's because no one else will be able to use my particular mix of feelings and technique. Radical egalitarianism of the ear: let me hear with no strings attached. What I do is individual without referencing a quality of individualism or an object or a comparative status. I can even say I am not particularly good as a sax player, since that comparative word refers to a rank of developed technique, skills, and the ability to determine and produce what market-targeted others want to hear, including "challenging their conceptions". Perhaps what I do achieves that, but that cannot my intent or any of my business.

If creativity is an "it" that defines what we're claiming and aiming at, then it would make sense to view it as diluted by commercial concerns, and so our reasonable interest would be to keep it pure. On the contrary I seek to be neutral and objective about the marketplace, and do not wish to change it except to make it easier for me on a daily basis, a selfish concern. Commercial dealing-impressing the critics and bosses of the avant-garde establishment--is not my personal strength, nor, objectively speaking, is the market prejudiced in my direction. The market is to some extent necessary to do what I want to do musically-to play for others and attract certain partners, who need funds to travel and live. I want to be aware of how it operates and use it for my ends, but I can't imagine being thrilled if suddenly I was offered paying gigs unsolicited. I am content, even in my snarling contempt for the "music biz".

The marketplace cannot be avoided. To announce even a basement house concert is to compete on the marketplace with the other options of consumers, even if they are friends. What I recommend is to have enough awareness to know that it is p.r. and not an effort to tell the truth. An announcement is simply a sign that we want people to come. As players, our true opinion about our playing is often that it is pure shit, and it's fine not to spread that around, but we should say it to at least ourselves privately when it occurs to us. I'm not for government support of music as a solution and not against it either, I just say there is no reason not to take a handout, except for the small print. The government or NGO or private sugar daddies (who tend to run those European labels that pay for cd production) are just there to be used, another kind of market. We might suit their taste or purposes, but if we don't then we've just wasted our time. All buyers are thinking, what makes us look good, what fulfills our organizational goal? Unfortunately, we get suckered into leaning on them, flattered by the validation-will somebody please say my music is authentic and worthy?

You are perfectly right to put the accent on motivation. I played in Mostar, Bosnia a few years ago with Andrew Drury, and a woman came up to us saying she appreciated our music, "but what is your motivation?" This was something wonderful to hear, because in Brooklyn it would be understood without a thought that we were ambitious, that we had some goal to be accepted, whereas to her our music had no discernible future at all. So I think we all need to ask, constantly, what is our motivation, and in our private cogitations drop what might sound good and convincing. This is a ticklish question, because in our culture motivation is confused with goal, the carrot that turns into a stick that beats and bruises us from adolescence on. If we can't sustain our motivation then we collapse, it seems that our life has led to nothing, and it would be wasteful to even ask the question, a downer. People normally define themselves by their goals--that's supposedly better than what they like or just find themselves doing. I see musicians who are prized, valued, and it is difficult to imagine that their goal, effort and motivation has not been to achieve exactly that. Then where is the music? Along the sidelines? Part of the picture at all?
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
  a critical view of improvisation
[The following comes out of an exchange with an old friend and former musical partner, M., now a doctor and psychologist and no longer playing music. He heard me play recently and criticized the playing of a partner of mine from several years ago for his obsessive drone-like performance, reminding him of an autistic child. In the most recent email he was pleased that I wasn’t offended at the criticism. I reply:]

Without critical back and forth there isn't much to think about. Of course even with close friends we often don't know if they are interested in what we “really” think. For some, any differences at all are hurtful and personal, and we try not to step on their toes—which assumes we can catch their hints as to what are their sore points! I myself often take things personally, but I can usually distance myself from that as a bad habit. Of course, I don't want to assume others can do that, so I am usually cautious, apologetic. So I appreciate your boldness, based on friendship and trust. As for your criticism of the music (even though not much directed at me), I am more interested in comments of rejection, and audiences that question my music, than praise. And it’s good that I appreciate the negative, since I have gotten very little praise for my music; mostly no comment at all. If there’s one thing sorely lacking among musicians it is self-criticism and the willingness to get help from others in seeing their music critically.

M: I imagine I overstated the criticism of improvisation: I wrestle with the approaches to improvisation because I think it has the potential to be the most important music on the planet. I get frustrated because it is so potentially magical and gets as close as I would ever admit to believing in anything transpersonal. I am far more critical of popular music and masturbatory guitar solos. I'm sure [the player he criticized] was more present than he seemed, and I am making assumptions about players all the time. I am a viciously critical live music listener, and probably err in assumptions so much because I miss performing so much.

You make me aware of how much of our listening and playing assumes a cultural background, a story. In the case of improvisation this is quite inaccessible, since its history is only known as the story of its icons and not the people like ourselves. This background is largely unconsciously procured over time and shapes our taste, our patterns of acceptance and rejection. My partners have in varying degrees absorbed this history into their playing, as have I, which means that we wouldn’t now play what we would have played in the past. We “move on”, often unintentionally, which is transparent to those hearing us for the first time, or after a long interim.

A prime question for the player or artist is to what extent this evolution is individual and what is collective, as in the typical avant-garde movement. Evolution that is collective requires interpretation, an explicit meaning or message that can be communicated and shared apart from and yet shaping the experience of the art. In the sixties message art triumphed over abstract expressionism, which people complained didn’t have any single explicit (literal) meaning, or could mean a variety of things at the same time. Pop art and its sequels corrected that problem. An example of message art is Concept Art, a seventies art movement of which there are traces today (art with an aesthetic or political message). Each piece, installation, or action of Concept Art was one of a kind, individualizing the artist as well as the statement. One could not then and cannot today repeat a Concept Art piece without someone saying, "but that was done yesterday (or forty years ago)". This falls in line with the approach to art at least since the Renaissance, which declares all art as historical and each contemporary artist as standing on the shoulders of the predecessors. For the spectator, some art, such as classical music and all museum art, is still fully valid after centuries, but no composer would dare write a Bach chorale today. For art of any age to be considered “contemporary” it matters very much that the past is past—at best a storehouse from which to pick, choose, mock, re-interpret and revise for the present. Not just for the artist but for the spectator of contemporary art, if you don't have some awareness of what the contemporary artist has presumably absorbed, discarded, explored, it is often hard to appreciate what is going on. Without that cultural background you might just miss the point, for instance you might have thought that Pop Artists were just commercial artists working for an ad company and not the pretentious first wave of postmodernism.

The notion of collective progress found in art movements is shared by technological and scientific advance, whose cultural prestige they envy and would like to borrow. Progress is based on scientific experiment, whose point is to do something infinitely repeatable with the same or analogous result. Once it is done and the awards handed out there’s no point repeating it, only elaborating it and making it more widely known. It is the result that counts, results that stack up over the time of a scientific or artistic career. You don’t have to dwell on the individual’s motivation, the focus is on the advance that has been made. It turns what was previously done and considered valid into a naive past, known at least to some collectivity, which can identify itself as advanced, progressive. And to be progressive is to link oneself with all that is true, just, good, and all that blah.

I spoke above of individual evolution as the common alternative to this. As an example of this, watching a dvd of 21st. century visual artists recently I am struck that they are all expected to elaborate stories that individualize the artist in question as a “person” in the contemporary sense. They talk not of how their art challenges conventions, educates us, and advances Art, but of their family and cultural background, how their present work reflects their story of themselves. To be presentable as artists of course nothing currently disreputable can be hinted at, such as machismo or right-wing fantasies. As those advancing collective evolution might consider themselves radicals, these personalistic artists would be liberals (it would seem that anyone to the right of center is simply incapable of artistic expression). Such interviews of artists would have been unheard of in the days of the classical avant-garde (imagine Picasso asked how he expressed his love life in his paintings of women). Rather they reflect our current liberal culture in which everyone is potentially an artist, and one’s work is valid as unique self-expression of a personality. All art needs is a few more pats on the back and “good job” all around.

In relation to assessing a performance, improvisation has an evolving history, which means that some of it is “past”, and valued for that, and some of it is “contemporary”. Of course it is important to register our immediate feelings about any art we encounter, but when we are faced with the contemporary we are being asked to suspend judgment, to not have our taste determined by our feelings. That means to doubt our feelings, to distrust them temporarily in order to search out alternative possibilities behind what we experience. To put this in the language of psychology, what offends us might be the clue to some part of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge. By no means am I saying that resistance is either foolish or futile, but that it might be a key to something more, indeed to a path we are headed down without knowing it. My favorite personal example is hearing Ornette play in 1967, when I practically had to leave the room it was such a horrid experience. Then five years later, after much change in my personal life, I found myself enraptured by it. At that point I bought some Schoenberg records expressly because I didn’t like Schoenberg, and played them often, just to break down my resistance and open myself to something beyond my experience.

As a player myself, I have one foot in what is now considered “the past” and one in “the contemporary”. That is, I can no longer play what I did twenty years ago; even though I can listen to it with pleasure and curiosity, it is not what I would spontaneously play now. Beginning about twelve years ago I was open to those who were finding a way around conventions I myself had become bored and frustrated with. Particularly in Berlin players had been challenging the predominant “full-tilt” improvisation (roughly called free jazz today). They, and a few players in Boston and London, created a collective aesthetic called unfortunately “reductionism”, closer than improvisers had ever come to an avant-garde movement. (While reductionism has been declared dead, the pretensions of representing the avant-garde over all free improvisation is firmly in place.) At the time I borrowed the players of this reductionist movement to get me away from my personal musical cul de sac, while smiling at its pretensions, which I thought harmless and adolescent. Playing with minimal sound and much space drove many of my regular listeners away, but to shift towards playing this way was something absolutely necessary for me.

The music I tend to play for others now gradually recovered much the same energy that I used to have, but a quite different quality of time and space, utilizing sustained pitches, texture, and often no recognizable saxophone sound. To my ear, my music today has more concentration and tension in it than my “full-tilt” playing of the past. The critics and record producers apparently don’t like it, I suspect, because it is a mixture and not the kind of easy story they want to hear. I don’t fit the picture of the loyal free jazz player, yet I have too much physicality and emotion in my music to be part of the avant-garde scene. Also, though I most often play with plugged in players or percussionists, the two categories most prized by the avant music world, I myself play only the traditional, unmodified saxophone and make sounds only my breath makes in the tube and my fingers make on the keys. In other words, it might look like I have reneged on the avant-garde project, or was not capable of doing it, whatever. Such criticism comes from the point of view of what I am calling collective evolution, and is associated with “radical”, uncompromising, risk-taking—all the p.r. of the cultural left. But this is where my personal evolution has taken me, a spiraling movement rather than the straight linear, monolithic progress that sees itself always ahead in the race against the past. That’s what I mean by being both on the side of the contemporary, the progression of art shared by most of my partners, and at the same time not dismissing my personal or the collective past of free improvisation but vindicating it through the work of transformation. My particular version of this music is one of many possible, and does not easily fit the hierarchy based on an aesthetic model.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
[The following was stimulated by a discussion with a friend in Brooklyn. I had told him I would be going to New Mexico to help build a house for one of my sons, and he felt this was another way of being creative, similar to playing music.]

Our short discussion about creativity the other night has led me to elaborate what I was saying, so I’m grateful for the opening to think about this. It has taken me far afield from our starting point, so the disagreement was only a point of departure. What I write below should not be taken as an argument against what you were saying but an opening for more discussion that might be shared with others:

I see creativity as a word that suffers from overuse, that has expanded its meaning and lost precision partly out of democratic exuberance. That is, if everyone is equal at least in potential then everyone has a right to be considered equally creative. That's not a problem; to rank the more and the less creative would be a silly game. But if everyone is creative then so is every human activity. When creativity extends to building a house according to someone else’s plan and orders, with nails every six inches here but twelve inches there, then why not include all purposeful activity? This ends in saying, for instance, that what one does in a moment on stage, lost in sound, or writing a poem, engages the same awareness and mental space as the most unconscious of our daily habits (not to mention the differences between what is constrained by time, like a performance, and what is unconstrained, like writing). To distinguish various kinds of activity is confused with ranking them as more or less valued. On the contrary, distinguishing without ranking can mean respecting all activity for what it is. Creative work, or meditation, for instance, is different but not superior to picking up a piece of paper off the floor, sitting down to a meal, or as the Zen people say, stirring the oatmeal. Seeing these as parallel rather than competing for value we can invest the whole of life with reverence, mindfulness, care appropriate to each activity. But I will hopefully not be creative when I’m driving a car or a nail, nor mechanically rule-following when playing music.

This expansion of interest in creativity beyond the so-called “gifted” iconic artist and scientist is a major cultural change in the west, one considered positive. It relates to the desire—which didn’t exist before the sixties at the earliest--to have a life and be a person one can call creative, that extends beyond the moments of actual playing on stage, or writing a poem, or painting. This is a pervasive ethos, especially in DIY America and the cultural left. What do you think is behind this? Today we see the most complete triumph in history of competitive, commercial culture, when monetary success—or just comfortable survival—is the highest value, where the market determines as never before in history who is respected as most “truly creative”. Does the desire for a creative life merge with this or is it a reaction against it? How is it different from the desire to be recognized (successful) as an artist?

If we look at the first half of the 20th c. we find no pervasive desire for a life of creativity, rather that life was inseparable from being an artist, which was generally scorned as useless and even harmful. To desire to become an artist was to expect a life outside social acceptance. Almost invariably those who became artists were obedient middle class children who first studied law, or engineering, or medicine. The majority either lived on family support, if they had not completely alienated their fathers, or had mundane work lives, and thought of their creative life as completely separate: Kafka, Ives, Pessoa, and on and on. Despite the overloaded art and music schools today the reality is not much different; how many poets, writers, composers, improvisers, visual artists finance their lives exclusively from their creative work, unadulterated by teaching or the dilution of their projects by the marketplace? The teacher might, in line with the current ethos, consider teaching creative, but privately she will curse the hours she is denied for her writing project. So a creative life has never realistically meant what it seems to imply.

“Creativity” implies a creator fashioning a thing created, a duality that separates the God-Artist from matter, which is elevated to sacred status by His touch. Things created exist as objects apart from their making, to be judged, interpreted, ranked. Improvisers should be especially cautious of this since improvisation merely yields sound in someone’s basement that is gone in an instant; recordings, critical analysis, ranking of players is another matter, far from the intimacy of experience. Improvisation holds the lowest rank of any creative object; to the art-world it barely exists. In my opinion “creativity” should be abandoned in order to focus instead on those moments of full immersion and concentration imbued with a sense of freedom to shape something at the same time as being shaped by it. Something like riding a horse, which you should never imagine you could completely master, as does the divine Creator. Whether this results in something valued by others, whether it even reaches the take-off stage of acceptance to be considered “art”, is another matter.

I think a life that one expects to contain such moments is the most recent replacement for the life of religious experience, and I mean this in the positive sense of inner experience, not its institutionalized form. Art, as in that which is validated by the art-world, is more like the meaning religion had for the church; the moment of creative focus, on the other hand, is closer to what was meant by Spirit. People want to be seized by, immersed in, the spirit, to master and be mastered by it simultaneously, to enter fully into experience. Post-WWI a similar spirit was located in the modernist desire to "act", which brought art into the range of politics. After WWII, when political action was in disfavor, the magic word would have been "spontaneity".

The problem of spirit in any of these cases is when it meets up with practice, material form. "If you are serious about creativity then you must become an artist" is not far from “if you’re serious about your religious experience then you need to get into the Church”. That is, there is a felt pressure to have one's creative interest recognized, and this means to embody it not just in one's private activity but in what one produces that is available to others. If you want to have the life of spontaneity you must find some formula to produce it, repeat it, certify it, and enshrine it, such as Cage's chance techniques. Otherwise you're just fooling yourself, so the accusation goes….
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
  violating the community
Reading Alphonso Lingis, The Community Of Those Who Have Nothing In Common. p.107: “For Aristotle the virtue that transcends, that makes possible all the others is courage, without which no one can be truthful, or magnanimous, or be a friend. This means risk, of one’s job, reputation, isolation, of one’s life.” The effort to envision, encourage, and develop a community of any kind--of improvisers, of co-workers, of neighbors, or of people with a common political intention—aims at a strength no private individual could have. Strength comes not by way of interior reflection of the individual but by claiming and asserting bonds of identity among those counted within a particular sphere, and by dissolving bonds with those perceived as outside, as lacking that identity. Through unity comes strength is the principle of the polis as of a friendship: we have this in common, and what we have does not extend to all. Community, and its kind of strength, cannot be separated from the effort to reduce risk, and therefore the need for courage, the facing of fear and willingness to risk. Every community excludes, it cannot help but do so, and by so excluding creates itself as other to the other: we are not other to ourselves, it says, we have each other. Community makes things work, without it nothing at all will work, there is not even the word “work”. But since there is no absolute uniformity among humans it also creates as its bond and pledge an internal hierarchy of value and consequently of status. On some level it must deny, at least obscure or obfuscate, hierarchy and status in the interest of the communal identity and bond; this is no less true of the medieval corpus christianum, of the nation state, or today’s global neo-liberalism. This is its ruling contradiction, its hypocrisy. It must claim to value the individual, but not the individual act that violates the communal code. It chooses which individuals represent and defend the community and represent its code, and these will be considered the virtuous.

What is of highest communal value cannot be the kind of courage that contradicts the community and its code. Indeed for that kind of courage it can never be ascertained beforehand what is the content, what courage will assert or defend. It takes courage to speak what others of the community unanimously agree is pure stupidity, or to play a music that does not represent the agreed code, or to disrespect its icons. At best one can only say: “you belong in a different community, perhaps (scornfully) one of yourself alone.” Courage separates, it is the act that creates a moment of danger, when one stands in the breach between the accepted and the unaccepted. There can be no community that can include those with the courage to violate the sanctions of the community, only those who reinforce its coded beliefs. If we disobey and wish still to be included then we make apologies for our exception, in effect showing how it proves the rule. We will downplay our apparent uncompromising stance, reduce our risk as much as possible in order to communicate what the code will not allow, which is from the community’s standpoint incommunicable. Without some appeal to community, perhaps to its buried beliefs, we will be talking into the wind, an Aeolian harp whose harmonies are heard as the velleities of nature and not yet of human durability.

It is essential that a community regulate itself and its values. This regulation is internalized unconsciously; one suppresses perceptions, impulses, wandering thoughts and possibilities that do not find some place of approval. Of course, this can leave a wide range of activity, even the illusion of total freedom, which is only belied by watching the shift of values and the inclusion of previously alien ideas over time. Contrarians make their points often after their deaths, from underground. Those presently respected will be seen to represent the values of the community most highly; some will in fact bend all their efforts to do so.


Monday, January 04, 2010
Three-prong Jack

Study means to me not to learn material but to pay close attention, to derive meaning, more precisely to expand what might only be a hint of relevance to me into a real relationship. It is to dig deep at a spot vaguely marked, to follow a path I can barely make out through heavy brush or a wind-swept desert. It is a hunt with no prey, no final figure in my sights, just the erotic excitement to keep going. I see nothing heroic in it. It makes the world (others) useful to my understanding, acknowledging separation so as to include and be included.

Given this understanding I could say I have been studying for more than fifty years, ever since as an early teenager I pored over the printed sermons of my thoughtful minister for wisdom. That thread of study is still present when each morning I pick up the path of whatever reading material currently engages me. What am I looking for? Any answer to that would reduce this search to the scientific and school version of study: knowledge, the truth, solutions to questions, whatever can be assessed. Rather for me the activity is like tightening and playing on the cord that is stretched between myself and the world, my inwardness and its only apparent outwardness. As I appear to be studying the other the other wants to study me. I peer through the eyes of the other into myself. As in scientific study I seek out only relevant materials, yet relevance intuited personally, only barely communicable to a community of scholars, Paul Goodman’s lost dream. What I call back-to-back reading of two ostensibly divergent writers forces them into the room together for a discussion they might never have; I am the tertium quid who does not belong. Why it is these two and not others is both accidental and intuitive; I am there to find out how they both could exist in the world and to find out how I can.

History, the context of no context (trenchant title of George S. Trow), has been my primary access road. I am accidentally here and not there. When I was sixteen I imbibed the notion that we could not understand the present, that is, confirm it, without knowing where it came from. For the most part I shoved into the bushes the too-familiar modern period, which seemed to begin with the French Revolution, and sought out what came before, whatever linked me with the murky origins of the human. I read those 19th century writers who were surveying and embodying the transformation of the West--Marx, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky—but not the modern period itself, which I considered trivial, derivative. I fed on the gap, and stretched my legs over it. At times I was seduced into the present, for instance by politics in the late-sixties, but in the end found my home elsewhere. I did this without thinking much about my motivation or the shape this trajectory would take over my lifetime.

Twenty years ago I re-entered the 19th century, but then also modernism and some contemporary thought. I hungered for the present. In the past four years I’ve caught up further in my study, now reading almost exclusively books written in and about the present. I feel current, without being swept away by the currents because of that long period of living in the glorious gap, which made me less than totally responsible for the present. I no longer consider, nor need to consider the world as trivial; it is the book I am reading with fascination.

I can see how I am and am not this world. I am not this world partly because my past context, the forties through the seventies, seems now almost as alien to the world today as the middle ages was to me when I studied it. The desire to be wholly modern, which Rimbaud challenged us with, is now a thing of the past. A world I witnessed being destroyed, and which I lamented in my youth even as I championed its destruction as a Marxist, is now unambiguously gone. I pick my way through the rubble.

It has been difficult for me to validate my mode of study for myself because of the preponderance of the scientific/informational model, which requires the anonymity of the researcher. But that’s no different from what I dealt with in my academic years. It assumes a shape to my needs which starts with the universal, and not my particularity (Kierkegaard said something like this in his critique of the scientific, and of Hegel). Theoretically, what I come to from study is expected to be assimilable to the great mass of knowledge already acquired, either reinforcing it or critiquing it, and if the latter then it must be subject to counter-critique on the same terms. This is a kind of terror, that the truth we find for ourselves must bow to this universal, the province of experts who know better than I ever could, since I have not studied for this purpose. The scorn for solipsism is the threat; silence is often the only response one can make: “you’re the boss, it's your world, not mine”.

It is similar with playing music. I have put the advertisement for the professional musician on my sandwich board, since a music musician just doesn’t cut it, and these two are in conflict. In the effort to make my music available I shifted from purely a love of playing and offering it to others to a view from the outside, to be seen as talented, potentially valued by others. A huge maw opens that must be fed continually and to the exclusion of any attention to one’s own need; that is the sacrifice of the contemporary Artist. We devote ourselves to feeding a voracious alligator, who will take our own arm off if we don’t keep throwing it food. We become part of the production line in the slaughterhouse (see the movie “Food Inc.” and you’ll see us), and the job of the artist is to work out what is needed by that great Other, what will feed It. Whatever that is, we cannot halt its hunger. We think it is our hunger that is operating, but it is not; our hunger has gone off in a corner to die, and we may never know it. In fact, many are now being trained from the outset (and wasn't this the complaint about complacent youth in the fifties) to orient towards that Other and use their talents to find out what to feed it; they never imagine what they could do if they turned their backs on it. The Artist is seduced into thinking that he/she should create something unassimilable, but that is the very thing the voracious maw is looking for. At best the Artist converts, translates what they need, their individuality and eros, into what others can use. The Artist is noted to be the expert at doing this.

This diatribe may seem like a diversion but it is not. I turn my study away from the assimilable data/conclusion/critique model towards that hunger that I would not allow to die, and feed that instead. Of course, I have to accept the paradox that, as I have often said, I wish to make this turn available, and in so doing must face self-ridicule (which I unfortunately put into the mouths of others). I resurrect the fool, not the fool-comedian, who is today’s model of one begging for attention, but the fool-irrelevant. Someone characterized me thirty years ago as three-prong jack in a two-prong world (back when electrical codes were changing), as if the world did not accommodate me then but eventually would. The fact that it hasn't is both hard to take and, in the end, ok. Not tremendous, not “well then, you’re a true individual, a free spirit, etc.”, but just bearable, the way things are. Nothing special, as the Buddhist would say; "I'm ok with it".

Saturday, May 16, 2009
  Paul Virilio and improvised music
[reading Steve Redhead, Paul Virilio--Theorist for an Accelerated Culture, 2004] Virilio calls himself a dromologist, dromos means "race" in Greek. He is focused on the speed and acceleration of culture, has been called “the high priest of speed”. His starting point is WWII and military technology; for him that war was never finished, from the point of view of technological development. Speed has continued to accelerate until it has reached the speed of light (internet, cybernetics)--instantaneous, making events and time itself global and no longer local. The human as a local phenomenon, first of all the body, disappears as a cultural given. His concept of the accident is related, since speed as the essence of technological advance brings with it the accident, which is no longer "accidental", i.e. contingent. We have now the "integral accident", that is a necessary part of technological advance, and points to the coming accident which will integrate many disasters through chain reactions. Progress has then reached its finite limit. Accelerated modernity, especially after the end of the Cold War and the impossibility of checking nuclear proliferation, has become dangerous modernity (the terms are Steve Redhead's).

The question for me is in what ways free improvisation draws from current cultural trends, and which trends. Reflecting on Virilio’s categories I am reminded how it is the most contingent music, lacking the substance, the necessity of what is considered significant art. It occurs in real time, instantaneous for players and listeners, then disappears. At whatever speed it goes, no matter how slow or fast, it is still instantaneous, and cannot be criticized with the tools that have been used to analyze art as object. It cannot correct itself and is not responsible for itself any more than Cage's traffic sound outside his window; it is only replaced by the next improvisation, valued in turn for itself. Recording is a futile attempt to capture it and turn it into substance, for it always escapes to the next moment. In this way it is very much a part of our accelerated culture and would not have been conceived of at an earlier age, a post-war phenomenon. Then begins the attraction to what I'm starting to call "absolute" improvisation, which burst the bonds of free jazz in the sixties. Absolute improvisation cannot actually exist but there is the desire to approach a music without givens, as if purified of human hands, non-idiomatic right down to the idiom of each player, a kind of randomizing machine under human control. Cage deplored free improvisation because he said musicians were too steeped in habit to equal pure randomness, such as his coin toss; there would always be the human limitation. But improvisers ignore his strictures, seeking freedom from their limitations of habit.

The accelerated culture is an extension of the myth of progress, which sees the present as necessarily superior to the past. Logically, this should mean that the present is inferior to the future, which is full of promise, as was believed in the Victorian era and has continued in some force in the hopes for specific technologies, such as medical. Yet accelerated culture has broken with the progress myth significantly since, from the time of nuclear competition the future is seen not as glorious and problem-solving but as threatening. The “grand narrative” has collapsed along with the faith that Man will prevail. Celebration of the present, such as the self-congratulation of neo-liberal capitalism after the collapse of Western Communism, has a hollow ring, one with the short reverberation of this month’s advertising slogan. If we were to see the future as having recognized our present shortcomings then we would not celebrate the present as a kind of “last generation”, to be followed by the deluge. It is hard to find any faith, as opposed to hope against hope, that humans will be able to use its wits to overcome the various accelerating calamities multiplying around us. Similarly, the accelerated culture encourages us to avoid looking at what we do from a future perspective, that is critically.

In relation to music, there is a celebration of the present free of criticism, free of the thought that we might some day look back on what we do now and find it wanting, or conversely look at what we did in the past and find it superior. Western artists generally proceeded through a process of criticizing their work, finding problems with it and inventing solutions on their own terms. In my experience this approach is lacking among improvisers; the next improvisation wipes away the last. This is of course not just due to the celebration of the present moment but also to ubiquitous market culture (of which Virilio says little), in which the musical entrepreneur never admits doubts about his or her work. Also the Anglo-American celebration of the hidden artist in every man and woman fits nicely in this uncritical artform. If boosting your self-image and overcoming a sense of inadequacy is part of the picture then you are hardly going to look negatively at your work.

Virilio makes a point about speed creating an aesthetics of disappearance, as in, here this second (instantaneous), gone the next. This parallels the development of photography (I'm also reading Susan Sontag's 1977 book On Photography), which values the multitude of images easily shot by amateurs as highly as those of painstaking professionals (now digital photos and ubiquitous cellphone videos have pushed this even further). The stable object—painting, sculpture, composition—is replaced or at least competes with the unstable, such as cinema, which moves at 24 frames per second, installation art, and improvised music. The art object--the masterpiece (Artaud) and the aura (Benjamin)—disappears in the equal valuation of everything as art. This is all related to the democratizing of art, of which free improvisation is a good example. There is a fine piece in the current London Review of Books by Andrew O'Hagan ("Short Cuts") concerning U-tube, which he calls "the depot of international self-realisation". It links well with Virilio, pointing to the recent instantaneous global success of Susan Boyle's appearance on the UK's Britain's Got Talent. We think of free improvisation as on the other side of celebrity culture, but fifteen minutes (now seconds) of fame, the egalitarianism of everyone as potentially "special", parallels the valuing of every sound and moment, or at least the reluctance to devalue any moment of sound. Here the politics of anti-discrimination reinforces the cultural; every sound has a kind of soul that needs recognition in the light of day, not a dark spot left unexposed (take that, Nietzsche!) Not to mention the relative openness of improvisation to anyone, whether they’ve practiced five minutes or five years on their “sounds”, and the blurring of the amateur/professional distinction, which has something to do with the very nature of this music.

Improvisers have also been highly attracted to electronics (electro-acoustic improvisation, or eai), the core technology for the expansion of the media, providing its speed of response, the ubiquity of the internet, all of which are of significance for Virilio's categories. For traditional, acoustic music the invention of a new instrument has been rare, but with electronic instruments it takes only a year or two for a technology to be dated. This speed of turnover, and the specialized knowledge of what is the latest, is part of the attraction to electronics for many. Moreover, it takes much less time to learn to improvise passably on electronics than on an acoustic instrument. An acoustic player can spend years before being judged proficient, whereas the period for some electronics players is a few weeks before they're on stage and impressing people (I include myself here among those frequently impressed). Even extended techniques on acoustic instruments, which are favored by contemporary improvisers, are much more easily mastered than the elaborate finger and embouchure work of a John Coltrane. The greater popularity of electronics over acoustic instruments among improviser audiences demonstrates that technology speeds up a career just as it gets you from here to there a lot faster.

Virilio says that the now, global real time undivided by time zones, is replacing the local here; history, which is always located in a specific place, disappears into ubiquity. International humanitarianism, for instance, the rationale for American global intervention, recognizes no sovereign states. The instantaneousness of 24-7 engagement with the world through international television and the internet is not just the focus on the now but means that a local event occurs simultaneously everywhere. This is what the virtual means, a substitute for the real (and not, as for Baudrillard, a simulation.) The spectators of a sport event are eclipsed by the television viewers, who must collectively purchase products (implicit in commercial sponsoring) in order to see it. For art, that means not only that the masterpiece is obsolete because everything is art but because it is available around the globe without ever having to see the actual object. Originally this was seen as a great advance in bringing art to more people through books of photographed art (Andre Malraux, The Voices of Silence, 1953), but that was when art was still revered as inhabiting the realm of untouchable heroes. Artists marketing their work today seek to attract buyers by putting it online at a dot com; achieving fame the old-fashioned way is left to the increasingly popular "outsider artist".

By contrast, for the improvised music session, unrecorded or recorded only for participants, is very much here, occurring at one place and time; there is no virutality, no participation without the physical body being actually in the room. In this sense free improvisation escapes the ubiquity of mediated experience; our music is for us, players and listeners, and none other. I often joke, when there are only a couple of listeners, that each gets a larger share of the music than if there were more present. But it is no joke; small-scale and intimate is somehow as natural to this music as it once was to blues. But then I am not typical of improvisers; the stage, where musicians display their developed styles of playing to a hopefully growing audience, has trumped the session. Whether the session will be able to assert itself against the scene remains to be...seen.

I read this over, it sounds like a mish-mash, but, sorry, it's how my mind works on only a quarter cup of coffee. Imagine a half-cup!
Monday, May 11, 2009
  Speedup and the middle class professional
[reading Paul Virilio, The Original Accident] I should point out that here as often elsewhere in this blog I am not claiming to present new knowledge but trying to answer my own questions, which is a different and not a lesser pursuit. The former, the academic or scientific approach, assumes the theories and discoveries of the past and seeks to supplement, verify, revise or overturn them, whereas I am turning questions over in my often troubled mind, perhaps of no relevance to “new knowledge”. For instance, the story below of the creation of the factory worker has often been told, I am simply updating the (Marxist) theme of the white collar middle class (my class, however wayward I may have been) becoming increasingly proletarianized and pauperized, only with far more illusions than the earlier industrial working class had. Why would the educated elite in particular be so much more unable or unwilling to grasp what is happening to them (speedup, increased work load, pressures and hours, reduced real wages, etc.), compared to their social inferiors of the working class who protested vigorously and briefly threatened revolution. Questions like this intrigue me, and as neither academic nor journalist nor aiming to influence others I merely indulge myself in pursuing them.

I’m interested in the kind of shifts over the last fifty years or so in what it takes for people to be content with what they are in relation to what they do. What I mean by this would be expressed today as the kind of job they tend to have, which earlier would have been considered a vocation or profession. I am referring to the kind of contentment in an earlier age that meant accepting unconsciously, without question, one’s lifelong identity as a librarian, a mechanic, a physician, a mailman, farmer, etc. after a period of apprenticeship. There was even resistance to moving up the ladder, from being, say, a teacher to being an administrator (expressed in the phrase, “kicked upstairs”). Today of course there would still be many who would resist such promotion, but I would guess that the resistance is less. Certainly it would be interesting to explore this statistically. But my general point would probably hold, that today one is looked down upon for being content with one’s vocational identity as if limiting one’s options and showing lack of ambition. To stay at the same level is considered stagnation. In my own profession, that of musician, unless one is moving ahead in cd sales, fees for performance, recognition (visibility), one is disrespected.

To finally link this to Virilio, there has been a shift from substance to movement and acceleration. The new substance, what makes people feel they are real, purposeful, and connected with the world, or at least expect to be connected adequately to the world, is movement. Significantly, career is not confined to the upward path from, say, instructor to full professor but encompasses previously questionable spin-offs--scientists become entrepreneurs, hawking and profiting from their discoveries; sociologists and philosophers become talking heads and media stars; historians go on book tours as part of their career. It is not enough to be one thing and do it well; one must have an entire life of entrepreneurship in order to sit back by one’s private pool with a gin and tonic and feel content. Of course this is only the image of success, the expectation, since of course there is no way to feel actual content when speed has taken over one’s life. So surely there is discontent, as there was in the fifties with the business career, but without analysis, public expression (The Organization Man) or target of criticism. There is no target out there, as “the system” (for the sixties’ activists) or the exploited enraged at the exploiters in the earlier version. In this case the appropriate target is within one’s own most positive, hopeful energies. These cannot be touched without risking the collapse of one’s entire system of life accommodations—family, the trajectory of expected fulfillment, consumption patterns, indeed everything that has come to replace the moral and religious standards by which one can stand apart from and judge one’s life.

This shift is seen as an advance over the old, antiquated system, which is indeed rooted in ancient society. The librarian who got paid poorly because she loved books and desired the social good of literacy was the secular equivalent of the medieval monk, who was socially esteemed so long as he was selfless and sacrificing. He or she has been replaced by an employee who is paid according to accomplishment, perhaps initiating a literacy program and getting it funded, to the applause of all, and is competing with all enterprising others. The goal is that of the state, of the statistician, to increase the number of those who can read, not to communicate a love of reading, of thought, of reflection. To be motivated like the selfless librarian is indeed a handicap to advancement. I am not asking the question of whether this is a better system or not, because our judgment of what better would mean would then have to be asked first. I am asking only how did it come about, and to say this happened because it was an improvement, or even inevitable begs the question.

What is called progress here is actually the same process as that which eliminated the skilled mechanic in favor of the factory worker, who was created largely out of another skilled sector of the population, peasantry and small independent farmers, who were forced off the land, i.e. into poverty, by market competition. The knowledge and skill of trained mechanics as well as farmers, knowledge acquired through a lifetime, was irrelevant to the industrial labor required. Unlike the professions, industrial workers had no or little chance for advancement, but what I’m looking at is their relation to work. Industrial workers, beginning in the 18th century, identified not with their skills, whether or not they were satisfied with a piece of work they had done, but with their location within a process. This process yielded objects and a wage based on following instructions from those who were in control of the knowledge and process. The struggle between craft unions (the AFL) and industrial unions (the CIO) ended in the victory of the latter. It was a victory of mass democracy over the small-producer Jacksonian democracy that de Toqueville had witnessed, dominated by independent skilled workers and professionals.

What has happened to librarians, teachers, doctors, engineers and all the professions of yesteryear is that they have been “liberated” from their dependence on privately acquired knowledge and individualist pride of accomplishment, the ability to make things or perform services according to a certain standards in which they were trained and for which they were respected. They have been industrialized, their knowledge computerized, and they are no longer in control of their work life. This has happened in a way that makes it very difficult for them to sense that they have lost anything of value, and so there is little complaint that gets to the heart of the matter.

For each profession we would have to ask how this occurred, what combination of attraction and necessity brought it about. For doctors, it seems like an advance to become an entrepreneur rather than a professional when the latter is expected to maintain a skill level that is increasingly expanding. The entrepreneur deals with changing situations, utilizing what is available and selling what people are interested in; the professional is easily cast as an elitist and is pushed aside in favor of the one who “meets people’s needs” as the client and not medical knowledge defines them. There is at least a tug of war between the two, as the patient seeks empowerment just as every other customer does. You could say that necessity, the threatened loss of patients for some “traditional” doctors, joins with the attraction of entrepreneurship for others, those for instance who have scanned the potential income stats for the various specializations while in med school and have chosen accordingly. Since the eighties, the increased social status of entrepreneurs in all fields influences this shift. The traditional medical establishment, the journals and respected specialists, struggle to maintain the integrity of the profession in the face of this shift.

The marketplace doctor has not replaced the professional standards doctor but this seems to be the trend. The shift that can be seen as a decline, but why associate it with the creation of the industrial working class in the 19th-20th centuries? Doctors have not been pauperized; in fact they have been thriving financially. The marketplace is the new factory in another sense, that it is the place where what is valued is what others want and not what the professional’s judgment tells him or her to impose. It is where the object of useful knowledge is not, or not exclusively, the body and the tools and skills needed to repair it but the manipulation of patients’ fears and desires for medical procedures to greatest pecuniary advantage. In the name of democratic advance, the patient is the new boss, who can be fooled and stampeded but must ultimately be reckoned with if one wants to develop a practice, just as the old factory boss had a bottom line of production quota and efficient operation. And of course the insurance companies, competing with each other for subscribers’ dollars and the lowest payouts possible, overrule professional standards. The doctors used to have the authority to tell the insurance companies what to pay and what to pay for, now the companies are telling the doctors who is boss. The increasing technologizing of their business also reduces doctors to being a factor in production rather than like the bosses, in charge of the process. The emphasis, as any patient knows, is eliminating the personal relation of doctor and patient in the interest of efficiency and turnover (output). So with their large technical knowledge and training doctors may not be assembly line workers, but they certainly do not live up to their self-image of "independent professionals".

And for musicians, “liberated” from the union and the club owners increasingly since the sixties, are they their own boss now or is the anonymous marketplace? Do they determine what music they will do or, if they wish to be respected and paid a decent amount, do they bow to the market?
Someone once asked me, "How can you be so sure of yourself?" The kind of certainty that reaches the level of expression is only through active self-questioning, not the presentation of ideas that look convincing (the job of lawyers). Toleration and pluralism begins at home, far better than tolerating the fools we run into. In the home of the mind we let the fools in the door and have a good laugh-and-think time together.

July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / September 2007 / May 2008 / December 2008 / March 2009 / May 2009 / January 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 /

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