Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kyle Gann quotes what he considers the distillation of Richard Taruskin's work, that studying the humanities is ultimately no guard against being inhuman

The grim history of the twentieth century – something Brahms or Franck could never have foreseen, to say nothing of Matthew Arnold or Charles O’Connell – played its part as well both in discrediting the idea of redemptive culture and in undermining the authority of its adherents. The literary critic George Steiner, one such adherent, after a lifetime devoted (in his words) to “the worship – the word is hardly exaggerated – of the classic,” and to the propagation of the faith, found himself baffled by the example of the culture-loving Germans of the mid-twentieth century, “who sang Schubert in the evening and tortured in the morning.” “I’m going to the end of my life,” he confessed unhappily, “haunted more and more by the question, ‘Why did the humanities not humanize?’ I don’t have an answer.” But that is because the question – being the product of Arnoldian art religion – turned out to be wrong. It is all too obvious by now that teaching people that their love of Schubert makes them better people teaches them little more than self-regard. There are better reasons to cherish art.

                  – Richard Taruskin, Music in the Nineteenth Century, p. 783

What made Hayao Miyazaki's film The Wind Rises remarkable and challenging is hidden in plain sight in a little question, would you rather have a world with or without the pyramids.  Miyazaki has snuck in the idea that may be most unsettling to those who would believe the humanities humanize and that the arts are a path to speaking truth to power--the pyramids are works of art and engineering, surely, but they are the monuments of empire.  Miyazaki gently tossed out there for our consideration the gloomy observation that all art, no matter how iconoclastic we might want to believe it is, is in some sense a reflection of an imperial aspiration even if that imperial aspiration is as simple as one guy saying he just wants to make something beautiful. 

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