Saturday, February 01, 2020

Mark Driscoll's recent post on the Babylon spirit camps out on how demonic it is that men are castrated and steered away from being husbands and dads without necessarily getting these ideas from the text of Daniel
Part 8: 1 Timothy 4:1-8
February 22, 2004

You guys should aspire to get married.  You guys should aspire to get--you gotta get a job first. You gotta get a job, not a job where you wear a uniform and ask people if they wanna supersize something. You gotta get a job.  You gotta get a job so you can get a wife so you can get kids.  And it's a great, glorious thing to be a husband and a father, and only a demon would tell you otherwise.  Only a demon would tell you otherwise. [emphases added]

Only a demon, huh?  What if you were commanded to never marry, by God?

Jeremiah 16:1-2 (NIV)

1 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.” 3 For this is what the Lord says about the sons and daughters born in this land and about the women who are their mothers and the men who are their fathers: 4 “They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like dung lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.”

5 For this is what the Lord says: “Do not enter a house where there is a funeral meal; do not go to mourn or show sympathy, because I have withdrawn my blessing, my love and my pity from this people,” declares the Lord. 6 “Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut themselves or shave their head for the dead. 7 No one will offer food to comfort those who mourn for the dead—not even for a father or a mother—nor will anyone give them a drink to console them.

8 “And do not enter a house where there is feasting and sit down to eat and drink. 9 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place.

10 “When you tell these people all this and they ask you, ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ 11 then say to them, ‘It is because your ancestors forsook me,’ declares the Lord, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law. 12 But you have behaved more wickedly than your ancestors. See how all of you are following the stubbornness of your evil hearts instead of obeying me. 13 So I will throw you out of this land into a land neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’

Notice that when God commands the prophet to not take a wife and to not have sons and daughters the reason has nothing to do with the prophet having some kind of life-threatening prophetic ministry, although the Book of Jeremiah records attempts on the prophet's life.  Being a husband and a father can be a good thing that someone can nevertheless be commanded to never be.  

Driscoll's conviction that only a demon would say that it's otherwise than great to be a husband and father kind of runs aground if we bother to remember anything written by some guy named Paul.

1 Corinthians 7:25-36 (NIV)

25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong[b] and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.

Driscoll may have at one point said only a demon would say it's not good to be a husband and father but we nevertheless can easily consult the Bible to find an occasion in which God directly commanded a prophet to never marry and never have kids.  We can also see from no less that Paul the advice that he who marries does right but he who does not marry does better.

Mark Driscoll has a history of joking about what eunuchs are.  It isn't difficult to look at Mark Driscoll's past teaching on spiritual warfare to see that not-enough-sex-in-marriage is a foundation of the ordinary demonic and that's as may be, but what's been interesting over the last twenty years is how adamant he has been that he's formulated this stance in terms of anything that isn't in the direction of telling guys to be husbands and fathers is demonic despite how easily we can find passages in the Bible that indicate that those who have been made eunuchs can serve the Lord. It's as though Mark Driscoll's Bible has never had Isaiah 56.

Isaiah 56 (NIV)
1 This is what the Lord says:

“ Maintain justice
and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
2 Blessed is the one who does this—
the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”
3 Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
4 For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
8 The Sovereign Lord declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”

9 Come, all you beasts of the field,
come and devour, all you beasts of the forest!
10 Israel’s watchmen are blind,
they all lack knowledge;
they are all mute dogs,
they cannot bark;
they lie around and dream,
they love to sleep.
11 They are dogs with mighty appetites;
they never have enough.
They are shepherds who lack understanding;
they all turn to their own way,
they seek their own gain.
12 “Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine!
Let us drink our fill of beer!
And tomorrow will be like today,
or even far better.”

Now while he's had twenty some years to get around to teaching and preaching through Isaiah, which he was considering around 2005 or so, if I recall, Mark Driscoll has not had a whole lot to say about eunuchs.  One would think that if a topic was significant enough to show up in Jesus' teaching about divorce, remarriage and adultery the topic of the eunuch would come up since:

Matthew 19 (ESV)

1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Matthew shows Jesus recognized there were those who were born eunuchs, those who were made eunuchs and also those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  For everyone else ... 

To the extent that Mark Driscoll's preaching and teaching career has touched upon the topic of eunuchs it amounts to, literally, a joke:
Jesus Has a Better Kingdom
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Esther 1:10–22
September 21, 2012
about 8:39 into the sermon.

Number two, men are castrated. Men are castrated. I’ll read it for you. “He commanded—” and these guys got names.  “Mehuman—” That’s kind of a rapper name, I was thinking, like, ancient Persian hip-hop artist, Mehuman. That’s how  it’s spelled. “Biztha.” Sounds like a sidekick. “Harbona, Bigtha.” That’s my personal favorite. If I had to pick a  Persian name, Bigtha. Definitely not Littletha. I would totally go with Bigtha. “Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas.” Okay, a couple things here. The Bible talks about real people, real circumstances, real history. That’s why they’re  facts. It’s not just philosophy. Number two, if you ever have an opportunity to teach the Bible and you hit some of the parts with the old, crazy names, read fast and confident. No one knows how to pronounce them, and they’ll just  assume you do.

Here are these guys. So, you’ve got seven guys, “the seven eunuchs.” What’s a eunuch? A guy who used to have a good  life, and joy, and hope. That’s the technical definition of a eunuch. A eunuch is a man who is castrated. [emphasis  added] Proceeding with the story before I have to fire myself.

Besides a joke about pronunciation that suggests the possibility that Mark Driscoll has never really studied Hebrew, Aramaic or any of the applicable languages ... that joke that a eunuch was a guy who used to have a good life and joy and hope before he got castrated anchors a lot of good life and joy and hope on getting laid in matrimony.  This is a stance that persists in Driscoll's shtick as of this year.


Daniel and his friends were selected to serve as slaves in the king’s palace because they were mentally smart, relationally skilled, physically handsome, and culturally royal. Likely wanting to keep his harem all to himself, the king had the young men castrated and made eunuchs.

Behind the nation of Babylon in Daniel’s day is the demonic spirit of Babylon which is at work in every day. The demonic spirit of Babylon has been trying since the great war in heaven (Revelation 12:7-9) to topple God and create a counterfeit kingdom. This is why we see Babylon spoken of again in the last book of the Bible, as Jesus returns to topple “Babylon the great” (14:8, 16:19, 17:5, 18:1-2, 18:10, 18:21) and usher in the Kingdom of God once and for all.

The spirit of Babylon sought to train Daniel in how to reject the real God and receive a demonic counterfeit. These five tactics are continually used in our day:

1. Gender – with castration, they sought to change Daniel’s gender as a male into something not God-given because the demonic hates that God made us male and female
2. Sexuality – they sought to force Daniel to not live a fully masculine life because the demonic does not want us to live as God designed us
3. Marriage – they forbid Daniel from marriage as he never conceived a relationship with a wife because the demonic hates to see godly people share the love of God in the marriage covenant
4. Children – they forbid Daniel from becoming a father because the demonic hates to see believers bring children in this world to love and serve God
5. Education – they sought to brainwash Daniel with a three-year pagan degree at a godless university where he would be programmed to deny everything he learned from the Scriptures

Today, these five things so incredibly, accurately, and painfully describe our culture it is staggering, stunning, and saddening. It just goes to show that the Spirit of Babylon is alive and well promoting the same kind of anti-God agenda that hell has always had, including overtaking the educational system.

Castration was not really done to change a man's gender.  Driscoll's claim with regard to his point 1 is basically dubious across the board.  No one has ever claimed that castration changes a man's gender.  Castration was often conducted on criminals and prisoners of war but in some ancient societies castration was a prerequisite for serving in an imperial court (in various Chinese empires, for instance).  The process of castration was believed to make men more docile and less aggressive and diminished sex drive and would ensure, if nothing else, that eunuchs who oversaw a royal harem couldn't possibly father children that could in any way be claimants to a throne.

But castration was also, famously in the West, taken up to prevent a boy's voice from changing. This was commonly practiced in contexts where women were not allowed to sing in church services but the soprano and alto voices were still prized and required for ensemble work.  Haydn, one of my favorite composers from the Western tradition, was very nearly castrated but his dad did an intervention and prevailed upon church officials to stay their hand.  Haydn went on to fall in love with one woman but ended up marrying another and that marriage was, among Haydn scholars, known to be a notoriously miserable one for both Haydn and the wife.  

With respect to Driscoll's point 2, a generic appellation to "God's design" doesn't exactly eliminate things like God commanding Jeremiah to never marry and never have sons or daughters.  It is traditionally thought that Jesus never married so would Jesus have failed to have lived a fully masculine life by Mark Driscoll's standard of masculinity? In the past Driscoll would have joked that Jesus would have been unequally yoked and left things at that.  Driscoll's point 2 depends on assuming that forcing men to not be married is demonic.  Well, okay, so would Driscoll go so far as to argue that American corporate interests that have exported manufacturing jobs overseas where working class American males who might otherwise have been able to work those jobs but can't because those jobs no longer exist in the United States are controlled by demons?

For Driscoll's point 3, Paul's concession that it is better to marry than to burn doesn't eliminate Paul's advice that those who do not marry do better and can be more undistractedly devoted to the things of God.  It is not a foregone conclusion that married men and women are necessarily going to be better people simply for being married.  

What Driscoll has bracketed out as 1 through 4 can arguably be collapsed into a single point in which Driscoll regards it as functionally demonic that anyone would advise men in particular to not marry or become fathers.  After all, it was during the 2012 Esther sermon series Mark Driscoll preached a sermon where he said this:
October 28, 2012
Mark Driscoll

Chapter 6, verse 12. “But Haman hurried to his house.” He ran home, “Mourning with his head covered.” This is public mourning. “And Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him.”

Here’s what’s weird: he’s got a better marriage than King Xerxes. Esther previously said that she hadn’t even seen her husband in thirty days, and they live in the same palace. It’s possible to be a really proud, ruthless, horrible man who’s got a decent marriage. He goes and talks to his wife, the one thing that the king doesn’t do.

Do you see where, perhaps, even in his own heart, he’d say, “Well, I’m not a ruthless, horrible man. I’m a good family man. You know? I’m good to my wife. I’m good to my friends”? This is how proud people justify their inconsistency. He seems to have a decent marriage and he does have some friends, and he’s going to be a mass murderer. So is the human heart.

So even by Mark Driscoll's own history of preaching and teaching it's possible for a good family man who loves his wife and kids to plan to exterminate the Jews, which would seem to automatically fit into the category of demonic evil.  Driscoll comes back year after year to assertions that the demonic takes the form of questioning gender or rejecting what he regards as God's design and yet he more or less skips past ever exegeting or discussing passages such as Jeremiah 16; Jesus teaching that involves taking as given that eunuchs exist in three categories; or even the Pauline admonition that if you can get by without being married you're actually better off even if it is no sin to marry.  Driscoll will acknowledge the passages exist but seems to have a history of finessing them out of being the focal point of a homiletic discussion.  

And yet we've just seen that he could grant that a loving husband and family man could still be a mass murderer.  There's no way Driscoll's going to concede that wanting to exterminate God's chosen people isn't demonic, so whatever demonic may mean it can include a man being a loyal husband and attentive father.

Having chronicled the peak and decline of Mars Hill over the years I am struck by how insistently Driscoll presents things as being demonic that involve defying what he takes to be God-given gender and sexual norms.  The possibility that the demonic could include leveraging a man's sense of responsibility as a husband and father to provide financial security or, where practical, medical coverage and care for his wife and family doesn't get any mention in Driscoll's rather brief checklist.

In point of fact, given that back in the late Mars Hill years it became headline news that Mars Hill Church used non-disclosure agreements that former staff regarded as onerous gag orders, a sample document was eventually published that revealed that it did happen that non-disclosure agreements stipulating continuing limited time medical coverage by Mars Hill provided the ex-staffer agreed to not talk.

Is it only demonic to tell men not to get married or have kids?  Could it never be considered potentially demonic to leverage their filial and spousal sense of obligation against them to keep them from saying anything for the record about practices and systems within a church they may regard as abusive?  Now it's not as though demons might consider it "bad" that men become husbands and fathers and raise children to fear the Lord but did not Mark Driscoll at one point claim that entire family lines were functionally given over to Satan?  Would it not then be considered debatable whether those family lines continuing would be "good" within Driscoll's lexicon of reasons-guys-should-be-married? We'll be getting to the time where Mark Driscoll claimed entire family lines have been dedicated to Satan in just a few paragraphs.

In the past Driscoll has claimed he used to subscribe to Malthusian eugenics, although he defined Malthusian eugenics in strictly negative terms.  I'm not saying everyone has to necessarily agree with a distinction that someone like local editor Charles Mudede makes between negative Malthusianism and positive Malthusianism but the point is worth noting that Driscoll claimed he was a Malthusian at some point.

We've looked into this in the past before, back in 2016 but it seems worthy of mention again:
One of the other reasons to doubt whether or not Mark Driscoll really put what he calls his Malthusian eugenics ideas behind him comes from the 2008 spiritual warfare session he gave to leadership at Mars Hill.
Spiritual Warfare
February 5, 2008
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Christus Victor (Part 3)

I then ask them to confess sins and cancel ground and command leaving one at a time. `s all before we start, "How did you open the door?" proverbially speaking?  "Well, it was I committed adultery then after that I started having nightmares."

"Well, guess what?  Probably a connection there, huh?  Probably opened the door with adultery. Have you ever really repented of that to Jesus and asked him to forgive you?"

"Not really."

"Well let's do that right now. Let's stop right now and have you repent of that sin, ask Jesus to forgive you. He died.  Receive forgiveness."

Let's get--cuz, see, Satan and demons, with a believer, in addition to external torment and such, most of what they have is what we've given them by opening the door through sin.

"Well then, confess it is a sin.  Let's kick `em out, lock the door but you gotta straighten this out with Jesus. You gotta repent."

So a good chunk of time is just spent on repentence of particular sin. It's all it is. Getting rid of those handholds and footholds.
I then ask them a series of questions. This is where we start, number ten. I'll usually check with ancestral sin. I'm looking at their past.

Now if they come from ten generations of third degree Masons I'm startin' there. If they're grandma was into witchcraft and their mama was into witchcraft and they have some demonic issues it shouldn't be shocking to think that this has been an issue in their family for a while. [emphasis added]

I know one family where incest was just part of the family. They actually had very intricate rules to control incest. The grandfathers and uncles could molest little girls but daddies couldn't and you could only do that once they hit the age of ten. You couldn't molest any child before that. I get these complicated rules that have been passed down for generations for the sexual abuse of the children. You're like, this, your struggle here, your temptations, your issues, they have generational lineage.

There are whole family lines that are just demonically inspired. You ever wonder why, in the Old Testament, God will occasionally tell his people, "When you go to war against that nation kill ALL of them. Don't let one of them live." People say, "Oh, oh that's terrible." Not if that whole line is demonized. Not if that whole line of people exists for the express purpose of fighting God and killing his people. The issue is either you get rid of them or they get rid of you. Satan is inspiring them to destroy you and you gotta get rid of them. Satan DOES work through family lines. There are family lines like the Herods who, just from one generation to the next, they're trying to kill Jesus and his people. Some of the family fights in Genesis, they continue all the way to this day. Not saying every person in the family line is demonized, but it seems like Satan likes to work through family lines, ancestral sin. [emphasis added[

It could seem in one fell swoop Driscoll from 2008 obliterated the five points of the demonic in the spirit of Babylon from Mark Driscoll in 2020.  

I'm vaguely remembering Geza Vermes had a book out a few years ago on Herod the Great.  For the moment it might suffice to say that even Driscoll's take on the Herods can't be taken as given.  

That Driscoll has a history of pronouncing things demonic, ordinary demonic rather than extraordinary, that turn out to have been true of his own life is something that I've chronicled at some length here at Wenatchee The Hatchet.  Take Driscoll's assertion that a Christian dating a non-Christian is demonic.

Mark Driscoll in a February 5, 2008 session teaching about spiritual warfare

A] Christian dating a non-Christian is demonic. It's not just a lifestyle preference, it's demonic. It's the ORDINARY demonic. It's not EXtraordinary. People's heads are not spinning around on their neck, you know, their eyes bugging out of their head and deep voices coming out like the bizzare Hollywood movies. It's just Satan saying, "Hmm, I'll bait the hook with a non-Christian. Good enough, whatever it takes."
By: Mark Driscoll
Posted: Oct 25, 2013

I first met Grace, my wife and the mother of our five children, over 25 years ago in high school. I was pro-abortion. She was pro-life. We argued over the issue. I pretty much always won. I was wrong, but I was tough to debate with.

She came from an evangelical home. I came from a Catholic home. Both of our homes were pro-life. But I was not only pro-choice, I was pro-abortion. I agreed with the underlying principles of Thomas Robert Malthus, which greatly influenced Nazi Germany, and Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood. I read up on the issue quite a bit, and won debates in high school and my freshman year of college defending population control and abortion.

I would have said I was a Christian, but I was not. Grace was a Christian. ...

So if it was, and is, demonic for a Christian to date a non-Christian then would it not be necessary, in light of Mark Driscoll's teaching about spiritual warfare in connection to sexuality, to say that the marriage of Mark and Grace Driscoll was already off to a demonic start?  It might have been just an ordinary demonic start, but a demonic start nonetheless.

If Mark Driscoll measured himself and his own marriage by the somewhat vague metric of his 2008 spiritual warfare series then he would be forced to concede most things about his marriage would have been off to a demonic start. 

Sometimes it seems as though Mark Driscoll writes content for his Patheos blog that works on the assumption that nobody who ever currently reads it has ever read or heard anything he's said on any range of topics in the previous twenty years.  

What's striking about the five points Mark Driscoll just listed is that the demonic aspect of Babylon, as defined by Mark Driscoll, seems to revolve perpetually around policies and social effects in which ... guys can't get laid in holy matrimony.  

Bryan Townsend on "The Awkward Concept of `Classic'" and critics, a counterproposal, the critic has become more and not less important to declaring things "beyond genre" as a marketing move rather than a critical stance

It is interesting that the whole post-modern project of demeaning and dismissing the whole idea of classic and indeed, quality, is also associated with the idea of doing away with genre, i.e. regional characteristics. The music of Billie Eilish, for example, is described as "genre-bending." Any time a new artist comes along, like Lil Nas X, his music is "genre-defying." You see, if you want to get rid of all the traditional concepts of quality like "classic" and "canon" then you also want to get rid of the idea of genre. Because if there is such a thing as genre, an artist can be criticized for failing to deliver a good example of the genre. If Mozart were a lesser composer he might have written a poor minuet qua minuet. But if we are bending and defying genres, then the critic has no ground to stand on.

Isn't that convenient?

In fact, if what you want to do is remove all possibility of criticism so you can foist pretty much anything on an unsuspecting public, then removing possible grounds for criticism is an excellent tactic. Notice how remarkably feeble criticism is these days. When a new movie comes out that no-one wants to see, the main criticism is that no-one went to it. Then, as in the case of Cats, critics can lambaste it for all sorts of failings. But genuine criticism, such as came from Martin Scorsese recently, is so rare that it is front page news.

The concept of classic involves being true to a regional characteristic. The terroir in the case of French wine, or the varietal in the case of most wines outside France. In the case of music, the genre of "symphony" even in the 21st century, has certain fundamental characteristics. A symphony by Haydn, Mahler, Shostakovich or even Stravinsky, shares some basic aesthetic goals.

Can the post-modern project do away with all this? Yes, of course, but it will severely compromise all non-commercial art forms because it takes away the fundamental ways to understand and appreciate art and replaces them with nothing more than political correctness.

I would say that I don't agree that the reason music gets described as "genre bending"  or "genre defying" is an effort to get rid of standards of criticism.  Standards of criticism still exist but they may not necessarily be in the realm of aesthetics.  Controversies that have erupted in the realm of young adult fiction publishing and reception have revolved around demographic purity, for want of a better way to put things.  If X is going to write about topic Y then author X had better be able to establish bona fides for being in a demographic that is considered fit to write about topic Y, as the recent controversy surrounding American Dirt has been bringing to light (as in a variety of other cases).  Variations on Uncle Tom's Cabin on the part of white writers addressing issues faced by people of color are more problematic now than they would have been in earlier epochs of publishing in the West.

There are writers who specialize in the arts who make a point of explicitly rejecting a Matthew Arnold style art-religion as something that evolved in the 19th century and which tended to favor a Euro-centric approach to the arts.  This doesn't require that anyone who doesn't subscribed to Arnoldian art religion has to reject canons.  I wouldn't be all that shocked that New England Puritans who rejected any attempt to sacramentalize art would not be rejecting such a move on the basis of rejecting canons.  To try to summarize this point as succinctly as possible, observantly religious people can have closed canons of sacred texts and completely open-ended canons of hymnody and religiously contemplative art.  A Thomas A. Dorsey or a Martin Luther or a Charles Wesley could add songs to Christian hymnody without feeling any obligation to suggest that there needed to be extra books in the Bible is a colloquial way to put it.  Contemporary objections in musicology to the established symphonic and chamber music canons of the 19th century can be understood as rejecting what seems in the Matthew Arnold style art religion as a tendency to treat the divine revelation of art as having been closed.  No one can top Beethoven's Ninth so there's not much reason to write more symphonies is the strawman formulation of the argument but it may be useful as a way to understand the distinction between canons and what some musicologists describe as vices of "canonism".

However ... where I may differ from Bryan is on what this can indicate about the role of the journalist and academic in all of this contemporary moment.

Film critics can declare that Aronofksy's mother! is an important film about climate change or the cult of celebrity or whatever film critics decide to say it's about but do you want to know the title of a movie that made more money in terms of global and domestic box office?  That would by My Little Pony.  A friend of mine was complaining about how he noticed that television journalists talked endlessly about shows like Game of Thrones or Mad Men when a show like NCIS is seen by millions more people and journalists covering television seem to have gone on blithely as if NCIS doesn't necessarily exist.  Noah Berlatsky had a sharp-edged, if over-stated, way of explaining this dynamic--until the critic declares that something is art worth talking about it's not even really art.

That's an over-statement, of course, made for a rhetorical effect but the point is worth mentioning because I think Berlatsky has zeroed in on the ways in which art criticism and art history have been intertwined in the last few centuries in ways that we can forget if we haven't gotten to observing how in ... let's just call it pre-modern times there was no critical establishment of the sort we take for granted that would set itself the task of adjudicating these issues.

If anything the new era of criticism from about the eighteenth century on into the present centralizes the role of the critic.  Saying that something is "beyond genre" ensures that the person who declares that an artwork of musical work is "beyond genre" is the one who has the power to say so.

That song forms derived from Tin Pan Alley formats and strophic patterns in the last century of songwriting aren't that fundamentally different from strophic forms and binary forms and ternary forms from the last thousand years of song doesn't have to come up.  "Beyond genre" refers less to any general structural patterns than to juxtapositions of timbrel elements that are regarded as central to a specific sound.  I.e. if a banjo is used in anything that's not "hillbilly" or "country" then that in itself "defies genre".  Ninth chords become "jazzy" unless we're talking about someone like Durufle.

That contemporary critics and academics object to canonism more than canons I get.  That makes sense.  I have never been a huge fan of Schubert so if there's less Schubert I don't exactly mind ... but the bad faith element is that contemporary pundits aren't quite admitting they are trying to set up a new canon.  Academics are working from or setting up canons by the nature of their work, as are critics.

Jacques Ellul
Copyright (c) 2014 by Papadakis Publisher
translated by Michael Johnson and David Lovekin
ISBN 978-1-906506-40-7

page 152 (emphases added)

In this vast universe, the art critic finally achieves his principal role. The artist is only a secondary element in relation to the critic who makes and unmakes styles and reputations.  ... Let us note that the art critic is a recent development. This man who is a scholar of the material in question, music or novel, painting or poetry, who knows all that can be known, who is the true expert in all his knowledge of the imaginary museum; that man, a specialist, a meticulous connoisseur of all the techniques, is incapable of producing anything by himself, but, as the occupant of the public podium, he makes his opinions known. He promulgates evaluations, and he reveals the philosophy and meaning of these works. He decrees what is good for the general welfare, and what will be the legacy of our present world for the future.  He can add nothing to this legacy but his explanations. The art critic did not exist in the seventeenth century, although there were a few hints. In reality, he is a product of the bourgeois, industrial, mass society; he is a shareholder in the culture, whose conscious and willful reality originates in the same era (along with the idea of culture), ... The critic owes his existence to the mutation of the bourgeoisie: the bourgeois, perhaps uncultured, harried and involved with other needs, and dedicated to utility, does not possess the same understanding of art as the aristocrat. For the latter, there was no need for explanation. By contrast, the bourgeois, the philistine of the Gilded Age, needed explanations, needed to be led to understanding. And, just as businessmen needed their brokers, so, in matters of art, the bourgeois needed their critics in order to discern what kind of art to buy. And for the Bourgeois buying art is an act of status. He must not make a mistake. First and foremost, the critic guarantees the durability and lasting value of the work in question.  The critic is just another business agent whose job is to guarantee status. 

page 153
... The art critic is a publicity agent for modern art. ... The link between the discourse of the critic and art itself is so essential that it appears, for example, in the view of Abraham Moles, as a proof of art's vitality. Everywhere they have proclaimed the death of Art, he asserts; now we are witnessing an "unprecedented flourishing of doctrines and movements," which prove that art is alive. However, these doctrines are the work of critics. They produce an infinite amount of discourse on art, but one must remember that this is not art. ...

Ellul's comment I quoted at the end of the excerpts seems salient in our era, the proliferation of doctrines about art are not things we should take as a sign that the arts world is healthy.

Contra Virgil Thomson, the arts journalist was always a publicity agent for modern art, even if Thomson's point that arts criticism was the holdout in journalism against everything being paid advertising.  That can be true at a paradoxical level in the sense that the arts critic can refuse to jump on a bandwagon or endorse the work of a specific artist or composer (like Sibelius) while still participating in the press in a way that is in keeping with what Ellul described as being the role of the publicity agent for modern art.

The move in the last twenty years to start describing this or that songwriter or composer as "beyond genre" or "blurring genre" probably has nothing to do with whether or not X or Y is really "beyond genre" or "blurring genre".  If X or Y is making any money in the  music industry at all that pays for bills and groceries and housing then X or Y, whoever they are, has been coded into a genre simply for the sake of booking gigs and making sales.

To put this as bluntly as possible, who is deciding that Billie Eilish is "beyond genre"?  Journalists and marketers, more or less the strata of people in the music industry who in a previous century might have rushed to categorize Eilish as being in a genre when promoting her work.

Admiring as I do the works of the Scott Joplin/John Stark "school of ragtime", I'm reminded that if you go back and look at how the Stark rags were promoted and discussed they were promoted as music openly bidding to be considered alongside Chopin as serious music.  Joplin was aiming to add his music to an existing canon.  As Joseph Horowitz has been writing lately, we should remember that Joplin thought of himself as a concert music composer who aspired to contribute to concert music.  Horowitz wrote at his blog recently:
Dvorak directed New York City’s National Conservatory of Music from 1892 to 1895 – in the rise-and-fall of American classical music, a period of peak promise and high achievement. It speaks volumes that he chose as his personal assistant a young African-American baritone who had eloquently acquired the sorrow songs from his grandfather, a former slave. This was Harry Burleigh, who after Dvorak died turned spirituals into concert songs with electrifying success. (If you’ve ever heard Marian Anderson or Paul Robeson sing “Deep River,” that’s Burleigh.) During the Harlem Renaissance, Burleigh’s arrangements were reconsidered by Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, both of whom detected a “flight from blackness” to the white concert stage. Today, Burleigh’s “appropriation” of the black vernacular is of course newly controversial. That he was inspired by a white composer of genius becomes an uncomfortable fact. An alternative reading, based not on fact but on theory, is that racist Americans impelled him to “whiten” black roots. Burleigh emerges a victim, his agency diminished. 
Compounding this confusion is another prophet: W E. B. Du Bois, who like Dvorak foresaw a black American classical music to come. The pertinent lineage from Dvorak to Burleigh includes the ragtime king Scott Joplin (who considered himself a concert composer) and the once famous black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, urged by Du Bois, Burleigh, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar to take up Dvorak’s prophecy. After Coleridge-Taylor came notable black symphonists of the 1930s and forties: William Grant Still, William Dawson, and Florence Price, all of them today being belatedly and deservedly rediscovered.
But the same lineage leads to George Gershwin and Porgy and Bess: a further source of discomfort. I have even been advised, at an American university, to omit Gershwin’s name from a two-day Coleridge-Taylor celebration. But Coleridge-Taylor’s failure to fulfill Dvorak’s prophecy – he was too decorous, too Victorian – cannot be contextualized without exploring the ways and reasons that Gershwin did it better. As for Gershwin’s opera: even though Porgy is a hero, a moral paragon, it today seems virtually impossible to deflect accusations of derogatory “stereotyping.” The mere fact that he is a physical cripple, ambulating on a goat-cart, frightens producers and directors into minimizing Porgy’s physical debility. But a Porgy who can stand is paradoxically diminished: the trajectory of his triumphant odyssey – of a “cripple made whole” — is truncated. (On Porgy and Bess at the Met, click here.)
Gershwin discomfort is mild compared to the consternation Arthur Farwell (1872-1952)invites. He, too, embraced Dvorak’s prophecy. As the leading composer in an “Indianists” movement lasting into the 1930s, Farwell believed it was a democratic obligation of Americans of European descent to try to understand the indigenous Americans they displaced and oppressed – to preserve something of their civilization; to find a path toward reconciliation. His Indianist compositions attempt to mediate between Native American ritual and the Western concert tradition. Like Bela Bartok in Transylvania, like Igor Stravinsky in rural Russia, he endeavored to fashion a concert idiom that would paradoxically project the integrity of unvarnished vernacular dance and song. He aspired to capture specific musical characteristics – but also something additional, something ineffable and elemental, “religious and legendary.” He called it – a phrase anachronistic today – “race spirit.”
If in the past music journalists and academics decided that whatever popular reception a Florence Price received for her symphonies they weren't as important as works by other composers (and we should note that Price (1887-1953) lived during a volatile period in which Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Hindemith, Shostakovich, Debussy and other composers were all active or becoming active) in the present age journalists and academics are attempting to right the wrongs of ignoring African American and women composers from the past.  If there's a bad faith element to that activism it is attacking the idea of "canonism" in a way that does not concede that a new canon is being developed as an alternative.  As Jacques Ellul put it in The New Demons, the old sacred can't be displaced without the installation of a new sacred to replace it.  Humans venerate and sacralize something and the question we have to look at is what is being reverenced.

What Horowitz has been highlighting about Farwell reception is how contemporary music journalism and performance practices have sidelined Farwell for drawing inspiration from Native American music and Native American cultures.  The Indianists can be presented as emblematic  of white colonial power in the now even though they were viewed a bit more like crackpots operating under a naive and misguided belief that Native American music was even worth emulating during Farwell's day.

More to the point I'm trying to make, if Gershwin has become problematic for having made use of African American musical styles as a fountain of inspiration, Arthur Farwell has fared worse by failing on the basis of a purity test that speaks to twenty-first century academic and journalistic concerns.  If in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the mainstream in Western music journalism and academia scorned the idea of using Native American music a figure like Arthur Farwell can end up marginal in two different centuries for possibly opposing reasons.  He was marginal in his life for wanting to draw inspiration from Native American music and has been deliberately ignored in the present for having been found guilty of cultural appropriation.

Those composers who ignored Native American music may have been sort of damned for just continuing the "white" traditions of the avant garde (a la Stravinsky or Schoenberg) ,but in our contemporary journalistic climate anyone who was not a person of color who made the mistake of writing and publishing works openly acknowledging a debt of influence to music made by people of color could be even more damned for doing so by being guilty of cultural appropriation. Contemporary music journalists who advocate for composers of color may not entirely realize that this double bind is being imposed on dead composers who can't possibly get out of the double bind that twenty-first century music journalists and academics have imposed upon composers who aren't alive to make a defense.

Farwell's music can be on the losing end no matter which way the tide of journalistic fads may turn while the music journalists and academics themselves have their platforms.  Even in cases where those who have a low regard for Farwell's life and music are people of color they, too, can have a platform if they are working in the current music industry or in musicology in some capacity.  That music journalists can anoint a style like punk as the "in" thing while denigrating progressive rock isn't hard to look up.  A drummer like Neil Peart can end up on the wrong side of music journalism if a band like Rush wasn't The Clash or The Sex Pistols or The Ramones, for instance, but a lot can change in music journalism in forty years.  What apparently doesn't change is how marginal musicians who are in some way symbolically shut out of "serious" by music journalism as an institution tend to remain until the fads of music journalism shift.

Does that mean a lot of Arthur Farwell's music doesn't come across as rather kitsch?  No, there's some music he's written I think is interesting and a decent chunk of it I've heard that comes across as parlor music kitsch because times and aesthetics change.  I'm finding his Polytonal Studies interesting and his Native American pictorial pieces aren't bad but they don't quite stick with me.  That doesn't mean I think Farwell should be thought of strictly in terms of contemporary polemics to the effect that his music shouldn't get a hearing because he was found guilty of cultural appropriation.

With respect to Dvorak's advice that American composers draw inspiration from African American and Native American music the double bind couldn't be more clear, there can be swaths of music journalism and academia in which American composers are damned if they don't draw inspiration from African American and Native American musical styles but, if they're white, they're even more damned if they do.  In an era of the American Dirt controversy simplistic moralizing messages may not be the real problem, the problem seems to be that if you're going to offer a moralizing message in the arts you need to actually be the demographic you aim to present or represent in your art in order to be accepted as legitimate.

Who gets to decide when and whether a composer has or hasn't succeeded on that score?  Critics, more or less.  Although it's possible to argue that Stravinsky and Schoenberg were the most important composers in the West in the twentieth century and have that be true (and Theodor Adorno's Philosophy of New Music may have done a great deal to cement that axiom by way of setting up a polarity in the aesthetics in which Schoenberg and Stravinsky were presented by Adorno as opposed polarities in aesthetics, if not necessarily politics)) it is just as plausible now to argue that the influence of Schoenberg beyond the twentieth century has been marginal at best.

Schoenberg's intra-concert music innovations seemed to invigorate "classsical music" for a while but as various people across the spectrum of traditionalists to radicals have pointed out, what Schoenberg accomplished could be seen as a kind of stop-gap.  Ben Johnston proposed that Schoenberg's stop-gap solution to the apparent "exhaustion" of traditional tonality in the equal-tempered system retained the organicism inherent in the aesthetic commitments of Romantic and post-Romantic compositional technique and theory but that the trouble was that with the advent of serialism atonality played itself out even more swiftly than tonality did.

Of course Schoenberg, unlike a number of his disciples, said after Gershwin's death that George Gershwin was a composer and a musician. Schoenberg also admitted he genuinely liked what people called "light music" made by Americans and went so far as to suggest that perhaps some of the greatest musicians in American culture had already been making great music but would be overlooked by those who could only accept that "great" American music had to come from "serious" quarters.  Schoenberg was also noted for the record saying there was still plenty of music to be written in the key of C major.

Decades ago Theodore Gracyk developed some terms, "ontologically thick" and "ontologically thin" to describe the difference between popular music and concert music in connection to their mediating technologies. The short version is that music created and conveyed through the mechanical/electronic recording process is "ontologically thick", that's to say that creators and fans of this category of music venerate masters and master takes and original release forms but also alternate takes and it matters what the timbres are--it matters if Dave Gilmour was playing a Telecaster or a Stratocaster to obtain a particular electric guitar sound for a particular track.  At the opposite end would be J. S. Bach's Art of Fugue, written in open score form with the four independent melodic lines of a fugue written out note for note but with no indication of dynamics, no indication even of what instrument(s) the work should be played on.  In principle anyone with enough musical literacy in this tradition of score-reading could play the work at a keyboard or as a string quartet or a woodwind quartet or as a four-part chorus.  Art of Fugue might be one of the most archetypal "ontologically thin" works of music in the history of the Western "classical" traditions.

Now to say that Billie Eilish blurs or is beyond genre might be like saying Tori Amos got some formal music training but decided to play her own songs rather than play Debussy.  This is not so unique in the history of music or even the history of music since the birth of the commercial music industries involving printed sheet music and mechanical recording.  May Aufderheide had formal music training but chose to write and publish songs as well as piano rags.  Ragtime has been presented as the musical innovation of African American musicians, which it was ... but ragtime scholars and specialists have also pointed out that it was a music made popular but middle-class white women willing to play the music and who also, lest we forget, were able and willing to write and publish rags themselves.  Not all of that music was of the "classic rag" style, the style that was consciously cultivated by Scott Joplin and the John Stark publishing community of musicians.

As Edward A. Berlin and other ragtime historians have noted, maybe a total of ten percent of all published ragtime was the solo piano literature we've probably been taught was "the" quintessential music of ragtime as a style.  Most of the published music was song, many of those songs less sophisticated in rhythm and melodic content and harmonic content than the classic rags we have received from the likes of Scott Joplin, James Scott and Joseph Lamb.  Those rags can be construed as in the "upper tenth" in terms of technical demands and formal complexity.

Which is another way of saying the ragtime revival of the mid-twentieth century was in a sense the creation of musicians and critics together and as much as I love the classic/classical rags I think it's important to highlight that presenting that body of music as "the" definition of ragtime is a selective and potentially serious misrepresentation of ragtime as a whole.  To read the arguments for and against ragtime as a form of popular song is to learn, bit by bit, that the closest comparable debate to be had about the musical and literary merit of a popular American style in terms of debates about the propriety of stereotypology regarding race and sex would be rap in general and gangster rap more particularly.  Scott Joplin himself was famously dismayed at what he regarded as the ghastly racial caricatures and depictions of violence and sexuality in ragtime as a genre of popular song.  Joplin's piano rags have become classics, and even made it into the classical music canon, which would have been what Joplin wanted.  Joplin's songs and his opera Treemonisha have not cemented a secure place in the concert music canon and it remains to be seen if they will.

Scott Joplin has been one of my musical heroes for decades now and that he sang in vocal quartets and wrote piano music hints at what, though obvious for me, might need to be spelled for readers who aren't already familiar with the scope and ambition of his work.  Translating his aims and means a bit, Scott Joplin's work has lasted as long as it has, even works that have arguably not been successful in achieving their aims, like his opera, because Joplin worked within popular music but wrote music and expressed views that aimed to elevate that popular style.  We live in an era in which concepts of ethnic or racial purity can go in and come from more than one direction.  Joplin's music, as John McWhorter recently put it, could seem like juice and cookies compared to the much hotter sound of jazz that was being born just around the time Scott Joplin died.  Elijah Wald has written about how there is a popular narrative or myth in music journalism and music history which has it that there's a century or centuries long history of white people appropriating sounds that were developed by African diaspora musicians and that while Wald subscribes strongly to this narrative/myth he recognizes that it is, in fact, a narrative or a myth, an etiological account of music but particularly American popular music.

The problem with such an explanatory myth is that it won't do so much to explain the evolution of microtonal experimentalism in what is now the Czech republic a century ago.  It also can't easily account for Toru Takemitsu's work even if Takemitsu told the musical world he drew inspiration from George Russell (yay!) and Olivier Messiaen (also yay!).  If we are told to define African diaspora music only in terms of the music produced and promoted by the American popular music industry then figures like Florence Price or George Walker, let alone non-American Afro-European composers like Samuel Coleridge-Taylor or Joseph Bologne or the Afro-Cuban composer Leo Brouwer will get ignored if, indeed, they are even recognized.

Leo Brouwer has commented on how fusion is not something academics have wanted to take seriously because academics are, by disposition and training, inclined to discuss whatever musical styles will fit into the categories they can teach in classrooms.  As I get older and consider how my musical education and musical life was defined chiefly by a mixture of choral singing and guitar playing that encompassed folk-pop, progressive rock and also classical music I get a sense that there is something about the music industrial network and associated music education regimes that is basically antithetical in practice, regardless of any explicit repudiation of this if directly asked, to the elimination of the boundaries that are colloquially known as "high" and "low" or between what can be called "pop" and "classical".  Partisans in both camps (as if there were merely two but bear with me) are committed to the sacredness of their pop and classical.  A figure like Scott Joplin could be immensely popular while aspiring to create music that joined the classical canon and Joplin died; a century after his death Joplin's work has more or less made it into the classical/concert music canon but in a sense at the expense of having become a kind of forgotten figure in pop music.  Yet Joplin is important because he occupied a liminal role in which his music and his talent and ambition could be recognized across the pop/classical divides that had been evolving within the nascent music industries.

What I find implausible about "beyond genre" and "blurring genre" is that more often than not those claims are made by industry insiders about industry insiders whose work will not be the least bit difficult to categorize within categories like "pop" or "classical" or "new music" or avant garde or, whatever label you pick, the label can still fit.  Billie Eilish may or may not be Bjork for a new generation of music consumers and music journalists.  We'll just have to see but that I can make such a comparison should convey what I'm trying to say, that however much Duke Ellington extolled the value of music "beyond category" the reality has been and likely always will be that there will always be a category for music and music will be judged on the basis of categories.  To say that a musical work is beyond category could, however, mean that it can be appreciated beyond one kind of category which is what I take people mean when they invoke "beyond category".  Ellington wrote music in a popular style that he hoped could be appreciated beyond that simple category, he was writing music that clearly worked as popular music that he also wanted people to be able to hear as art.

By now I hope you've gotten a hunch, if you haven't worked out already, that a number of my musical heroes have been composers whose work deliberately blurred the boundaries between "pop" and "classical".  I admit to some skepticism about concerns by industry insiders about cultural appropriation not so much because I think that the worst infractions of cultural appropriation as they get described are praiseworthy, I'm skeptical about allegations that a George Gershwin in pop or an Arthur Farwell in concert music was guilty of cultural appropriation because the charges seem to be made with an implicit narrative or myth of racial purity at their base.  White guys shouldn't be stealing music from people of color.

The problem is that, after having read Wagner's anti-semitic rants, I find it awkward and even just plain morally objectionable to attempt to define authenticity in music based on categories that say this or that music is sufficiently purely "white" or "black" to be "real", much like I find it hard to take seriously allegations that Mendelssohn was light or frivolous as a composer having read Wagner's rants about Jews and their not being able to capture the soul of real authentic music of the Volk.  I find it troubling that within an American context any music journalists, music historians and music educators could simply flip the script of Wagner's rant on Jews and German soulful music, substitute black and white or white and black, and then run with that script as though it were different in style and substance.  If the goal of liberals and of contemporary Western liberalism is to work toward a more truly integrated society then judging music on the basis of race mythologies, whether the myth of pure black or pure white music, is inimical to the pursuit of those goals.

By contrast, I suggest that making a mission of obliterating the formal and conceptual categories and boundaries that have been used to differentiate between "high" and "low" music, between the broad categories known as "pop" and "classical" and doing so in a way that maintains the formal and gestural-linear developmental scripts of the concert music idioms while applying them to the vocabulary of vernacular or popular styles is relatively easy to do.  Think of it as socialist realism in which "folk" is replaced with any popular musical idiom of your choice--rap, country, jazz, blues, ragtime, Polish folk song, Serbian folk song, Han melodies and so on.  Or you could think of it as making a case that essentialist tropes about "inherent tendencies of the material" that emerged in music pedagogy are just wrong.  As George Rochberg put it, we are not the slaves of history, we can decide what future we want to pursue.  Another way Rochberg put it is objecting that to say that there is any "inherent tendency to the musical materials" is to deny that musicians can make choices, that we can make artistic decisions.

It is not coincidental that much of the most memorable popular musical styles were developed and refined by African American musicians and this in both the North and South American continents.  I recognize some may disagree but I think that working to bridge the boundaries between popular song forms and the large-scale developmental processes associated with the forms developed in the eighteenth century practice (as distinct, perhaps even very distinct, from the norms of those forms as described by nineteenth century Western music pedagogy) is a productive path forward.  I admire a lot of what has gone on in microtonal composition from composers like Ben Johnston and Alois Haba and Kyle Gann, for instance, but I'm committed to playing an instrument, the six-stringed guitar, that is still mostly fixed to equal temperament at a mainstream level.  I don't have the budget to go in for microtonal fingerboards.

On the other hand, you've probably worked out that my interest has been in working within equal temperament to melt down the boundaries that have been erected by a century or two of music pedagogy and music history set up not just by classical fans but by jazz and pop and blues and country fans--I'm suggesting that we consider the possibility that for generations of musicians a vision of an integrated musical world has been held back by systemic racism perpetuated within and by the music industries themselves, not just the classical music purists who want only the proverbial Beethoven but the blues purists who want their Robert Johnson as if he couldn't have played showtunes from Broadway productions.

So, anyway, some thoughts on music and aesthetics and music history for the weekend, such as they are.


As I've been thinking about these kinds of musical issues for decades, basically since I was in college, I'm thinking about something Adorno said about the reactionary criticisms of modern music and how they should not be dismissed out of hand for they can point to real aesthetic problems.  I've thought about this particularly since the death of Roger Scruton and have skimmed through some of the boilerplate written about him by liberals, progressives and conservatives.  Adorno's comment that a generally liberal stance will be insufficient to the problems of composition can be translated a bit--the trouble I sometimes have with the liberal who wants a more just and musically integrated soundworld in which the music of white and black musicians can be received and loved as an integrated whole is not the goal itself.  I am all in favor of having Haydn and Stevie Wonder co-existing in a musical canon because for me they already do. 

My concern, which I came to discover was in some ways anticipated by Adorno's criticism of new music and generic liberal defenses of new music, is that liberals can be so committed to whatever ideological or rhetorical flourishes they feel need to be made they commit to that process without really getting to the practical musical problems that would have to be solved in order to get us there and the practical musical problems that would have to be solved in order to get us there involve reams of formal analysis, music history, historiography and consideration of how the problems of segregating sounds were devised and implemented by the music industries and educational establishments.

In other words, the professionals created these problems and we're supposed to take their word for it that they will solve the problems that their ancestors created.  When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees one of the things he said was that they told themselves they would not have done what their forefathers did to the prophets thereby confessing they were the descendants of those people who tortured and rejected the prophets.  In this analogy the Pharisees are those musical academics and journalists and pundits across the whole range of spectrums who have functionally been committed more to the idea of stylistic or ethnic purity than to solving any of the problems of integrating musical idioms and cultures.  This could be a fan of Schubert who praises Schubert's willingness to bend or break the musical conventions of the eighteenth century who then turns around and laments that music today is just so bad.  Well, sure, a lot of it is bad but I don't even really necessarily like Schubert.  This could also be someone who feels obliged to knock The Monkees compared to The Beatles because the former were a pre-fab boy band capitalizing on the popularity of the latter.  Sure, but The Monkees had some okay pop songs. 

The veneration or rejection of the Romantic era artist-prophet-seer-visionary trope seems to be at the core of a lot of fore and against.  I respect that there are musicologists who are openly attacking the Romantic legacy and what they regard as the negative effects of the post-Idealist project in music theory, pedagogy and analysis.  On the other hand, I am frustrated that in the process of attempting to shake off a centuries old symphonic tradition that feels stifling people aren't just doing what a Berlioz did or anyone in the eighteenth century who said "out with the old to make room for the new already"--instead we get the plea wrapped inside master narratives of colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy and things like that.  Did the European colonial powers do terrible things to the rest of the world?  Absolutely, but I don't want the slavery systems of the Native American tribes to come back and I don't want the African slave trades to the European powers or to India to get revived (assuming all of these slave trades have actually been eliminated, which is an entirely different matter). 

The trouble, to put it more sharply, is that Americans who are part of an empire that has the weaponry to render the entire planet uninhabitable are going on about the repressive and oppressive legacy of dead white males when the executive, regardless of skin color, has the option of using a drone strike to take out anyone anywhere almost the world over on the basis of U.S. policy decisions.  That's a level of power that was inconceivable to even the most terrible despots of the last two centuries. 

I think about this more as I get older since my dad was Native American and my mom's white but musicology and music writers may have to reach a moment where they decide whether what they want to promote and pursue is musical integration as symbolic of racial integration and reconciliation or whether what they want to promote is what has been promoted over the last century of commercial music, a range of essentialist stereotypes in which blacks are blacks and hicks are hicks and Asians are Asians and never shall any of these borrow from the other musical cultures because that won't sell units.  I can appreciate what people want to attain by highlighting the problems of cultural appropriation but I remain unconvinced that policing the means of production is going to give artists more freedom to experiment toward the end of a more integrated national soundscape. 

I also believe that if there were a more concerted effort to bridge the frequently industry-imposed barriers between "pop" and "classical" or "pop" and "jazz" or "jazz" and "classical" and so on that the collaborations that could be possible could ameliorate elements that have been identified as cultural appropriation in some contexts.  As someone who's not a professional musician who has been reading about music and making music for decades I've started to wonder whether the music industries (including education) are fully aware of the double bind that resides within the push-pull of wanting a more integrated and racially conscious musical canon (because that's what people want even if they can't concede the point in the process of rejecting canonism) but also wanting to be able to explicate music in terms of essentially racial paradigms. 

A century from now the canon of Anglo-American pop could be seen as no less emblematic of an Atlanticist American-European hegemony than what some musicologists regard as the hegemonic influence of a post-Schenkerian German musical canon.  That Heinrich Schenker's efforts to build a pre-Wagnerian German canon might, as Nicholas Cook has proposed, have been an effort to develop a canon of German music that pre-dated explicitly cultural anti-Semitism can be lost on American writers.  That doesn't mean we have to stop ignoring Schenker but I'm suggesting it's possible to try to be fair to what Schenker thought he was doing based on his work on scholarly interaction with that work rather than on a stereotyped American reaction to an Americanized conception of Schenker's work.  But I digress ... and this is pretty long for a postscript.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

a question for people on the internet about May Aufderheide, has anyone ever attempted to record her complete works?

It's been on my mind since the centennial of the death of Scott Joplin that we have several good box sets of the complete piano music of Scott Joplin and a couple of recordings of Treemonisha and even recordings of his songs.  A comparable set of recordings of the complete rags and waltz of James Scott and Joseph Lamb have been done by Guido Nielson but it's gotten me thinking, has anyone don a comparable complete works recording of May Aufderheide?

For those who don't already know, Aufderheide was probably the best known and most successful woman composing in the ragtime style.  The ragtime revival ensured the classical piano rags of the Joplin school got attention (and it's attention they deserve since Joplin and the Joplin school have been musical heroes of mine for decades), but ragtime was more a genre of popular song than concert rags in the Joplin school and even among instrumental or piano rag there were contributions by a variety of women as well as the usually recognized men.