Or why it's 1800 all over again
That's not a blog post, Ted, that's the outline of a manifesto. I'm in. Do holler if you can use an expert propagandist. (I have to laugh: "Frankly, the subject deserves a book. But I doubt that I’m ready to take on that workload." You're uniquely positioned and know it.)
I’ve joked that I keep expecting teenagers to go faux-Amish as rebellion against the algorithms. This revolution will not be TikToked.
I think your own inner Romantic may be coloring, in a bit too rosy a light, your view of Romanticism—and the present moment. What we are living through now is not just the triumph of Enlightenment rationality, a sort of ultra-modern, computerized version of Blake’s satanic mills, but its unholy alliance WITH Romanticism (i.e. Modernism). Isaiah Berlin argued that the heart of Romanticism is the belief in the primacy of the self and its power to construct reality. What is the Internet but an apotheosis of science and technology serving a culture of narcissism, an infinite field of metallic poppies where each of our individualities can frolic in the joy of being its own brand? We’ve already got plenty of Romantics—a world-wide digital population of 5.3 billion. I shudder to think what will happen when those 5.3 billion users encounter, without the aid of Beethoven’s gift, the inner darkness out of which Ludwig could compose.
A similar line of thinking... The Master and His Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, Ian McGilchrist
I heartily agree, but I'm biased as someone who fell in love with the Romanticism in college. I also agree with David George Moore's quote from Lundin. The juxtaposition of Enlightenment rationality vs. Romantic intuition is spot-on. As is the assertion that faith in the self (one could say a kind of idolatry) is intrinsic to Romanticism--which is also its greatest flaw. Thank you for this essay... I have been thinking less eloquently along the same lines recently.
The neo-Romanticism movement of which you speak has already happened, in the late 60’s. The similarities are eerie: the idolatry of nature, the clothing, and most of all the music. It’s almost too obvious. What underpinnings did it have? Access to cheap education and housing. Those things don’t exist any more.
The young people now confront a system of enormous pressures to eke out a bare livelihood, much less success. Every pathway to a better life is blocked by exorbitant cost and financial hazard. Abusiveness and uncertainty lie around every corner. Mere housing is largely out of reach. Older generations hold most economic power and sneer at those who don’t.
The last wave of Romanticism existed because a fortunate generation had room to turn around. That room doesn’t exist anymore. The stakes are much higher now. I’m not optimistic.
"What’s my goal? I’m still not entirely sure."
I think that's how a lot of us are feeling right now. We are being pulled by something that is impossible to articulate or explain.
Is that what Beethoven felt?
I feel vindicated that Country Music, which has gone to Pop, is now split by “ Americana” at the Grammy’s. Americana= Woody Guthrie, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Cash, Kristofferson , Brandi Carlile and more every day..🎼🎶🎻🪕🌻
Provocative reflection from the late literary critic, Roger Lundin, in his seminal book, The Culture of Interpretation:
In the Enlightenment, to be sure, faith was centered upon rationality as the instrument of power, while in romanticism it was the intuition or imagination that promised to deliver humans from their bondage to ignorance and injustice. But the adherents of the Enlightenment and romanticism were more united by their unshakeable faith in the self than they were divided by their disagreements about the mechanism through which that self did its work.
I found this article riveting. It makes me sad how music is going with the songwriting by committee, autotune everywhere and any singular artistic vision being lost. Hopefully at some point there is a reaction against this.
I have little use for romanticism, as I have little use for luxury beliefs. But I would not say that art today is rationalist so much as pragmatic - can I make a buck off of it, how fast and what is the anticipated ROI?
This is in large part because there is more geedus to be made than in years gone by.
For the enemy of love is not hate but indifference.
There’s an old academic wheeze about Shakespeare: that he wrote the comedies for people who think and the tragedies for people who feel. Oversimplification often misleads but sometimes illuminates. Humans feel and think. We intuit and mull logically. All of our faculties have flaws. Ages of men routinely overdo one thing or another. Whether we calculate too much and feel too little or vice versa, it seems we always must redirect our focus eventually. Best would be balancing both, but likely we would find a way to overdo that too. It’s always interesting to read what you’re thinking. Thanks.
Fascinating stuff. I agree with what Rex wrote three hours earlier. This is the prelim for what should be a mind-blowing book.
All I can contribute is that I went to a movie with my dad featuring Artur Rubinstein at a young age and fell in love with the snippets of Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto. A few years later it would be my workhorse, played it with an orchestra before my bar-mitzvah. Would be awhile before I studied the history more, and I've always said since that you can't really tell that Beethoven's first two weren't really just Mozartian. Standing on the shoulders of giants that came before. But the 3rd is radically different. Never mind what would happen with the 4th and 5th. I'm not that familiar with the sonatas, I played the "name" ones like the Pathetique and the Appassionata, and of course the Moonlight. I could have been a concert pianist, my cousins are Gil and Orly Shaham and my dad was a certified genius, I just wasn't interested. Rock and jazz were more to my liking, and when I auditioned for the best teacher in Detroit who told me I'd have to practice 5 hours a day I said nope no thanks. My mom would stop pestering me after I played for 45 minutes. Nobody could figure out how I was playing piano concertos with so little practice. I liked sports, girls, movies, TV, and smoking weed. Years later I bought a grand piano and practiced 4 hours a day because I WANTED to, and I mean 3 hours of Hanon, every scale and arpeggio in all 12 keys before I'd even start playing. Someone asked me if I meditated and I laughed and said sitting at the piano for 3 hours straight playing a million notes (I forget the number but I once did a napkin calculation) up and down with hardly a mistake, in a perfect place between intense focus and supreme relaxation- that's got to count for something? At that point compared to working 100 hours a week as a surgery resident I was like how the fuck did I ever think that 5 hours a day was insufferable? Because I was a normal 14 year old kid. Now between guitar and piano 5 hours is a typical day.
Anyway sorry for the rambling, I am going to make it point to listen to those Beethoven sonatas. I mostly played what my dad wanted me to, he had a thousand classical albums and an encyclopedic knowledge could recognize stuff on the classical radio station within 5 notes, 30 seconds later he'd name the orchestra and conductor and soloist. The announcer would confirm he was almost always correct when the piece ended. But for my playing he really emphasized the "name" pieces. Perhaps that's a shame, maybe the teachers I had were more comfortable with that stuff. But Ted's tease here is definite book material.
See also Mary Harrington's essay in UnHerd: https://unherd.com/2023/11/why-the-fairies-disappeared/
Ted, I think you are sounding out the zeitgeist here!
Heck, I am advocating for a return to writing postal letters in cursive, with a fountain pen! There is no other way. Who needs more? This will enable a return to thinking, and thinking of others.
"I still find it hard to grasp how his music advanced more radically after the onset of deafness. There must be a lesson in that." maybe since you can't listen to the outer world, the only way is inward?