Monday, December 15, 2008

"Music of the Gods?" Part IV: Inferior Music and Philosophy

As if anticipating this criticism of using technical criteria to define Romanticism in music, Perigo continues:

Now at this point someone might object: “All this is very well, but you’re over-emphasizing the technical and structural aspects of the compositions and glossing over the business of one’s emotional response to them. After all, headbangers can be complex and clever too. And the fact is, whether you approve or not, Slayer hits my emotional spot and Rach doesn’t. End of story...And of course, it is the end of the story if you want it to be, if you’re content with that. Let’s just not continue to tout the relativist fiction that all music is created equal. And let’s see what can be observed about the emotional response, since the objector is quite right: that is the whole point of the exercise, and music, like no other art form, gets to the point straight away.

The problem is that Perigo seems to have forgotten already that he has cut the Gordian Knot, that there is no need to explain HOW music makes us feel emotions, let alone why some people respond to some music and not others. Or, rather, he hasn't forgotten, which is why the next several paragraphs are dedicated to an exchange with a fan of the band Slayer, as they discuss the different musical "highs" that one gets from music in relation to their respective philosophies. Here, Perigo relies on the implications of Rand's essay "Art and Sense of Life". All well and good to connect one's musical tastes with philosophy, only that we STILL don't get a clear sense from Perigo WHY certain music connects with that philosophy, beyond an implication of "ugly" music equates with "ugly" philosophy. But this contradicts what Perigo says earlier in regard to the achievement of the Romantics: "Music was not just happy or sad; it could be wildly joyous, terrified, despairing, or filled with deep longings.”

Well, just as in music, so in life. People can experience a wide range of emotions, and emotions are not wrong as emotions. It then follows that music that depicts a range of emotions cannot said to be wrong, either (Rand would probably qualify that with a "so long as the listener can integrate it.) Perigo might claim that the "fans" of "headbanging caterwaulers" like Slayer experience only a few emotions, such as anger, fear, and terror...but again, as I stated earlier, he is confusing cultural judgments with musical judgments, and reifying the context of that musical example as the ONLY context. That would be as silly as condemning the "Russian International" musically because it was sung to Communist lyrics, and that would make Ayn Rand guilty of being having a "Soviet" sense of life, given her description of the piece via the character Kira in We the Living. Perigo has not addressed issues of tonality, instrumentation...he does not address which scales are used. If we were to limit ourselves to the example of Slayer, it would be indictment enough. But Perigo is on record dismissing other kinds of music as "headbanging caterwauling" that do NOT fit the label as usually defined, calling his criteria, and his judgment, into question.

Regarding Slayer and sense of life, an assessment of their music/philosophy and intent is beyond the scope of this subject, but there is no denying the "darkness" involved, or the controversy they generate. But something has to be said in light of Perigo's claim that "Slayer, whose headbanging has included “songs” sympathetic to the 9/11 terrorists and Joseph Mengele, are destroyers. And all other headbangers." First, as mentioned before, Perigo has lumped into the "headbanger" category other musicians who don't fit the genre as usually accepted, so without a clear definition of what he means by this, it has to be thrown out as useless at best...But regarding the band and the Mengele claim: while they DO have a song about Mengele, "Angel of Death," the band insists that the song is NOT sympathetic, nor do they condone Nazism. The band may be criticized for ambiguity, and have claimed other songs are presented "tongue-in-cheek" (such as the song "Guilty of Being White.") But it has to be said that Perigo himself is often accused of similar "thought crimes" and promoting anti-PC humor while condemning the critics of his behavior and language in such colorful terms that could be the verbal equivalent of "headbanger caterwauling." So besides the erroneous rush-to-judgment of Slayer's intent regarding Mengele, there is a touch of hypocrisy as well. Even if he were 100 percent correct in the case of Slayer, it is hypocritical for him to make the accusation across the board to unnamed bands while holding his own "salty" words above reproach. Still, it has to be said that there is a significant philosophical difference between Slayer and Perigo/Objectivism, but the case remains that Perigo's own language could accompany a "headbanger" song, but that doesn't mean that the "language" or the tone itself is indicative of the full context. Perigo uses such language not to create, but to "destroy" his philosophical enemies. Yet it would be unfair to extend to him the epitaph of "destroyer" in light of the virtues he extols elsewhere; let it not be said that Perigo doesn't defend his values passionately. But similarly, it does not mean that all people who use a dulcet speaking tone are creators, either.

Perigo's Conclusion

Perigo goes on for several paragraphs reiterating his opinions of "nihilist" music and likening certain music to terrorism before the true conclusion, which reveals his true intent:

...it is, as I often say, the Age of Crap. I want SOLO to wage an intellectual war on it every bit as relentless as the physical War on Terrorism.” That war should include the unabashed proclamation of Romantic music’s objective superiority.

To end the piece, he reiterates what Romantic music is:

Romantic music is composed and performed by the heroes in our midst. It speaks and appeals to the best within us. It awakens our capacity for rapture. It is appreciated and adored by the passionately enlightened. It is inspired by and inspires the most intensely life-affirming value-swoons possible to man. If the expression, "total passion for the total height" means anything, it finds that meaning in Romantic music. In terms of what went into it and what can be taken out of it, Romantic music is simply the best. And that's a fact.

What Perigo has done there is quite devious, and especially unacceptable from an Objectivist. After pretending to present “objective” evidence for the superiority of Romantic music (while claiming, at the same time, that no evidence is necessary), he has set up music that HE likes as Romantic, and by criterion-less criteria, excluded the possibility of music that he DOESN’T like as being included in the category of Romantic. And if anyone disagrees with him, or argues otherwise, there is no appeal to objectivity, as there is no basis for proof beyond what he “feels” is the correct music, and they should simply “shut the fuck up.” This is in spite of his disclaimers that he is not for censorship, that he would not be a "Plato" and advocate for the state to ban certain scales, or regulate bands like Slayer (despite his claims in the introduction that he is "assaulted" in public places by such music; further investigation reveals that public places included his gym, the mall, all private places that he can choose not to patronize. And I've yet to find a mall that blares Slayer...). He is not permitted to do so under Objectivist terms. But his arguments give are a workaround for such an action; if he can't ban music he doesn't like, or rationally assert the superiority of his choice, he can try to claim a moral superiority with an argument not unlike that of religionists who claim that homosexuality is a sin despite objective evidence.

My Conclusion:

Perigo has set up a straw man argument to support his cause. IF he is right in his assessment, he will not have earned the right to claim to have proved it. If he is right in his "crusade" against harmful philosophies and cultural trends, he himself is guilty of extending that crusade beyond its proper bounds into a solipsistic insistence that he is qualified to speak on personal matters of others regarding their musical choices by equating certain verifiably horrible things, such as Nazism and terrorism, to an appreciation of music he doesn't like. He has not made any actual, verifiable claims regarding the nature of the musical experience, and cannot, since he's dismissed the need to do so. His mentor, Ayn Rand, failed to give him an easy answer in which to assert his musical moral superiority, so he has cut her off in order to make baseless claims. I claim that Perigo's method is not in the interest of an honest answer. An honest answer would require one to start with by examining the facts of reality, not with a biased expectation. Perigo, in his cutting of the "Gordian Knot," has indeed started out to justify not what is right, but what is right BY HIM. And with his exhortation that "those who don't get it" should "shut the fuck up," Perigo has forfeited any expectation of any serious consideration of his ideas.

And that's a fact.

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