Monday, December 15, 2008

"Music of the Gods?" A Rebuttal: Part I

Part One of Four: Introduction
I would like to address a certain essay entitled "Music of the Gods" by Lindsay Perigo, who runs an Objectivist website called SOLO: Sense of Life Objectivists. I said I'd like to address it, but really, it is out of necessity, as an example of how NOT to address the challenge posed by Ayn Rand regarding music (or any challenge in general!).

The essay, on its own, deserves no serious attention, academically or morally, as Mr. Perigo is on record as saying
Objectivists must affirm the superiority of Romantic Music. Those who don't get it - most Objectivists, it would seem - should simply shut the fuck up, while they enlighten themselves, and stop pretending to be at the vanguard of some cultural revolution when they are musically clueless and part of what should be revolted against.

I would be content to let this piece slip into oblivion. But I, like Ayn Rand believed that " When one pronounces moral judgment, whether in praise or in blame, one must be prepared to answer “Why?” and to prove one’s case—to oneself and to any rational inquirer." When one sets himself up as a "leader," as Mr. Perigo has, and backs up his claims with intimidation, we should all stand up and ask "why." "Music of the Gods" is Mr. Perigo's claim that music of the Romantic composers is superior to other styles of music, particularly what he calls "headbanging caterwauling." He goes on to claim the moral superiority as well. He is not the first to make this claim, nor, I doubt, the last. And I am not one, personally, to shy away from making judgments, when necessary; and as composers, the Romantics were truly accomplished; technically, there is a very strong case that they were “the greatest” up to now. But in the case of morality? Well, we know that Rand wrote, "Judge, and prepare to be judged." However, she also wrote that " to pronounce moral judgment is an enormous responsibility," and that "The opposite of moral neutrality is not a blind, arbitrary, self-righteous condemnation of any idea, action or person that does not fit one’s mood, one’s memorized slogans or one’s snap judgment of the moment." That said, I offer my rebuttal as a "charitable refutation," since I believe that Perigo has not, despite his protests, proved his case, nor earned the right to issue statements of his kind without escaping scrutiny for his claims.
Perigo starts this essay with a quote from Rand, who he elsewhere calls a "musical ignoramus." So why even bother with the woman's views on music, then? Well, the crux of the argument is this: Rand personally indulged in musical judgments, while in her essay "Art and Cognition," she claims that "No one...can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it's every man for himself–and only for himself." Ignoring her call to responsibility in making judgments, he considers Rand an "ignoramus" because she REFUSES to go beyond her personal opinion to bash others without more proof, something Perigo is not so shy about doing. Rather, he states from the start that he does not intend a formal study:
I should say that the reason this essay has taken a while is that it was becoming an academic-style treatise on Romanticism in music. Well, the Internet is replete with such treatises, by people better qualified than I. All I ever intended was an informed layman’s polemic against The Age of Crap as manifest in music, and against the idea that music is somehow exempt from the standard, healthy Objectivist strictures against cultural relativism. Realising I had departed from my brief, I had to start over to get back on course.
So Perigo admits that he has no intention to for an in-depth look at Romanticism in music, that others are better qualified. Fair enough. He says all he really intended was to popularize the idea that Romanticism is better than the music he calls caterwauling. One has to ask, then, which, or whose, ideas are he popularizing? To which academic works does he refer? Since none are listed, I have to limit the scope of his article to his references to The Romantic Manifesto.
So from there, to get “back on course,” Perigo promises to “cut to the chase.”

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