23 may. 2011

Bill Knott on Music

Spectacularly stupid quote from Bill Knott about music:
I don't like music; I try to listen to as little of it as possible. Anybody who reads poetry can see the ubiquitous self-doubts poets evince regarding the validity/value of their art. Compare that to the eternally smug self-satisfied attitudes exhibited by the advocates and practitioners of music. They take it for granted that music is the highest art, the universal art, the only art that transcends all borders and babels. They never question that given assumption. The arrogance of composers and musicians is insufferable. They really believe Pater's dictum that all the other arts are inferior, that all the other arts "aspire towards the condition of music." But every military that ever marched out to murder rape and destroy was led by what art: were those armies fronted by poets extemporizing verse -- by sculptors squeezing clay -- by painters wielding brushes -- actors posing soliloquies? No, the art that led those killers forth, the art whose urgent strident rhythms stirred and spurred their corresponding bloodlust, was the art to which they felt closest, the art that mirrored their evil egos. That's why they have always put music up there at the vanguard of their war-ranks, because not only is it the emblem, the fore-thrust insignia of their purpose, it is their purpose: it is the condition to which they aspire.

I promised myself I would not go to war (so to speak) against people like this, but this is just too much. I realize poets are not always intellectuals, but a critical-thinking failure this gross call out for correction. To use the existence of military bands as an objection to all music is just beyond the pale. (And I guess he has never heard of patriotic poetry or statues of generals!) Music pretty accompanies a wide range of human activities from mating rituals to religious rites, work, and recreation.

Foe obvious reasons, poets who don't have a deep appreciation for music are barely even poets. If you don't like music yourself, that's fine, but normally you would see that as a flaw in yourself, not a sign of the deep arrogance of musicians.

13 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

Is the claim that musicians think music is the highest art even true? I think he falls at that first hurdle.

Jonathan dijo...

Probably not. But what if they are devoted to their art? Aren't poets too? I've never doubted the value of poetry for a single second. Don't painters think painting is the greatest thing ever? Don't show people love the show?

Vance Maverick dijo...

Sure -- I was thinking how music is generally subservient to narrative in mixed forms like opera and the movies. (There are exceptions, but they pretty much prove the rule. And composers have said as much.)

But as you say, it's amusing that he would seem to claim the impossibility of an epic celebrating a long but ultimately successful military siege, lovingly deifying the principal combatants.

scott g.f.bailey dijo...

Bill Knott on Bill Knott: "Listen: the important poets of my generation have been singled out and recognized and honored, and obviously I’m not among them."

Clarissa dijo...

Poetry has actually been used a lot by murderous dictatorships. There were many poets (admittedly, not extremely talented) who extolled the virtues of the GULAG and called people to inform on their neighbors and relatives.

If we start condemning art forms for the horrible uses people have put them to, we will remain with no art at all.

Is it possible he was just trying to be facetious?

Joseph Hutchison dijo...

Knott has made numerous comments against music. I think he is being genuine. We can bluster about it, but it's worth considering. (a) Yes, poetry and all the other arts have been mustered into the service of oppression, but only music leads the charge; the other arts are retrospective. I'm sure there's an exception that proves the rule—an army energized for battle not by drums and fifes and trumpets but by intoning poets—but I haven't heard of it. For me this is not an indictment of music per se but of bad music put to bad uses. Also, isn't it Cervantes who blames all manner of evil on bad literature? And yet his views don't seem to cause apoplexy. (2) Knott is a major poet who considers himself a failure. This heightens his irascibility. I Ching says: No Blame. (c) On the notion that music is "subservient," I would challenge some arts researcher to compare the average annual income of professional musicians to the average annual income of professional poets—excepting income from pursuits like teaching. Let's see who's really subservient.

All that said, I love all kinds of music and so have to disagree with Knott. Most poets, like most artists, entertain all kinds of weird ideas (I've heard there are those who believe an ancient Jewish carpenter died and came back from the dead). It does not make them bad poets, or anti-intellectuals, or cranks—though as influential a poet as Pound was all three at one time or another. My point being that Knott needs to be judged on the basis of his poetry, not his opinions on art, politics, cooking, or anything else.

Jonathan dijo...

The "romances" of the Spanish civil war. Poems written to inspire the troops to do battle. Some great poets wrote them.

But that's a silly argument to even engage in. Which art form has been abused in the worst ways over the years? That hardly merits a response. Cervantes, a soldier, thought that arms was a more noble profession than letters. Making that an index of the inherent violence of literature would be profoundly ridiculous. Human art forms have always been connected to a wide range of other human activities, so particular examples of that sort do not really prove anything at all. I could say that painting is tied to vandalism. After all, the graffiti artists who vandalize our cities do not use music, marble, or poetry, but PAINT!

The quality of Knott's reasoning is certainly an issue if he consents to be interviewed. If he is a major poet he should treat himself like one and not embarrass himself. He has a responsibility to his own talent.

Joseph Hutchison dijo...

I agree that Knott's reasoning is an issue. But you seem to want him to be more than a poet. To be an intellectual—which in your terms means to conform. "No embarrassingly silly ideas, please! You are a 'major poet'...." Blake conversed with spirits. Luckily, he didn't have a blog, or he would have been completely dismissed. Oh, wait...—

Thanks for the info on the Spanish civil war romances. Learning all the time!

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, we forgive more from a genius. Since I don't see Knott in those terms, I am harder on him.

John dijo...

Music is . . . basically my religion, and I love Knott's comment. I also happen to love war music (among many other forms and usages).

Probably apocryphal: The classical Indian musician who thought all Western music was war music (because of the insistence and simplicity of the meter).

Over-generalizations, but not without truth: music leads the charge into battle, and musicians do blather about the "universal language".

The leap from "battle music exists" to "all music is battle music" -- well, them's fighting words! Dig it! But even there, there's some truth -- the aggression of sound, the aggression of identity-formation-through-musical-taste (books have been written on the subject -- by intellectual music lovers!) . . . yes, Knott's a crank and a provocateur, but I find this to be one entertaining and even fruitful provocation.

Religions should be able to stand some mockery. I'm tempted to set Knott's rant to music! Where did you find it, Jonathan?

(p.s. In case I'm inadvertently logged in under my wife's name, this is semi-regular commenter John.)

(p.p.s. Great song by Bernstein: "I Hate Music." Definitive recording by Barbra Streisand, believe it or not.)

(p.p.p.s. Great song -- a different one -- and not as great as Bernstein's but still great -- by punk-pop band the Replacements: "I Hate Music.")

John dijo...

p.p.p.p.s. I understand the resentment against Pater's comment, which does get repeated too often, and which I don't particularly like, though I love Pater.

Vance Maverick dijo...

It's here.

John dijo...

In the cold light of morning, I no longer love Knott's comment. I remain sympathetic to the annoyance at Pater, and his extended blog post raises many interesting points, the most interesting, perhaps, being that we shall no longer have music when we are no longer human; he also says that he does not intend his hyperbole (his word for his rant) to be taken entirely seriously. Thanks for the link, Vance.

Pater's line is so absurd. Painting and sculpture do not aspire to the condition of music -- certainly not universally -- and sometimes music seems to aspire to the condition of sculpture (Varèse?).

Knott's hate is a form of respect -- an admission of music's power.

Thanks again.