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Subject: Alex Ross and His 'Vacuous Ideological Stance'
From: Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 26 Feb 2017 16:17:23 -0500

text/plain (104 lines)

I agree with Bryan Townsend below.

Alex Ross sets up a premise or a claim and then argues against it by
pointing its ties to a distant unenlightened past, a past that embraced
male domination in society. His claim is ridiculous and his leaps in logic
require strong faith in being utterly politically correct.... I would
certainly agree that this part is at the very least impossibly glib.

>"The best of the present diverges from the past"


Before we let Alex Ross' piece
<> on
Kate Soper's "philosophy-opera" drift away in our rear-view mirror, let's
have a look at the genuflecting paragraph that he opens with:

>"There is a good argument to be made for retiring the words “genius” and
“masterpiece” from critical discourse. They are artifacts of the Romantic
religion of art, implying a superior race of demigods who loom above
ordinary life. Such terms are rooted in the cult of the male artist—the
dishevelled Beethovenian loner who conquers an indifferent world. Above
all, these words place an impossible burden on contemporary artists, whose
creations are so often found wanting when compared with the masterpieces of
the past—not because the talent pool has somehow evaporated but because the
best of the present diverges from the past. In a decentered global culture,
a few great men can no longer dominate the conversation."

This is a kind of stylistic quirk that might be fun to deconstruct. Mind
you, I have my little quirks too, among which is my liking to start off in
a place very different from my main theme. Don't know what we should call
that: the "finessed open" maybe? But Alex Ross' gesture is a rather
familiar one that has sometimes been called "virtue signaling." In a social
environment where certain ideas are thought to be self-evident, but about
which there still seems to be, mysteriously, a controversy, virtue
signaling is simply a kind of shibboleth indicating to your fellow
travelers that you are on their side, one of the good guys. So let's unpack
Mr. Ross' opening gambit and see what lies therein.

The implicit claim is that what we are reading is in fact "critical
discourse" which, these days at least, prefers to eschew the terms "genius"
and "masterpiece". Yes, they were terms that came into currency in the late
18th century and were used frequently during the 19th and part of the 20th
century. My feeling about them is not that they imply a "superior race of
demigods"  --  please!  --  but that this was part of the changing nature
and function of the fine arts as they came more and more to fulfill a role
in the identity of the middle class and less and less were just an ornament
to the aristocracy. In the *ancien regime*, the important person was the
patron, the nobleman, who commissioned the work. If the work was truly
masterful, as so many of them were, then this just redounded to the glory
of the patron, as it should. But as the middle class began more and more to
be the widely diffused patrons of art, the idea of the genius of the
creator became a crucial selling point and hence a central theme of
aesthetics. This "superior race of demigods" phrase is just a clumsy way of
sneering at the people who wrote masterpieces in the 19th century and as
such is hardly "critical discourse" but mere regurgitation of an
ideological talking point.

Dragging in the misandrist "male artist" smear is just more of the same.
Poor Beethoven, who has to bear the responsibility for so much historic
badness! Sadly, the creations of contemporary artists *ARE *so often found
wanting in exactly the same way that the creations of most of the composers
contemporary with Bach and Beethoven are found wanting compared to theirs.
No news there.

Now what could Ross possibly mean by "the best of the present diverges from
the past?"

All I can deduce from that is that what someone like Steve Reich (or, sure,
Kate Soper) is doing is different from what Bach or Beethoven were doing.
Yeah, sure, ok. I kinda knew that already.

For his final genuflection, Mr. Ross tosses in a couple of standard
ideological planks: "decentered global culture" which likely means little
more than culture these days is no longer centered on Paris and New York
(and isn't that an ironic observation by the music critic for the New
Yorker?) and one last weak uppercut to the chin of "a few great men".

If I were unkind, and I am, I would characterize this typical example of
Ross' prose as semi-clever smoke and mirrors concealing a rather vacuous
ideological stance.

Doesn't anyone else ever notice this?


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