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Subject: Re: Alex Ross and His 'Vacuous Ideological Stance'
From: London Tier <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:London Tier <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 26 Feb 2017 15:59:27 -0800

text/plain (147 lines)

A genius moves the goalposts of his or her art in a significant, persuasive
and rewarding manner. What geniuses do, they do in their way, abundantly
and with commitment. They seem to have a hotline to the molten lava of
creative energy. When they emerge - which is not always at once - you
notice them. They don't always produce masterpieces - works that seem fully
achieved in their own terms - but they do always retain the authority of
the master.

Both '*genius' *and '*masterpiece' *are terms we should retain in our
critical vocabulary, not because the recognition of either absolves us for
probing further, but for the quite opposite reason: what is it, we should
ask, about the masterpiece of a genius that *does *change the course of our
artistic lives?

I think I'm in agreement with Mr. Townsend on this!

On Sunday, February 26, 2017, Genevieve Castle Room <
[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> 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"
> ====Begin====
> 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?
> ====End====
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