[Dixielandjazz] 1948: jazz illustrative of barbarism

Charlie Hooks charliehooks@earthlink.net
Wed, 19 Jun 2002 22:19:09 -0500

The following remarks on jazz music were written in 1948 just after WWII by
Richard M. Weaver of the University of Chicago, one of the 20th century=B9s
most profound conservative philosophers, appearing on pp. 85 through 87 of
his famous (ital) Ideas Have Consequences, University of Chicago Press
(Chicago: 1948).  I do not know whether or not Dr. Weaver, in his
intellectual prime age 38 at this writing, was himself a musician.  I
strongly suspect that he was not a jazz player.

    =B3I have deferred until last the discussion of jazz, which seems the
clearest of all signs of our age=B9s deep-seated prediliction for barbarism.
The mere fact of its rapid conquest of the world indictes some vast extent
of inward ravage, so that there were no real barriers against the
disintegration it represents.

    =B3Jazz was born in the dives of New Orleans, where the word appears firs=
to have signified an elementary animal function.  It was initially a music
of primativism; and we have the word of one of its defenders that =8Cjazz has
no need of intelligence; it needs only feeling.=B9  But jazz did not remain
primitive; something in the Negro=B9s spontaneous manifestation of feeling
linkied up with Western man=B9s declining faith in the value of culture.  The
same writer (Robert Griffin, Jazz, p. 42) admits that =8Cif one examines the
fields of activity which have been reserved for art, one percieves that the
creative work of our ancestors was under the influence of a harmonious
equilibrium between reason and sentiment.=B9  Jazz, by formally repudiating
restraint by intellect, and by expressing contempt and hostility  towards
our traditional society and mores, has destroyed this equilibrium.  That
destruction is a triumph of grotesque, even hysterical, emotion over
propriety and reasonableness.   Jazz often sounds as if in a rage to divest
itself of anything that suggests structure or confinement.

    =B3It is understandable, therefore, that jazz should have a great appeal
to civilization=B9s fifth column, to the barbarians within the gates.  These
people found it a useful instrument for the further obliteration of
distinctions and the discrediting of all that bears the mark of restraint.
Accordingly, it was taken up in a professional way and sophisticated by
artists of technical virtuosity so that it became undeniably a medium of
resourcefulness and power,  That is all the more reason for recognizing its
essential tendency.

    =B3 The driving impulse behind jazz is best grasped through its
syncopation.  What this can achieve technically we need not go into here;
what it indicates spiritually is a restlessness, a desire to get on, to
realize without going through the aesthetic ritual.  Forward to the climax,
it seems to say; let us dispense with the labor of earning effects.  Do we
not read in this in another form a contempt for labor?  Is it not again the
modern fatuity of insisting upon the reward without the effort?  Form and
ritual are outmoded piety, and work is a sacrifice.  The primitive and the
bored sophisticate are alike impatient for titillation.

    =B3As dissent breeds further dissidence, so the emancipation which is jaz=
gives rise to yet greater vagaries.  In =8Cswing=B9 one hears a species of musi=
in which the performer is at fullest liberty to express himself as an
egotist.  Playing now becomes personal; the musician seizes a theme and
improvises as he goes; he develops perhaps a personal idiom, for which he i=
admired. Instead of the strictness of form which had made the musician like
the celebrant of a ceremony, we now have individualization; we hear a
variable in which the musician pours his feeling and whimsey more freely
than the Romantic poets laid bare their bleeding hearts.

    =B3Jazz has been compared to =8Can indecent story syncopated and
counterpointed.=B9   There can be no question that, like journalism in
literature, it has helped to destroy the concept of obscenity.**

    =B3In view of such considerations it comes as no surprise to hear a
statement that jazz is the music of equality and that it has made important
contributions toi the fight for freedom.  As far as the negative idea of
freedom goes, the idea of =8Cfreedom from,=B9 the case is too clear to need
arguing.  By dissolving forms, it has made man free to move without
reference, expressing dithyrambically whatever surges up from below. It is =
music not of dreams--certainly not of our metaphysical dream--but of
drunkenness.  The higher centers have been proscribed so that the lower may
be uninhibited from executing their reeling dance.  Here, indeed, is a musi=
to go with empiricism, and it is only natural that the chief devotees of
jazz should be the primitive, the young, and those persons, fairly numerous=
it would seem, who take pleasure in the thought of bringing down our
civilization.   The fact that the subjects of jazz, insofar as it may be
said to have subjects, are grossly sexual or farcical--subjects of love
without aesthetic distance and subjects of comedy without law of
proportion--shows how the soul of modern man craves orgiastic disorder.  An=
it is admitted that what man expresses in music dear to him he will most
certainly express in his social practices.=B2

**"obscenity" is used here in its root sense: something that belongs "off
the scene"--not necessarily physical at all, includes intense suffering or
humiliation, which the Greeks thought belonged off scene--i.e., offstage.

wondering what Weaver'd have thought of Rock and Roll,