[Dixielandjazz] 1948: jazz illustrative of barbarism

Ron Going rongoing1@earthlink.net
Wed, 19 Jun 2002 23:04:27 -0500

Hi All,
Interesting dissertation, that of Mr. Weaver. Too bad his willingness to 
try to understand "jazz" wasn't as keen as his prowess with the english 
The poor bastard missed the point!

Charlie Hooks wrote:

>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 century¹s
>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.
>    ³I have deferred until last the discussion of jazz, which seems the
>clearest of all signs of our age¹s 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.
>    ³Jazz was born in the dives of New Orleans, where the word appears first
>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 OEjazz has
>no need of intelligence; it needs only feeling.¹  But jazz did not remain
>primitive; something in the Negro¹s spontaneous manifestation of feeling
>linkied up with Western man¹s declining faith in the value of culture.  The
>same writer (Robert Griffin, Jazz, p. 42) admits that OEif 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.¹  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.
>    ³It is understandable, therefore, that jazz should have a great appeal
>to civilization¹s 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.
>    ³ 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.
>    ³As dissent breeds further dissidence, so the emancipation which is jazz
>gives rise to yet greater vagaries.  In OEswing¹ one hears a species of music
>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 is
>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.
>    ³Jazz has been compared to OEan indecent story syncopated and
>counterpointed.¹   There can be no question that, like journalism in
>literature, it has helped to destroy the concept of obscenity.**
>    ³In 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 OEfreedom from,¹ 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 a
>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 music
>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.  And
>it is admitted that what man expresses in music dear to him he will most
>certainly express in his social practices.²
>**"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,
>Dixielandjazz mailing list