In this episode, Teague, Adam, and I discuss romanticism in music and its lasting influence on contemporary life. We explore the works of many important composers like Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner. There is also an interesting discussion on the ramifications of romanticism and 20th century music that borrows insights from Danto and Wittgenstein. Did the history of art come to an end? Is there such a thing as romanticism? If you enjoyed this episode and want more content like this, please subscribe!
It’s unfortunate that Ralph Nader is remembered as the “spoiler of the 2000 election” these days, rather than as “the founder of modern consumer protection.” It used to be the case that automobiles were extremely unsafe to operate. There were no regulations that we, nowadays, take for granted like seat belts and airbags. He fought against intimidation from General Motors as he laid bare the dangers of the automobile industry: private detectives hired by General Motors followed Nader into a bank, and looked over his shoulder to read what he was writing on a deposit slip. Furthermore, he helped carry out independent research on various federal agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. He was a hero and a household name for Americans in the 70s. Yet, we deride him as “a spoiler and a radical.”
Such amnesia is a key feature of the United States according to Gore Vidal. We have forgotten the imperialist efforts of the United States and its deadly consequences. We have forgotten the crucial role of labor unions in securing good wages and high pensions. We have forgotten the deeply racist history of this country. We have forgotten the horrors of back-alley abortions before Roe v. Wade. What must we forget next? Bernie Sanders’ popularist campaign that was totally funded by small contributions from ordinary people? A habitable climate? Freedom from corporate tyranny?
The piano mimics “Over 3000 dead, 6000 injured,” in 11/8; the tuba imitates “These fucking rag heads, they hate us.” in 9/8; hence, 9-11. The second part includes a reversal of the piano and a random displacement of the tuba melody. This mirrors the way in which we experience our grief and bigotry — grief is retrospectively experienced; bigotry randomly sprouts from every corner of this country.
This piece was inspired by the thought of whether death and birth can occur simultaneously. I believe 9-11 marked the death of thousands and the birth of the recent bigotry against Muslims.
The aesthetician Susan Sontag claims that Cage’s attempt to erase authorial intent, in one sense, allowed him to erase meaning altogether. This is also reflected in Cage’s writings:
“New music: new listening. Not an attemp to understand something that is being said, for if something were being said, the sounds would be given the shapes of words. ust attention to the activity of sounds.”
— Cage, Experimental Music: Doctrine, p. 10
But, I don’t believe this to be case. The cultural and historical context of Cage’s works show that they are trying to dissolve the distinction between art and sound. Such contexts allow sounds to refer to themselves, thereby giving them meaning and intentionality.
Plus, one could consider Heidegger’s argument that we do not hear pure sounds:
“What we first hear is never noises or complexes of sounds, but the creaking wagon, the motor-cycle. We hear the column on the march, the north wind, the woodpecker tapping, the fire crackling. It requires a very artificial and complicated frame of mind to hear a pure noise…Likewise, when we are explicitly hearing the discourse of another, we proximally understand what is said, or — to put it more exactly — we’re already with him, in advance alongside the entity which the discourse is about… Even in cases where the speech is indistinct or in a foreign language, what we proximally hear is unintelligible words, and not a multiplicity of tone-date.”
— Being and Time, 163
This means that even the sounds we encounter in ordinary life are never meaningless, pure sounds.
All in all, I admire Cage’s attempt to bring ordinary sounds to the forefront of Western music. I think he exemplifies Heidegger’s claim that art makes the conflict between World and Earth conspicuous. For Heidegger, World is the human environment in which we lead our lives. It includes our tools, houses, values, and so on; in other words, it is the habitat of Dasein. On the other hand, Earth is the natural setting of World; the ground on which it stands and the sources of raw materials for our artefacts. Through his illustration of ordinary sounds, Cage makes apparent the rift between World and Earth: musical sounds vs. pure noise. Interestingly, Cage’s take on this conflict uncovers a naked truth, i.e., the attempt to erase intentionality paves the way for a deeper unconcealment of intentionality and Dasein.
Being and Time, Martin Heidegger
The Origin of the Work of Art, Martin Heidegger
Cage and Philosophy, Noël Carroll