Beauty, Milk, Poop, Soul Jazz, and the Miscaste Obama
I am reminded of when James Joyce was asked if he had relied upon the ideas of Giambattista Vico in his Finnegans Wake, and he responded "I would not pay overmuch attention to these theories, beyond using them for all they're worth." So I don't pay much attention to Schuon aside from playgiarizing with him 'til the sacred cows go OM, but hopefully in an inimitable Raccoonish, space age au-go-go manner that may look vulgar to the uninitiated, for the same reason that someone might mistakenly regard Potato Head Blues as primitive "jungle music" instead of a divinely hip transmission from Gabriel himself.
I suppose our main point of disagreement -- that would be me and Fritz -- is over the issue of adherence to strict traditionalism. In my case, I have a dilemma, and the best analogy I can think if is the difference between a jazz musician and a classical musician. Schuon is like a stately, dignified, and somber classical musician. But I am like what a condescending British reviewer once wrote of the early Beatles: Authentic R & B in the American Negro Tradition.
I suppose it comes down to two issues, 1) the value of the individual over the collective, and 2) how this impacts creativity, since creativity takes on a different inflection as it passes through the individual. Schuon was obviously preoccupied with how the rise of narcissistic individualism -- and with it, the loss of transcendence, norms, and standards -- had led to the kind of aesthetic anarchy we see today, where so-called "artists" produce works of "eternal worthlessness," if one may so put it. "Art for art's sake" is no art at all, for it deprives art of its sufficient reason, which is to serve as a bridge between man and God. To paraphrase Schuon, in serving only man, it inevitably betrays him in the process. Most modern art isn't even bad, just "nothing."
So while Schuon clearly had an appreciation of the dark side of modernity, he didn't seem to have any feel whatsoever for the totalitarian nature of premodern cultures, in which one really wasn't free to "become who you are." One was free to adhere to a "celestial archetype," so to speak, but not to discover or elaborate one's uniqueness.
Now, this latter process can clearly be abused, and I think it is fair to say that it is the central Pathology of our Times. For example, it seems that everyone is urged to be creative, when there are only a handful of people who are capable of being creative in a worthwhile way. It's no different than urging everyone to be Michael Jordan. What would be the point, except to pretend that everyone is good at basketball?
So the narcissism and individualism of our day places value on the individual to such an extent that it has the effect of -- in psychoanalytic terms -- conflating milk and feces; which is to say, breast and the lower GI tract. I remember the first time I heard this formulation in graduate school, and thinking that my professor was surely speaking metaphorically or just insane. Nope. The pathological narcissist imagines he's giving you milk when he's actually feeding you poop; in short, he's not a bountiful breast but a toxic asshole. Once you get a feel for this, you can really appreciate the ubiquity of the dynamic. Ever wonder how Noam Chomsky can be so prolific? Because the large intestine never sleeps. Likewise, mass culture is a sewer. Literally.
Nevertheless. One of the things I'm constantly trying to work out is the relationship between modernity and tradition, or individual and collective. Surely there must be a way to individuate that leads "upward" and which "crystalizes" our celestial essence, as opposed to downward, where it is dissipated and supplanted by a hypertrophied and promethean terrestrial ego. I mean, I can see how this path does usually lead downward into vulgarity, stupidity, and excess -- a gross and cringe-inducing "song of myself" -- but is there a way to be oneself in the context of timeless truth?
I admit that this may be completely self-serving, but I think so, and I believe that this is ultimately the entire basis of the American experiment in a culture of liberty, i.e., of conservative classical liberalism. True, the founders wanted to liberate themselves from various religious, political, and cultural strictures of old Europe, but at the same time, they clearly did not value liberty for its own sake, but only to the extent that it had a spiritual telos. This is obvious from their writings on the subject, so I won't waste time debating the knuckleheads who think otherwise.
Here's the problem, though: very few people can play jazz, for it combines the virtues of intense discipline with total freedom and abandon. It is the "sound of surprise," but not only surprise, which is just another name for anarchy.
Now, one reason I don't pretend to be some kind of "guru" is that I don't believe I can generalize my specific path to others, at least on any kind of wholesale basis. Perhaps to a very limited extent on a kind of boutique level, but only if the so-called "student" already has the makings of a master. To be honest, this is why I have never tried to get a job at a university. Many people who've heard me on a particularly inspired rant have asked, "why aren't you a teacher?," and the reason is, I could never handle teaching a bunch of idiots and mediocrities, and that is what college has become. Since we now have the egalitarian belief that everyone should have a college education, colleges are full of people who have no business being there. I know plenty of Ph.D.s who can't even write coherently or think deeply.
It's no different than suggesting that everyone should be in the military, when it is equally clear that warriors are special people who belong to their own caste and develop their own culture. As I have written before, I am a big believer in the "caste system," so long as it is not enforced in a "top-down" way that limits the freedom to discover one's gift and one's place. For example, my father was a quintessential "merchant," in that he was a born salesman. He loved people, and people loved doing business with him. He eventually became a sales executive on the strength of an 8th grade education, but it didn't matter, because he had such an innate feel for doing business with people.
In my case, I imagined that I would be capable of the same thing, but as I have written about in the past, I flunked out of business school. I was literally like a retard. Not only was it "not my dharma," but it took me a long time and a lot of floating on the Luck Plane to discover what my dharma was.
Similarly, I have a relative -- we have been estranged for years -- who is a fine artisan, in such a way that it comes completely naturally to him, but imagines himself to be a "scholar." For whatever reason, he rejects his God-given caste, and wants to be an "intellectual," so he writes books that would make fine benches or ottomans, but they certainly have no intellectual or literary merit. But you will have noticed that at least 90% of what comes out of academia is of this nature, since it is produced by people who don't belong there. They're in the wrong caste. (In contrast to this relative, I would have a hard time making a bookshelf out of two cinderblocks and a wood plank.)
Speaking of which, one cannot help noticing that an awful lot of people who reckon themselves to be members of the "priestly caste" don't belong there. Here again, because of the individualism of the age, virtually anyone can declare himself guru and usurp that role. Thus, a Deepak, or Tony Robbins, or Wayne Dyer, or all the others, who are certainly effective, if sociopathic, merchants, but who are not any kind of transmitters of wisdom, to put it charitably.
Look at Obama. What is he? That's part of the problem, because he clearly doesn't know. He's certainly not "priestly" or spiritual, based upon his long-time membership in a racist cult. He's not intellectual, based upon his skin-deep grasp of the issues, and a mind that seems to consist of little more than recycled leftist cliches with no discernible center. He's not a warrior; quite the opposite, as he has no feel whatsoever for military culture. He's not a leader, as his basic masculinity is too much in doubt. He's pretending to be something, but even he doesn't seem to know what it is. Apparently, he wasn't even a good community agitator, like Al Sharpton.
Yes, America is the "land of opportunity," in that anyone can be anything. But if this results in no one knowing their place, what good is it? In Obama's case, he's basically offering himself as a mirror to be what a certain lost segment of the population needs him to be. It's actually a kind of two-way mirror that -- not to invoke Godwin's law -- is at the basis of fascism, in which the leader embodies the people, and vice versa. Except in this case, both are "empty," so it's a kind of "negative fascism." The trouble is, we truly won't know what rushes in to fill that void until he's in office.
Hey, how did I get here? This is not my subject. This is not my beautiful post. I had wanted to continue our discussion of beauty, but merely preface it with my misgivings about completely jettisoning modernity. Unlike Schuon, I can't help believing that it has produced some worthwhile stuff despite the preponderance of subhuman garbage, and that our task, as always, is to "redeem the times" and find a way to reconcile the temporal and timeless.
For example, we all know about Bach. But he was just one of hundreds of court musicians who were patronized by various syphilitic kings, dukes, and princes, but whose work we never hear about, because it was just uninspired, derivative, and repetitive schlock. Likewise, we know about Shakespeare, but surely there must have been a multitude of bad playwrights in 16th century England?
In a couple hundred years, no one will know anything about 1960s rock music except perhaps the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Kinks, Who, Brian Wilson, and a handful of others who achieved timelessness, depth, luminosity, and universality. But it would obviously be fallacious to imagine that they were the norm, and that there were no Freddie and the Dreamers, Sopwith Camel and Iron Butterfly.
Now. Now it is time to go to work. Oh well. As always, free association is free, and you get what you pay for.