A Note on Butts in Seats

It is fashionable in some circles to decry “Structuralism” as French nonsense under the general meme “I have a Master’s degree”,

“I have a Master’s Degree. In Science!” – Ask Mister Science, Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater

“but I don’t understand it.”

However, structuralism by any name is an excellent way of understanding power, which is why, I believe, elite opinion is so selectively anti-intellectual.

For example, there is the abstraction of the specific coexistence, in South Africa, of high-minded ideals in its modern Constitution, with the deliberate use of almost all successful politicians even centrists like Zuma with mobocratic tirades against women and gays, as documented in the New Yorker (28 May), in “Violated Hopes”, by Charlayne Hunter-Galt.

Smart people notice a correspondence, an isomorphism, between two manifestations of this collision, for example in universities in which the faculty are paid to mouth human rights and diversity while their students, regurgitating these ideals on examinations, form covens promoting identity politics which deny certain human rights and diversity often using, as self-protectve coloration, identity politics.

The structure is the gradual “post-modernism”, not what’s normally meant by “post modernism”, but a demotic and demonic variant, where you narrate your “religion” as a going-back-to-basics under hyper-modernization.

Now, this used to be, in Picasso’s, Stravinsky’s and TS Eliot’s time, a rarefied and aesthetic gesture, itself a Modernism in what Adorno, at the beginning of his rib-tickling magnum opus Aesthetic Theory, calls “the vortex of the newly taboo.”

The permission to artistically innovate in a vortex generates economic competition among artists, especially male artists that escapes non market facilities such as Salons. Now, it is very, very hard to create something new. Jackson Pollock ripped art a new asshole by single-mindedly pursuing a vision at the cost of his life, dancing before the world. In dancing improvisationally one feels stupid at first which is why you need that trance music, very simplified music that lets you cover up your mistakes.

But one form of innovation can be brilliant in the hands of genius and that is essentially nothing more than pastiche, whether it’s Picasso’s 1920s classicism, Stravinsky’s “Classical Symphony”, or Eliot’s Four Quartets. But in general it avoids the basic problem of encountering one’s Self as an Artist. It is the adoption of the false (Fundamentalist) persona. And it has steadily decayed to become the Dadaism of today’s Republican politics: for example, a recently proposed North Carolina law decreed that sea levels at coastal resorts are to be extrapolated only using linear, and not exponential formulae, for the scientific conclusions destroy the value of riparian real estate, and I am not making this up.

Neoclassicism is the thesis, Fundamentalism is not so much the antithesis as folk neoclassicism even as in Max Weber, Erasmus was the thesis and Luther the folk response. The South African “rainbow” the thesis, Zuma and earlier Buthelezi the folk response.

But the folk response, while claiming a connection with the past, lacks this. It is an affair of a generation disconnected from actual folk-ways.

Today, the homeboys in Africa calling women witches, engaging in “corrective rape” to “cure” lesbians, and killing their girlfriends, or the good old boys in Montana beating up sissies, never really knew the Christianity, Islam or animism of their grandfathers…any more than even Picasso could claim to have been an ancient Greek, Stravinsky “really” a tonal composer of the 19th century, or Eliot a Lancelot Andrewes.

But politicians today, who can never criticize or try to teach the people, find it useful to address these neo-saved because it tells them that the problems of modernization are caused by sorcerers. It’s not your fault is the message of Fascism and Fundamentalism. Its core constituency is not an enumeration of We the People, unlike the US Constitution, which has no predefined notion of what They the People think, but literally enumerates them every ten years in our Census.

The Republican or African demagogue preconceives a description of right thinking usually cribbed from religion as a time-saver. This description is crudely described as “vote for me or you’re a fag” because it pre-describes right thinking.

Picasso got tired of competing with Braque, in many ways a better painter. Stravinsky needed to put butts on seats and Schonberg’s severe adherence to the 12-tone system sent butts off seats in search of a stiff drink.

The greatest of these men (for I don’t question their greatness), Thomas Stearns Eliot, was competing largely with himself. Fortunately for all of us, the Waste Land wasn’t the last word in his case, and the Four Quartets were his answer to the fragmentation in the former work. But, same as me, he had to use an element of pastiche, swiping two ideas from Dante in the Four Quartets: *terza rima* and the idea of the ghostly reappearance of a dead mentor, a Mantuan, “o anime cortese Mantoana”.

Let’s see if I can bring this mess together. The truly traditional is well and truly gone, Flintstone. It is that scene in Alex Haley’s Roots of the raising of the boy child to the gods of the sky and forest because it is a boy. Brought back it becomes demonic, the girl being genitally mutilated and that murderous clown in Norway, Breivik, maddened by You Tube videos, killing girls and the philosophy of my old school-fellow, Ted Nugent.

And from a neoconservative text itself emerges this terrible warning: TS Eliot writes in the Four quartets that we cannot revive old policies or follow an antique drum.

But if I continue in this vein my butt will start hurting, NOT because thinking is bad for me. No. Sitting on my arse is bad for me.

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