“Languages today are thin and cold because we think less and less into them. We are forced, for the sake of quickness and sharpness, to file down each word to its narrowest edge of meaning.” –Ezra Pound
The thing is (with respect to Mr. Pound) it isn’t just our language that is “filed down” because of “quickness and sharpness” and… convenience. So much of our art and culture is “thin and cold” because we do not “think into them.” There is so much media-mediated homogenization. There is so much mass-consumed crap. People are consuming without thinking. I don’t want to sound high-brow or high and mighty, it’s just that I really do believe in the power of art to be a vehicle for radical social change. I think music has to power to be like a projectile, an object thrown by the musician/ songwriter in a transfer of energy to the listener. It can make an impact. It can shatter barriers and social constructions. But right now, I feel like so much of it is “thin and cold.”
I just finished reading The Culture of Spontaneity: Improvisation and the Arts in Postwar America. I hear so many people talk about spontaneous art as if it is meaningless, silly, or even “easy.” The truth is that it meant something. It tried to break away from the structures that bind so much of our thinking and being. It wasn’t “easy.” It was revolutionary and sometimes dangerous. Much of it didn’t fare well in popular or intellectual circles. Some of the poetry was banned. Some of the artists went to jail… or they went insane. People were searching, though. They wanted honesty and authenticity in a world they saw as increasingly false.
Most broadly, spontaneity implied an alternative to Western civilization, which, in post- WWII America, was threatening human life and freedom to an unprecedented scale. In today’s culture where human life and personal freedoms are threatened, what sort of statements are our artists and poets making? What sort of statements are we as consumers making when we look at the voices we listen to and learn from?
I suppose the culture of spontaneity didn’t have a broad popular audience either. Still, people did read and buy On The Road. College students smuggled banned books like Naked Lunch and Tropic of Cancer into the US from France (can you imagine college students going through that sort of trouble today to read books?!). Bob Dylan’s protest poetry was played on the radio. I know there’s good music out there. I even listen to some of it. I know there are good current movies and books. I just feel like we have to sift through so much crap to get to it, and quite frankly, that can get overwhelming.