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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution

Yates, Peter
Book reviews: the question of "stasis",   pp. 333-343 PDF (8.4 MB)

Page 333

by Peter Yates
Leonard B. Meyer, Music, the Arts, and
Ideas, Patterns and Predictions in
Twentieth-Century Culture; The University
of Chicago Press, 1967
Richard Kostelanetz, editor, The New
American Arts; Collier Books, 1967
John Cage, A Year from Monday, New
Lectures and Writings; Wesleyan University
Press, 1967.
Each of these new books spreads over the
entire field of the contemporary arts,
but in two the emphasis is on music: for
this review, which is quite long enough,
I have chosen to disregard, except
peripherally, the other arts. This does
no justice to the authors who
discourse on Film, Theatre, Painting,
Poetry, Dance, and Fiction in the
Kostelanetz collection. For this I
am sorry.
Professor Meyer writes well and
is replete with ideas, which in
sequence compound a critical confusion
shot through with brilliant perceptions.
Though more readable than Marshall
McLuhan, he uses the same method of
dumping on the reader a mass of
ideas, explanatory theories, and
quotations, then resolving the confusion
by a recurrent chant of his objective,
what he believes he has proved or is
about to prove. His objective in this book
is to prove that the period of rapid
progressive change in arts, economy,
science, society nears its end,
that contemporary culture and the
arts have reached or will soon reach
333 .-
"stasis", a fluctuating persistence
of similar alternatives. He makes many
good points, but I am more concerned
to argue with his central thesis.
Meyer's new book follows a previous
volume, Emotion and Meaning in Music
(The University of Chicago Press,
1956). I have chosen to start with
a quotation from that earlier book,
to exemplify the gaps and theoretical
misrepresentation which betray the
argument of his new book.
(P. 289) "Nor is it difficult to account
for the fact that the dissonance norm
has constantly risen in Western
culture. For it seems likely that when
a vertical combination of sound has
been heard often enough as a unit,
it achieves the status of an independent,
unified Gestalt, complete in itself. It
becomes a norm and ceases to perform
its affective aesthetic function
adequately. Therefore, the composer,
seeking for aesthetic effect and
expression and wishing to explore
less common paths, will tend to treat
what was formerly a deviant as a
norm and use that which was formerly
unused or forbidden as a deviant."
Professor Meyer misses almost nothing
in the critical literature and, like some
other theoretical scholars, having
mastered the documents he has
two contrary methods of dealing with
the gaps. The first is to treat any
handy speculation as a theory and then
take the theory more or less for
granted as if it were a fact: "an
independent, unified Gestalt, complete
in itself." The second is to avoid
looking at the gap: for lack of
documentation; because one doesn't
see it or believes it isn't really there;
because it has been so thoroughly filled
in by a tradition of false history
that the falsity seems factual; or by
pretending that the facts are not

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