Friday, June 8, 2012

reverse Plato

In the imaginary philosophical dialogues of The Republic, Plato has that famous saying about music being inherently subversive.  (It's voiced through the historically real but here fictionalized figure of Socrates).  Well, that's how it's always paraphrased and second-hand quoted. Actually, he's more specific: it's not music per se, but changes in music that threaten the stability of the State  and the Social Order:

"the attention of our rulers should be directed so that music and gymnastics [dancing?] be preserved in their original form… any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole State, and ought to be prohibited... For the modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions."

What I wonder, though, is whether that can be reversed....  can you deduce from a decrease in the rate of musical innovation of music that there is also a parallel slowing-down or stagnation in society?  Is a dearth of newness in music the symptom and indication of social stagnation?

Certainly there seems to be an approximate correlation there as regards the Sixties -- the peak of neophilia and acceleration in music (and culture and the arts generally)  can be indexed to economic dynamism and class mobility, the breaking down of all manner of taboos and out-of-date prohibitions, the release of social energies from the old constraints?

Thereafter the relationship gets more complicated perhaps... superstructure slips out of alignment with base at certain points... postpunk is actually going the opposite direction from Thatcherism, though that might well be regarded as A/ marginal music c.f. the pop mainstream of that time and B/ a sort of local and minoritarian resurgence fueled by a reservoir of Sixties idealism/energy that is freshly tapped and is able to sustain the relaunch of a neophile alternative culture which then tacks against the cultural winds for a while....  until it no longer becomes sustainable (leading to New Pop and entryism)

But certainly when you get to Now, a linkage between the two kinds of stasis/retreat  -- cultural-musical and social-political-economic -- is what Mark Fisher is getting at with that term he likes to use, the Restoration


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