Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Snake Oil Symphony
Do you know it? A truly remarkable tape composition from 1982 by DS Crafts, who, of course, lives in Rio Rancho, NM. (Ties in to the free-forming conversation last night with drummer Dave Wayne, who has worked with Rob Brown, bassist Matt Deason, who has worked with Brian Hardgroove and John Kurzweg and keyboardist Robert Muller, who knew and studied with Andrew Hill, among others: New Mexico is like some sort of strange ark for creative souls who have much deeper background than you'd guess). Thanks to Sean Conlon at KSFR for the tip.
The above photograph is a Do It Yourself attempt at offloading a typical ranch-style Santa Fe house, perhaps 4 bedroom 1.5 bath, a block east of where I live. Look closely at the price.
A fragment of last night's conversation was Robert's oblique reference to a quote from Forces in Motion from Sun Ra, about commerce and beauty. This third hand account: commerce and beauty are kept entirely separate in the American milieu. What's not viable in the commercial market is utterly dispensable. Whether this is an accurate representation of Sun Ra's quote or not, it got me thinking.
Just what constitutes the commercial market? We casually use the phrase "market forces" without really reflecting on what it is we're actually referring to. The more unexamined Libertarian viewpoint takes at face value certain principles of self-determination and "popularity." Artistic value in this context is completely commensurate with financial viability. Ideas of cultural value that extend beyond what's being sold and bought are , at best, simply empty ideals, impractical and ultimately without worth. But these sink-or-swim attitudes misconstrue the essential nature of so-called "free markets."
Nothing is free. The market itself has a vested interest in control. Buying and selling is the creation of means as an end in itself. The constant re-establishment of the impermanent as if it were reliable.When Michael Moore's main thesis for the reform of health care in the United States is "There is no room for profit when it comes to the well being of people!" I get a sinking feeling. Of course there's room for profit. What else is there, really? Unprofitable people die. Who cares? Everything is for sale. To single out health care as one area where this principle of means doesn't apply is ridiculous and unconvincing and flimsy. How about "There's no room for profit in making films!" Now that would be a more revealing attitude.
To expect that "cultural exceptions" are worth sustaining despite the amoral wasteland of endless means is to expect the world to operate on a level of fairness akin to that in the worldview of a 5 year old. Or maybe it's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The point is not that the arts, or medicine, or the environment, or food and farming, or the prison system or whatever are broken and need to be fixed. There's no such thing as a society not based on means-creation. It does not matter in whose hands the real or apparent power to create these means resides. Blake: "I must create my own system or be enslav'd by another man's."
James Agee, curious figure that he was, once received a survey from Partisan Review. Thanks to the unnarrator for the following excerpt (from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men):
In 1939, Partisan Review sent writers "SOME QUESTIONS WHICH FACE
AMERICAN WRITERS TODAY."
Question 4: "Have you found it possible to make a living by writing
the sort of thing you want to, and without the aid of such crutches
as teaching and editorial work? Do you think there is any place in
our present economic system for literature as a profession?"
Agee: No; no living. Nor do I think there is any place in our etcetera for
'literature' as a 'profession,' unless you mean for professional
litterateurs, who are a sort of high-class spiritual journalist and
the antichrist of all good work. Nor do I think your implied desire
that under a 'good system' there would be such a place for real
'writers' is to be respected or other than deplored. A good artist is
a deadly enemy of society; and the most dangerous thing that can
happen to an enemy, no matter how cynical, is to become a
beneficiary. No society, no matter how good, could be mature enough
to support a real artist without mortal danger to that artist. Only
no one need worry: for this same good artist is about the one sort of
human being alive who can be trusted to take care of himself."
"A good artist is a deadly enemy of society; and the most dangerous thing that can happen to an enemy, no matter how cynical, is to become a beneficiary."