Friday, September 13, 2013

Reactionary Avant-Gardism

I just read a fascinating column by Peter Aspden for the Life & Arts section of the Web site for the Financial Times. This was published under the title "Puccini versus the Twitterverse;" and I do not think I could have thought of a better one. It was inspired by his experience of seeing Turandot at the Royal Opera House as respite from "Digital Learning Week" for Financial Times writers (and perhaps other employees as well).

The basic idea was that Puccini's three-act opera, for all of its utterly silly attributes (as well as the transcendent ones), provided much-needed relief from the all-digital-all-the-time indoctrination being thrown at Financial Times staff in a sink-or-swim context. In the key paragraph of the column, Aspden summarized why this "escape into opera" was so important:
The arts need to reassess their role in society. After so many decades of basking in the avant-garde, leading thought revolutions, changing values and behaviour, forcing people to question themselves, they now have the opposite role. An evening at the opera, or the cinema, or the theatre, is where we go to escape from the terrifyingly fast-moving world that is overtaking us by the day. Culture is becoming the refuge of the digitally brutalised.
The fact is that, if the avant-garde is to stay in its "avant" position, it has to lead, rather than follow, the crowd. We saw this sort of thing in the latter half of the twentieth century, when the almost religious worship of atonality and the serial logic were attack by the "heresy" of triads and the simple arpeggios of what came to be called "minimalism." Today a greater heresy may be in order. When once the avant-garde shocked the bourgeoisie by embracing the machine, the time may have come to rage against it. We should revel in the fact that the essence of Turandot cannot be distilled into a tweet or a blog post with "trending potential." The ultimate defense against "digital brutality" as a mind endowed with a long attention span; and the avant-garde should pick up the gauntlet (if it has not yet done so) and attend to the needs of such minds.

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