Thursday, August 09, 2007

Music And Evil

The rediscovery of Hitler's record collection is causing a lot of slightly forced excitement (nice caption on that Hitler pic though). It isn't really surprising that a totalitarian ruler and his elite should indulge in pleasures banned to the masses (though Stalin's taste for singalongs of church hymns and chants is rather startling). The real problem - to which I can see no answer, and that's why I raise it here - is that human beings who in their acts are monstrous should have a highly developed taste for the most sublime music - see, for example, this. (Note, too, that the suicide rate among camp musicians was second only to the death details). Any ideas, or is this another impenetrable mysterium tremendum et profundum?

26 comments:

  1. Hitlers like to believe themselves to be great men, & by certain standards they're obviously justified in this. They have raised themselvs to the top of the ant-heap, which is their perspective of ordinary human life. They believe themselves, contrarily to the squalid masses(their thinking), to be Great Men, & sublime art a direct reflection of their being. They are exalted by their tastes & the masses condemned by their lapping up the drivel they are shovelled out by the ruling elites' propaganda machines. Both serve to justify their view of themselves & the masses who they scorn. Interestingly at an UNCED or United Nations Committee for Environment and Development from around 1990, David Lang, international investment banker, said:
    "I suggest therefore that this be sold not through a democratic process...that would take too long and require far too much of the funds to educate the cannon fodder, unfortunately, which populates the Earth."

    These are the kind of terms in which these people think.

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  3. The second comment an attempt to get the blog to recognise the first comment as having occured. The third comment an effort to explain the second comment.

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  4. Yes, but what about the less than great men, those with no particular delusions of grandeur - the death camp aparatchiks, the cogs in the machine?

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  5. one of the worst people i've met recently was a music journalist who had excellent taste. He would respond to any different of opinion with spiteful badgering verging on abuse. For example, if you liked a band he didn't, he'd demand to know why, then "this is unconvincing - EXPLAIN!", then demand you stop listening to them, and so on, relentlessly, savagely. It was quite disturbing that he could enjoy the Missa Solemnis while being as vicious as a polecat. My only consolation is that his writings are worthless collections of cliche and jargon.

    Art sometimes seems to have a positive effect on people, but it's faint, & unlikely to transform a bad man to a good or even okay man. After listening to Parsifal or Don Giovanni, one's pettiness seems more clearly repellent, but the effect doesn't last long.

    i think over about 10 years it's worked with more obvious influences - people i've met, places i've been - to make me less obnoxious, but i'm still far from likeable. Maybe another thousand years.

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  6. I'd have to disagree with their lacking of delusions of grandeur. I worked in a very elitist golf club caddying for a while. The most ordinary of people working there(especially in the more administrative, white collar roles) clearly often became intoxicated with their association with the exalted, wealthy beings who they dealt with. People enojoy the satisfaction of their will to power through the achievements of the State, or Party/ ruling elites.
    I'd say it's the same basic law with those lower down the ruling structure. Evil is a basic psychological reality where one enjoys one's dominance over whom one considers lesser beings. And in the terms in which this thinking is being done, ie power, they are right in thinking in this way. The question then becomes is thinking in terms of power & dominion the right perspective on reality- the Satanic principle.

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  7. And I wonder if this problem is specific to music? These dictatorial types tend to have 'suitably' bad taste in the visual arts and, generally, literature. Could it be that music, uniquely, bypasses most of what we actually are and gets to something deeper and more basic, beyond the individual? Other arts, being more firmly anchored in an external reality, can't do that.

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  8. The original question is not about music, it's about evil.

    When Hitler was enjoying Rachmaninov, was he still being evil at the time? Is evil something that only applies to what you're doing, or is it something you wear 24/7?

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  9. doesn't this only prove he owned an impressive collection? it doesn't prove he had highly developed taste.

    anyway, why should there be any connection between evil minds and art appreciation?

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  10. I dunno, ian, it's not hard to imagine European history would have been a lot happier if Hitler's tastes had run to The Andrews Sisters singing "Don't Sit under the Apple Tree..."

    We don't appreciate the Janus-like nature of genius properly. On the one hand, civilization rests on genius in art, music, politics, religion, science, etc. On the other, history is full of genius' who caused absolute havoc in public and private life. We tend to associate genius with IQ or cleverness and assume it's evil side is all tied up with mommy issues or something incidental to the talent we admire unequivocally, which is why we tend to be surprised and befuddled by stories like this. Beauty is sublime, but it is amoral and much immorality is done in its name.

    The high premium on common sense and suspicion of intellectuals and theory that tends to mark the Anglosphere has paid big dividends in terms of freedom and decency.

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  11. In memorian Raul Hilberg d.August

    Bryan let's stop talking about 'evil'. This is a summary of Hilberg's analysis of the destruction of European Jews:

    Hilberg understood that murdering a swathe of the population consisting of several millions of people scattered over an entire continent required not a group of demoniacal sadists but an army of bureaucrats on the staff of administrative bodies, registrars to control identification, police for segregation, railway officials for transport and paramilitary organisations to whom groups of victims would eventually be assigned for the actual business of extermination. And so to begin with, Hilberg did not study the memoirs of the few survivors, but turned his attentions to the copious amounts of material on the perpetrators. Hilberg famously interpretated a piece of writing which is familiar to everyone: the train timetable. Here the word Jew never once appears, only an ominous 'L' which signalised that the transport carriages that were so tightly packed on the outward journey would be 'leer' or empty on returning. This 'L' contains the precise amount of explicitness allowed - and guaranteed - by the bureaucratic form of expression.

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  12. Very good points, Peter.
    And Chris, surely the act itself cannot be called anything but evil? That doesn't glamorise or falsify it, does it? The extermination of the Jews already had a long enough history of seeming like an eminently sound idea - those involved knew perfectly well what they were doing.

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  13. Hannibal Lecter of course beats a man to death and mutilates another to Bach, which is a fiction but seems plausible enough.

    Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus links the Devil with genius, and given it was published in 1947, it's hard not to see the demonic possession as also being about Hitler's possession of the German people (also, Mann's story 'Mario & the Magician'). For Mann, genius comes from the primordial psyche, and is really opposed to civilisation, at the same time as civilisation utilises what it can of genius to bolster itself, so we have Beethoven's 9th as the theme to the EU or something, but Beethoven's passion and lunacy seem as far from the oppressive & dispassionate lunacy of the EU as possible.

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  14. To appreciate the nature of genius properly one has to be a genius, Peter. By defeinition, it is of an order of consciousness that one who is not a genius cannot understand. I'd have to totally disagree with the making of genius into one great, amoral homogenous entity. On what basis besides being famous do we compare Hitler & Bach as representing "genius". Also Bach's Matthew's Passion is beautiful because it is moral...however pale & unfortunate it is to have to use that misleading word. Tarkovsky's films are beautiful because they are intrinsically moral.
    The most beautiful thoughts are contained in books like the gospels or Buddhism texts like the Dhammapada. These thoughts are beautiful because they are true & reflect a moral universe.

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  15. No, Andrew, works of art, literature and even scripture are not moral or immoral. Acts and actions are, and arguably thoughts and sentiments, although that is a dicey area. I'm not usually on the side of the argument that says the gospels inspired immorality, but they obviously can and have. I never said genius always comes in equal parts moral and immoral or even that it inspires or impels to them equally.

    Of course Hitler was a genius. Do you think going from skid row in Vienna to master of Europe was a matter of luck or happenstance?

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  17. Maybe Hitler and other psychopaths like him see art merely as reinforcement for their monstrous ego. Since they are incapable of guilt, remorse or empathy, the effects that music might have on the rest of us are entirely lost on them. They only see themselves in it.

    So perhaps for Hitler listening to Beethoven was really no different from contemplating Albert Speer's grandiose plans for rebuilding Berlin. That and, by the end, an excuse for his nauseating self-pity. One can all too easily imagine the Führer in the bunker listening to Rachmaninov, by turns weeping into a handkerchief and raging at the perfidy of the German people and their cowardly generals.

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  18. I wonder if it was a case of Hitler listening simply to find, somewhere among those notes seeking after the deepest profundity, a damned good marching tune for the lads when things were looking bleak at Stalingrad.

    Why should we be surprised at Hitler's record collection? I'm not a musician, but it seems to me that even the deepest immersion in the greatest of music seems not to guarantee that practitioners will act in anything like a consistently decent manner towards other human beings. According to many older, and some long dead, orchestral musicians, the 'maestros', for example, the great interpreters of Beethoven, (Toscanini, Furtwangler, Klemperer), were tyrants on a level that did not result in the deaths of others, unless, occasionally, the more sensitive player was driven to suicide, but whose ferocity and lack of empathy could shatter even a top-class player's confidence in his abilities. It is, of course, tyranny on a small scale but, apparently, it was a common occurence that, even in the midst of rehearsing, for example, the slow movement of Beethoven 9, the tyrant would seek to humiliate, occasionally fire, a player who had hit a bum note, without a second thought to the consequences for that player; accuracy in presenting the conductor's interpretation being everything.

    My daughter, when a very small child, and with barely any knowledge of the world, would cry whenever she heard Barber's 'Adagio' (But then, she cried whenever Peter Sissons read the news!). I reckon it is, as Bryan suggested, one of those impenetrable thingys.

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  19. think what you like but judging the state of a person's mind by a quick glance at their record shelves would put a lot of quacks out of work.

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  20. You might as well say Bach & Hitler were both two legged mammals, Peter, & so should be treated as of one entity. Noone is denying Hitler's demonic type intelligence in rising to kind of the ant-heap but this kind of consciousness bears no relation to the essence of a Rembrandt, & a work like The PolishRider by him is intrinsically moral. Art exists as an experience in the mind; that is where the art work exists. To say it is amoral is to say everything is ammoral since that is where existence exists, ie in the mind. Talking of actions being moral & possibly intentions is simply a schizophrenic division of life into imaginary separate components. Also distrusting genius or intelligence is cowardice...a shirking from our own nature.

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  21. He probably subscribed to a record club and forgot to return disc of the month...

    ''Mein Gott, iz it ze 30th already! Now I vill haf to send DM3.99 to GramofunkenFurVergnügen for vis shitty Rachmaninov album! Scheiße! Scheiße! Schei - Eva, iz zat someone at ze door?! If zey look Russian tell zem I haf a headache.''

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  22. Andrew:

    So 'evil genius' is a contradiction in terms, is it?

    Pah! I refute it thus.

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  23. Surely Hitler's Record Collection is a 13-part series on the Hitler (sorry, History) Channel?

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  24. I don't understand this Andrew/ian. If a passion by Bach leaves one person weeping in thankful awe for the beauty and wonder of Creation and leads another to join a pogrom in the Jewish Quarter because he's upset by the crucifiction, how can it be said it is moral or immoral? And I thought one of the hallmarks of great art was its ability to tap into and bring forth the full range and depth of our emotions and sensibilities, including the darker ones. If it's just the good ones, then surely Disney is the best of the best.

    After sixty years, we really have to get over the modern fallacy of seeing nothing more in the whole story of Nazism and WW11 than a fascinating case study in mental illness.

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  25. Peter, you talked earlier of being suspicious of intellectualism & theory. Before & since then you have talked of a mental category called genius within which you are happy to place Hitler & Bach as accurate reperesentatives of this category. You have talked of the division of life into moral, immoral & amoral categories; with the category of mental experience called art placed within the amoral, meaning that it is devoid of intrinsic moral value, but that actions though not all of them are within the moral category. That intentions may be placed within the moral category but that this is less definite. This seems to me to be the wilful imposition of all kinds of narrow categories upon being; each of which could be assaulted & presumably torn to shreds as the edifice is built upon foundations which are anything but solid.
    Contrary to this infliction of ideas & intellectualism I can listen to the aforementioned Bach's Matthew's Passion & not being a shrivelled up version of myself, I am priveleged to experience an something deeply profound. For me to pretend this music is ammoral would be to shrink from the simple purity of life & become a parody of myself. If people wish to imagine reality is only what can be quantified & placed within neat categories then they're welcome to their little world. But it is these people who are the ones screwed up by confused thinking.

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  26. Andrew:

    I can listen to the aforementioned Bach's Matthew's Passion & not being a shrivelled up version of myself, I am priveleged to experience an something deeply profound.

    Good for you. Me too. Disturbingly, apparently Hitler could too.

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