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Author Topic: These Are Primitive Times  (Read 1163 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: November 22, 2010, 09:19:09 PM »

"These are primitive times". So says Pepper Keenan, singer of the heavy metal band Corrosion of Conformity. So let's talk about this claim, let's talk about culture. Is it ironic, or self-contradictory/refuting, or just plain silly, for a heavy metal guy to claim that we live in primitive times? Is heavy metal a result or lack of culture, or perhaps a reason that we have a lack of culture, or perhaps both in a self-reinforcing cycle? Where is today's Bach, or Mozart, or Beethoven; or Shelley or Byron, or Frost, or Dickinson? Do we live in a world no longer capable of producing such people? Or are such people around, but society at large just doesn't notice them? Will they be recognized after their death? Who composes music, or paints, or writes poems, or does some other bit of artistry, who will be remembered and talked about and enjoyed 200 years from now? Are Madonna and Lady Gaga our contribution to the patch work of human culture?

(I have more I'd like to say on this, but as I kept writing it started sounding like a blog post, so I think I'll stop there for now and see where the conversation goes...)
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« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2010, 09:39:26 PM »

Well, we certainly are living in a dumbed down society. I find the fact that most people think of the music of Bach or Mozart as "boring" to be a horrifying reality. No one sees philosophy as a worthy endevor either. I think that this is a result of many things, but nominalism and existentialism (sartre's version) play a big role.
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« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2010, 02:10:47 AM »

While I do agree that we have very much so moved away from such 'elegance' or past artists, I also must ask does the internet have anything to do with that?

We have knowledge on tap, like wikipedia. We live in a microwave society where we need things instantly, concise, straight to the point. We live in an age of impatience, where we don't have the time because time itself lacks in our own lives.

Just my two cents.
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« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2010, 02:51:21 AM »

Why should the measure of "human culture" be limited to the humanities and the fine arts?

We are able to send information at the speed of light, we are able to create conditions similar to that at the dawn of the Universe, we are able to map our very genome, we have created machines that can perform 2.5x1015 instructions a second, we have visited alien worlds and have discovered exoplanets, etc.  Philosophers and artists in no way have a monopoly on expression nor do they solely define our culture.
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« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2010, 03:06:26 AM »

People who complain that our society doesn't respect Bach and Beethoven fail to realize that more people have access to Bach and Beethoven than ever before. In the past, cultural elites may have recognized the contribution of great poets and composers, but they were after all small cultural elites. Now I, the scion of a lower middle-class family, have access to all the classical music I desire at the press of a Download button. The welfare state has resulted in heavy subsidy for the arts with the goal of making them available to the general public, allowing me to attend a concert for all of 6€ (and without formal clothing).

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Where is today's Bach, or Mozart, or Beethoven

There's just so much good music being written today that it's impossible to keep up with it all. Nørgård, Gubaidulina, Knaifel, Carter, Dalbavie, Dusapin (to name a tiny handful from my collection) are writing works which hold their own against the canon.

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Shelley or Byron, or Frost, or Dickinson?

Poetry's not dead either.  I prefer the poetry of John Ashbery and Pia Tafdrup to any of those four poets of old you mention (but then again, for me poetry didn't really start until Mallarme's late works).
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« Reply #5 on: November 23, 2010, 04:23:51 AM »

Is heavy metal a result or lack of culture, or perhaps a reason that we have a lack of culture, or perhaps both in a self-reinforcing cycle?

Those who say that Heavy Metal is not culture simply don't know what they are talking about. Besides Classical music I've yet to see another genre that is so creative, diverse and open to all kinds of influences. If one wants to see some non-cultural music I'd point them out to nowaday's pop music with Madonnas and such.

Otherwise, I'd agree with CRCulver. This is the first time in history where people can actually choose what they want to. If that results in lack of understanding in Bach and such that just means that people just don't like it. It's all about taste and not lack of culture.
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« Reply #6 on: November 23, 2010, 05:24:13 AM »

As far as popular music in general goes, it has been on a steady decline quality-wise for quite some time now IMO.
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« Reply #7 on: November 23, 2010, 06:23:39 AM »

Why should the measure of "human culture" be limited to the humanities and the fine arts?

We are able to send information at the speed of light, we are able to create conditions similar to that at the dawn of the Universe, we are able to map our very genome, we have created machines that can perform 2.5x1015 instructions a second, we have visited alien worlds and have discovered exoplanets, etc.  Philosophers and artists in no way have a monopoly on expression nor do they solely define our culture.

Culture is a way of life. Knowing the genome isn't a way of life, creating conditions at the start of the universe isn't a way of life, etc. It is more so the tastes in art and manners that are favored by a social group, which is what culture is.
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« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2010, 10:39:29 AM »

One thing my friend and I recently discussed in this regard: the young generation of today is living under the conditions where one's imagination is not really being exercised. When we were growing up ~40 years ago, we read books on a daily basis, and these books contained little or no illustrations. For example, I read ~1000 pages of Dumas' "Count Monte Cristo" with no illustrations in the book at all. So we exercised our imagination. The kids who are growing up in the USA now are immersed in a culture where everything is about graphics, images, bright dancing spots. So they don't have to have any imagination. What things and people are, is "decided for them." I see it a lot when I am lecturing at my university.
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« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2010, 11:35:35 AM »

First off, on heavy metal: those who say it has no "culture", in hoity-toity sense of the term, need desperately to listen to anything by Blind Guardian, particularly A Night at the Opera, along with Iron Maiden.  Beyond that, however, there is a rebellion in the HM culture, a rebellion against the shallow, the hypocritical ( Metallica's ...And Justice for All) and against whatever sacred cows the establishment holds dear.  And this holds true for all the "cutting edge" performers throughout the years.  Bob Dylan (another bastion of modern "culture") was rebelling against the ramrod conservatism that was held over from the Fifties, including the old "kill 'em all" and racial superiority mentality that was prevalent.

But to say there is no modern culture, no "greats", is a fallacy.  Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were performers of the popular media of their day.  Today we have Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Tupac Shakur, Hansi Kirsch, Garrison Keillor....all these will one day be regarded as "culture" by future generations...provided text speak, MTV and twitter doesn't destroy society first.

Just MY two cents.
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« Reply #10 on: November 23, 2010, 11:39:45 AM »

One thing my friend and I recently discussed in this regard: the young generation of today is living under the conditions where one's imagination is not really being exercised. When we were growing up ~40 years ago, we read books on a daily basis, and these books contained little or no illustrations. For example, I read ~1000 pages of Dumas' "Count Monte Cristo" with no illustrations in the book at all. So we exercised our imagination. The kids who are growing up in the USA now are immersed in a culture where everything is about graphics, images, bright dancing spots. So they don't have to have any imagination. What things and people are, is "decided for them." I see it a lot when I am lecturing at my university.

Couldn't agree more.  When I look at the portfolios of prospective employees, the creativity of young graduates has noticably fallen off in just the last 10 years.  Original thought is being replaced by regurgitated sound bytes and pop culture.  I was in Starbucks the other day and watched a family with two teenage children. The son spent the entire time texting with Ipod earbuds in his ear.  He never once spoke or made eye concact with anyone.  Sad.
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« Reply #11 on: November 23, 2010, 11:48:37 AM »

Why should the measure of "human culture" be limited to the humanities and the fine arts?

Because those are the highest expressions of (secular) human culture. All the gadgets and discoveries you mention are trifles by comparison. We are indeed in a dark age, as evinced by the fact that many people will readily agree that spaceships are more impressive than poetry.

As for heavy metal, I do in fact agree that it is probably the last bastion of good art in popular music. Nevertheless, the most meritorious forms of metal, the "extreme" genres (doom, death, black) are also the least popular. Most of the "metal" kids are into today is metalcore and related garbage.
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« Reply #12 on: November 23, 2010, 11:52:55 AM »

An interesting video from the perspective of marketing on today's youth:

Here:
http://vimeo.com/16638983

or here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ_0EhqIPko

"In the admirable new short form documentary "We All Want to Be Young," the Brazilian research company Box1824—which specializes in "behavioral sciences and consumer trends"—attempts to distill the essence of youth culture in modernity, charting the evolution of cool from the Baby Boomers to Generation X to the Millennials.

What stands out most about the Millennials might not be the dissolution of social groups or boundaries, but that we possess an unrivaled propensity for conspicuous navel-gazing. That said, our generation's willful surrender of privacy will, for better or worse, shape our collective consciousness. Though, as this video points out, by the time we make heads or tails of ourselves, there will be a whole new crop of young things changing the world. "

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« Reply #13 on: November 23, 2010, 12:23:49 PM »

Why should the measure of "human culture" be limited to the humanities and the fine arts?

We are able to send information at the speed of light, we are able to create conditions similar to that at the dawn of the Universe, we are able to map our very genome, we have created machines that can perform 2.5x1015 instructions a second, we have visited alien worlds and have discovered exoplanets, etc.  Philosophers and artists in no way have a monopoly on expression nor do they solely define our culture.


All of this means nothing if we lost the skill of how to survive off the grid. The western world is only one step away from going back to the dark ages. The dark ages that the barbarians caused when they sacked the Roman city.

What do you think will happen when our grid breaks down? How do you think people will act? Eventually most western domesticated people will become cannibals in order to survive. Why? Because we no longer know how to live in the wild.


We live in a fake/artificial fast food world and we no longer know how to suffer. We see suffering as an evil thing. Something to escape, something to run away from. And so once this fake world of ours collapses, most of us won't know how to live.

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« Reply #14 on: November 23, 2010, 12:48:45 PM »

by the fact that many people will readily agree that spaceships are more impressive than poetry.

As they should.
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« Reply #15 on: November 23, 2010, 04:12:37 PM »

All of this means nothing if we lost the skill of how to survive off the grid. The western world is only one step away from going back to the dark ages. The dark ages that the barbarians caused when they sacked the Roman city.

Historians have been calling for decades to do away with the term "Dark Ages". Medieval Europe was more complicated than a simple collapse into a continent of slack-jacked yokels, and in spite of the old schoolboy interpretation of Europe languishing without culture until the Renaissance, remarkable works of poetry and scholarship were produced during these centuries.

As for the economic problems and social upheavals of Europe during that time, they started long before Rome was sacked. A lot of schools would say the Roman era essentially ended for much of Western Europe in the late 200s. That's 200 years before the formal fall of Rome.
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« Reply #16 on: November 23, 2010, 04:14:39 PM »

Why should the measure of "human culture" be limited to the humanities and the fine arts?

We are able to send information at the speed of light, we are able to create conditions similar to that at the dawn of the Universe, we are able to map our very genome, we have created machines that can perform 2.5x1015 instructions a second, we have visited alien worlds and have discovered exoplanets, etc.  Philosophers and artists in no way have a monopoly on expression nor do they solely define our culture.

Well, part of the problem is that many people think what you have just described is boring. Many have to become too shallow to appreciated the beauty of Physics.
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« Reply #17 on: November 23, 2010, 04:16:00 PM »

by the fact that many people will readily agree that spaceships are more impressive than poetry.

As they should.

Why?
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« Reply #18 on: November 23, 2010, 04:20:58 PM »

Bob Dylan yes will be heard for another 200 years same with Bruce Springsteen etc cause I believe that the key to any great composer or musician is to be able to tell a story with your art or invoke a story by the imagination if you want to add more to this if you don't mind going back about 30 years Jimmy Hendrix, I know i will never forget the sound of the national anthem when he played it on guitar. There will always be gaps in time between the truly great ones cause if they happened all the time their greatness would not be felt. Like gems and all other thing the rarity of things is one of the things that makes them stand out as such a wonderful thing.

As far as the literary comparison I would say you have to include movies in the comparison cause of the transition of the imagination to visual medium Shelley--Frost--Poe (my favorite) compared to Spielberg or Scorsese both have made masterpieces of work that will be known for century's and will stand the test of time. Cant make this comparison with out mentioning one great movie Casablanca like Marry Shelly's Frankenstein Dickinson's Tale of Two Cities. All truly magnificent works that will stand the test of time long after others have gone the way of the Dodo. Great painters would transfer to great photographers. Keep in mind i choose Dylan and Springsteen to compare to similar artists of the era Tchaikovsky, Franz Liszt, Bach Mozart was in a class all his own.
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« Reply #19 on: November 23, 2010, 04:51:32 PM »

In each age we're tempted to be either elitists of the present/future (it's never been as good as it is now) or elitists of the past (things are getting worse), when reality usually dictates that both are valid at every age to a limited degree. 

IMO there is plenty of creative and beautiful cultural exercise going on at present (and I include scientific and engineering endeavor in that), and at the same time there is nearly limitless connection to the past - when in human history have Brahms, Newton, Virgil, Homer et al. been so widely disseminated and easy to access as the present?  Yes, maybe we have more non-creative people in the word; however, in fairness, we have simply more people (period) in the world, and that's due to many factors including creative expression in the sciences, the flourishing of culture, and the inter-connection of artists and thinkers around the globe.  I can't/won't say that "there's never been a better time than the present," or that "these are primitive times," but I will say that rarely has so much cultural expression been so available to so many for such a low cost.
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« Reply #20 on: November 24, 2010, 05:58:54 AM »

Why should the measure of "human culture" be limited to the humanities and the fine arts?

We are able to send information at the speed of light, we are able to create conditions similar to that at the dawn of the Universe, we are able to map our very genome, we have created machines that can perform 2.5x1015 instructions a second, we have visited alien worlds and have discovered exoplanets, etc.  Philosophers and artists in no way have a monopoly on expression nor do they solely define our culture.

Because the humanities and the fine arts are the ones about self-development and expression of it. The sciences of the external world and technology are about controling the world. Humanities are about self-control.

Indeed, we can become a bunch of warp=speed barbarians, quantic computer sub-human users.

It's through philosophy and the fine arts that we improve ourselves as human beings. There is no way going round it.
« Last Edit: November 24, 2010, 06:00:00 AM by Fabio Leite » Logged

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