In 1936, Theodor Adorno, one of the founders of the Frankfurt School of Philosophy, wrote an article about jazz music, "Über Jazz", although it should be noted that during the 'thirties, jazz was frequently used to refer to all popular music. Adorno launched a polemic against the blooming entertainment industry, arguing that popular culture was a system by which society was controlled through a top-down creation of standardised culture that intensified the commodification of artistic expression. In the post-war period, the Frankfurt School's argument, that most of culture helps to keep its audience compliant with capitalism, had an explosive impact.
Adorno saw the culture industry as an arena in which critical tendencies or potentialities were eliminated. He argued that the culture industry, which produced and circulated cultural commodities through the mass media, manipulated the population. Popular culture was identified as a reason why people become passive; the easy pleasures available through consumption of popular culture made people docile and content, no matter how terrible their economic circumstances. The differences among cultural goods make them appear different, but they are in fact just variations on the same theme.
Adorno's analysis allowed for a critique of mass culture from the left which balanced the critique of popular culture from the right. From both perspectives — left and right — the nature of cultural production was felt to be at the root of social and moral problems resulting from the consumption of culture. However, while the critique from the right emphasised moral degeneracy ascribed to sexual and racial influences within popular culture, Adorno located the problem not with the content, but with the objective realities of the production of mass culture and its effects. Arguably, it remains influential today.
From a sociological point of view, I think that there is a sense in which the emergence of popular culture generated Friedrich Nietzsche in opposition to that popular culture. Much as I admire the Frankfurt School's analysis, I do not agree with Adorno's take on jazz, pop music or the consumer society in general. Friedrich Nietzsche was to philosophy what Søren Kierkegaard was to theology. Both were pioneers of existentialism. "Christianity resolved to find that the world was bad and ugly," declared Nietzsche, "and has made it bad and ugly." He was an intellectual, revolted at the rise of mass literacy, and of mass culture in general. Much as I admire Nietzsche's arguments, Jason ought to go and live in Naples, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. If I may quote Friedrich Nietzsche directly:
"For believe me: the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is – to live dangerously."
Although Heidegger's initial analysis of humans as Dasein makes them sound rather like zombie-like beings moulded by society and culture and merely reacting to events, he then introduced the concept of authenticity. He made a sharp distinction between farmers and rural workers, whom he considered to have an instinctive grasp of their own humanity, and city dwellers, who he described as leading inauthentic lives, out of touch with their own individuality, which in turn causes anxiety. This anxiety is our response to the apparently arbitrary cultural rules under which we, as Dasein, become accustomed to living out our lives, and Heidegger says that there are two responses we can choose: we can flee the anxiety by conforming even more closely to the rules (inauthenticity); or face up to it, carrying on with daily life, but, crucially, without any expectation of any deep final meaning (authenticity). The latter approach allows us to respond to unique situations in an individual way (although still within the confines of social norms), and this was Heidegger's idea of how one should live. For Heidegger, this acceptance of how things are in the real world, however limiting it may be, is itself liberating.
Out of interest, Jason, have you ever read 'The Golden Bough'? Beware! Sir James Frazer's masterpiece describes our ancestors' primitive methods of worship, sexual practices, strange rituals and festivals. Disproving the popular thought that primitive life was simple, this monumental survey shows that savage man was enmeshed in a tangle of magic, taboos and superstitions. Sir James begins thus:
"Who does not know Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough? The scene, suffused with the golden glow of imagination in which the divine mind of Turner steeped and transfigured even the fairest natural landscape, is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of Nemi— “Diana’s Mirror,” as it was called by the ancients. No one who has seen that calm water, lapped in a green hollow of the Alban hills, can ever forget it. The two characteristic Italian villages which slumber on its banks, and the equally Italian palace whose terraced gardens descend steeply to the lake, hardly break the stillness and even the solitariness of the scene. Diana herself might still linger by this lonely shore, still haunt these woodlands wild.
In antiquity this sylvan landscape was the scene of a strange and recurring tragedy. On the northern shore of the lake, right under the precipitous cliffs on which the modern village of Nemi is perched, stood the sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis, or Diana of the Wood. The lake and the grove were sometimes known as the lake and grove of Aricia. But the town of Aricia (the modern La Riccia) was situated about three miles off, at the foot of the Alban Mount, and separated by a steep descent from the lake, which lies in a small crater-like hollow on the mountain side. In this sacred grove there grew a certain tree round which at any time of the day, and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl. In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if at every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy. He was a priest and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead. Such was the rule of the sanctuary. A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him, he retained office till he was himself slain by a stronger or a craftier.
The post which he held by this precarious tenure carried with it the title of king; but surely no crowned head ever lay uneasier, or was visited by more evil dreams, than his. For year in, year out, in summer and winter, in fair weather and in foul, he had to keep his lonely watch, and whenever he snatched a troubled slumber it was at the peril of his life. The least relaxation of his vigilance, the smallest abatement of his strength of limb or skill of fence, put him in jeopardy; grey hairs might seal his death-warrant. To gentle and pious pilgrims at the shrine the sight of him might well seem to darken the fair landscape, as when a cloud suddenly blots the sun on a bright day. The dreamy blue of Italian skies, the dappled shade of summer woods, and the sparkle of waves in the sun, can have accorded but ill with that stern and sinister figure. Rather we picture to ourselves the scene as it may have been witnessed by a belated wayfarer on one of those wild autumn nights when the dead leaves are falling thick, and the winds seem to sing the dirge of the dying year. It is a sombre picture, set to melancholy music—the background of forest showing black and jagged against a lowering and stormy sky, the sighing of the wind in the branches, the rustle of the withered leaves under foot, the lapping of the cold water on the shore, and in the foreground, pacing to and fro, now in twilight and now in gloom, a dark figure with a glitter of steel at the shoulder whenever the pale moon, riding clear of the cloud-rack, peers down at him through the matted boughs.
The strange rule of this priesthood has no parallel in classical antiquity, and cannot be explained from it. To find an explanation we must go farther afield. No one will probably deny that such a custom savours of a barbarous age, and, surviving into imperial times, stands out in striking isolation from the polished Italian society of the day, like a primaeval rock rising from a smooth-shaven lawn. It is the very rudeness and barbarity of the custom which allow us a hope of explaining it. For recent researches into the early history of man have revealed the essential similarity with which, under many superficial differences, the human mind has elaborated its first crude philosophy of life. Accordingly, if we can show that a barbarous custom, like that of the priesthood of Nemi, has existed elsewhere; if we can detect the motives which led to its institution; if we can prove that these motives have operated widely, perhaps universally, in human society, producing in varied circumstances a variety of institutions specifically different but generically alike; if we can show, lastly, that these very motives, with some of their derivative institutions, were actually at work in classical antiquity; then we may fairly infer that at a remoter age the same motives gave birth to the priesthood of Nemi. Such an inference, in default of direct evidence as to how the priesthood did actually arise, can never amount to demonstration. But it will be more or less probable according to the degree of completeness with which it fulfils the conditions I have indicated. The object of this book is, by meeting these conditions, to offer a fairly probable explanation of the priesthood of Nemi... "
I enjoy reading about the romantics and it is true that people went to church a lot so religion was a major factor in their life.
A conflict has always existed between religious leaders, merchants and the aristocracy, but it would seem that this conflict helps balance things out.
I talked to my local vicar, tom, about a few issues sometime ago and helped him with his local social enterprise kinda things, nice chap, it does make sense to have a local religous leader and that be a strong part of the community.
... that head of wonga is in league with the devil...
The queen should chop his head off
You know, Ruskin was destined for the church, by his parents, his only relief from reading the bible was reading byron, hugely dangerous !
I am toying with a small press publication idea called 'ruskin times' which will mix his writings with others, plan would be that advertising would make it profitable and would be delivered to homes in Kent and then spread from there.
I shall talk with the enterprise agency in Kent about this at some point, laser printers have got cheap.... technology makes things viable and yes, ruskin is now, i believe, out of copyright.
Red House was once in Kent, but technically speaking, I suspect that it is now in Greater London (Bexleyheath). The only house commissioned, created and lived in by William Morris, founder of the Arts & Crafts movement, Red House is a building of extraordinary architectural and social significance.
When it was completed in 1860, it was described by Edward Burne-Jones as 'the beautifullest place on earth'. Only recently acquired by the Trust, the rooms at Red House give a unique view of William Morris’ earliest designs and decorative schemes.
The original features and furniture by Morris and Philip Webb, stained glass and paintings by Burne-Jones, the bold architecture and a garden designed to 'clothe the house', add up to a fascinating and rewarding place to visit.