Talking about music
Literature was the creation of the bourgeois class, and retains the imprint of its privilege and topdown purview. As to painting, in an epoch of mass production, singleton artworks can only be a paradoxical enterprise: Marcel Duchamp diagnosed this correctly, even if his clever diagnosis becomes paler and more tedious with each repetition. Massaging the body directly, mass-disseminated music answers William Blake’s demand that we open the gates of the heart, the loins and seminal vessels, the stomach and intestines, as well as the abstract spaces of the head (Milton, 1804, plate 34).
René Descartes was wrong: the location of the soul in modern man is not the pineal gland, it’s music. In Blake’s time, what raised the temperature of discussion in the coffee house was the divine nature of humanity after Jesus; what raises it now –
because Marvin Gaye and John Coltrane do materially transform their listeners into angels
– is anyone voicing an honest reaction to the music they hear. Music is where the pressures of global capitalism impinge directly on the human animal, wreaking changes his or her conscious mind must catch up with, or perish as a living soul. To talk about it is to foment revolution.
This passage was first published by metamute. Republished in herri with kind permission of the author, Ben Watson, who, with Esther Leslie, runs the website militantesthetix.co.uk. Highly recommended.