On the Ethics of Genius
"If a tree falls in the forest, with no one there to hear, does it make a sound?" Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. Definitions of sound may be consigned to the quibble/semantics garbage pail for all I care. However, sound or no, I have never had any doubt that if a tree falls in the forest, with no one there to hear, it makes no music. Music is communication or it is nothing. With no one there to hear, there is no transmission of idea or energy from one subjective reality to another. Musical truth brings the soul of the individual into more intimate communion with the oversoul, with the saints, with God. The divine intelligence of music wouldn't even bother manifesting without an audience--put another way, it is the subjective reality of the audience that brings the truth of music into energetic manifestation.
There is a commonly held opinion that genius dwells in a rarefied atmosphere beyond the ken of the common man. I vigorously reject this attitude. It may be true that savants like Mozart and Mendelssohn have insight into the mechanics of creation that surpasses the average or even above average aptitude for understanding the abstract mathematics of music, but without the innocence of the child and the connection with the pulsing blood, those abstractions mean nothing.
The following comments are taken from my doctoral thesis article, "On the Ethics of Music Composition."
The single most powerfully validating attribute an expression can have is the ability to invoke the collective mind in the subject, thereby giving him a super-personal experience of himself and, vice versa, the collective mind a super-personal experience of him (see p. 9 of "On the Improv Mind State"). Therefore, since entering a transcendent state, in this regard, becomes a social act, the degree to which an expression is absorbed into the collective mind is very much a measure of its ethical legitimacy.
The "social" dimension of art is the critical point here--the artist does not create in a vacuum, even if there is never a single other living person listening, the vestiges of human intelligence residing in the collective mind field hear every note.
The rightness or goodness of an expression is intimately linked with its presence as a universal identity. A basic proposition of this paper, supported by suggestions made in "On the Improv Mind State," is that humans are multi-dimensional beings. Human beings exist as foci of ego-consciousness graduated over a vertically aligned strata of planes of existence; a whole person does not live on one single plane at a time, but simultaneously on several, possibly an infinite number. A truthful expression of a multi-dimensional being must, therefore, initiate shifts in mind state, and must generate trans-dimensional energies; otherwise the living referent of the expression is only partially represented. Therefore an expression, if it refers to the multi-dimensional world of humanity, must have something to say to humanity, just as any vibration has something to say to a potentially sympathetic frequency.
Contrariwise, if the elements of an expression are fixed in one dimension or another, then the expression cannot be parallel to humankind; since a human being cannot duplicate the experience of such a non-parallel expression with his whole being, complete contact cannot be made. Such a lapse is sufficient to invalidate the expression and to ensure its hasty demise.
Thus an expression may be said to be ethically invalid when it does not engage the whole multi-dimensional being in an intercourse of sympathetic resonance (or duplication). Because higher and the lower constitute a unified reality, the omission of any aspect of this unity makes for a false representation. This invalidation can occur in the material dimension
(1) with expressions which slavishly repeat the literal identities of their referents without initiating a shift in mind state, or
(2) with expressions whose referents are completely ideational, or abstract, with no material point of reference.
The choices a composer makes in building his composition may initiate psychological responses which lead the subject, step by step, toward an experience of his higher self; or they may not.
The virtuoso mental gymnastics at play in a work of genius will always take a secondary place relative to the motion of the heart in its strivings to reach out to the world and touch the heart of another. The heart's desire moving across the waters, undefined or contained by an abstract form, does not express or manifest true feeling, but rather sentimentality, the echo or shadow of feeling; but form without feeling is sounding brass signifying nothing. The a priori logic of music supports and directs the energy of musical truth, but it is not a substitute for this energy; the truth of music cannot be expressed by rational constraints, only articulated by it. The logic is the needlework that holds the magnificent gown of light in place over the restless frame of transcendent reality. Focus on any single aspect of the multi-dimensional resonance of music, at the expense of the others, limits the range of the expression, deflating it, emasculating it, killing it. Thus the work of genius, while in need of abstract underpinnings, must always strive to embrace the scope of a WHOLE person--an holistic spiritual being.
Since humans exist simultaneously on more than one plane of being, expressions must resonate sympathetically with human intelligence trans- dimensionally. Only by resonating in tune with all levels of the personality's subjective experience can an expression be meaningful; only by inspiring the ego to experience itself in its vast array of articulated forms and inarticulate modalities, does an expression validate itself as truthful. Thus the challenge and the opportunity of art is to seduce consciousness out of its comfortable literal mode and direct it towards higher levels of its mental constitution.
In Christianity and Evolution (1971), Teilhard de Chardin describes the way the personal mind relates to the collective mind. Chardin says that a human mind generates a kind of magnetic force-field, and that all the minds of mankind, all those little force-fields, exert an attraction on each other, creating a kind of merged consciousness (the Omega Point). The energy of all those individual minds creates (or, at some point in the distant past, created) a magnetic vortex which draws (drew) all similar minds into it. This vortex manifests itself as a kind of magnetic cloud that hovers over the world of man, a cloud into which an individual mind may reach to access information or to make personal contributions. Living beings thus constantly rebuild or modify the corporate content of this cloud, which is made manifest not only in individual consciousnesses but in an anomalous super-personal mind-space of its own.
The content of this cloud, is truly corporate, because in the collective mind environment the individual is subsumed into the group. The collective mind is an egalitarian environment, an average-seeking energy; no one person is more important than another, even though individuals may sometimes influence whole classes of materials. To borrow an expression from Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics (1971), the collective mind may be thought of as "patterns of interconnection probabilities," (p. 68).
Interconnection is needed to link
(1) the vertical axis of existence through which a human being encounters his multi-dimensional self, and
(2) the horizontal axis, through which he encounters the rest of humanity.
This discussion is leading somewhere--it is leading to the invalidation of the whole idea of genius in favor of a more democratic system of validating art. Ultimately, we are moving to a definition of genius that negates the word's meaningfulness.
Next week: John Cage Stories