Monday, 15 October 2018

Terry Boardman on Western musical evolution

TB in full flow...

I have been engaging with the work of Terry Boardman over the past couple of years - watching videos of lectures and reading articles - many of which can be found on his personal web pages

Boardman is an historian, translator and an athroposophist (student, teacher and advocate of Rudolf Steiner) - a scholar of the unusual, and someone with a distinctive personal perspective.

Overall, Terry Boardman strikes me as one of the most interesting of living British thinkers, a decent and honest individual, and someone from whom geninuinely new ideas flow in abundance.

Here is a sample: some thoughts on the evolution of Western music...

After the 1914-1919 war, when Middle Europe failed to take up and apply Rudolf Steiner’s ideas of social threefolding, he pointed out that despite the trauma of the war, ingrained habits of thought were still too strong to allow people to change their thinking and align it to the needs of the new Age of Light that had begun, he said, in 1899/1900 with mankind’s crossing of the threshold of the spiritual world.

The doors of perception that were necessarily closed c. 3000 BC to enable mankind to fully incarnate into physical earth reality were now reopening. Music again was a pointer here. Classical harmony had broken down at the end of the 19th century, and in 1908/09 Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) composed the song cycle The Book ofthe Hanging Gardens Op. 15, the first fully atonal work.

The final breakdown of classical harmony, already prefigured in Wagner’s work (e.g. Tristan and Isolde), was a powerful symbol of the fact that man’s incarnation process of descent into the physical and mineral element of the earth culminating in the consolidation of the personal ego through the major-minor structure of harmony,based on chords built on the intervals of the prime, third and fifth, was over.

The threshold to the spiritual world had been crossed – albeit unconsciously by most of humanity; a long excarnation process would now begin with the movement from the experience of the physical world to that of the etheric world of life forces. As physics had dominated the sciences since the 16th century, now biology, which was ‘supposed to be’ the science of the living, was coming into its own, and this dissolution of the solid into something more suggestive and implicit was mirrored in western arts first in the paintings of the Impressionists and then in the evanescent music of Satie and Debussy.

But no sooner had this occurred than two opposite tendencies made themselves manifest – in Schoenberg’s atonality (1908) and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (1913). These two cardinal works can be said to have signalled the beginning of the falling apart of western culture into the nerve pole and the will pole respectively, a process which accelerated throughout the 20th century.

Composers like Josef Hauer (1883-1959) and Arnold Schoenberg were searching for a new music; they sensed the coming of the new era and sought a new spiritual music that would correspond to it (a “purely spiritual, supersensual music composed according to impersonal rules” – Hauer3) but they and their successors ended up creating an extremely conceptual, abstract, mathematical music that was more redolent of the silent geometry of the fixed stars than of the movements of the heavenly spheres. It failed, and still fails, to touch the hearts of most contemporaries.

At the same time, before the war, composers such as Debussy, Satie and Ravel were already experimenting with influences from black American ragtime music.

During the war, jazz made its impact in Europe, notably after the arrival of large numbers of black American soldiers in 1917-1919. This was music of will and rhythm, certainly a kind of life, as distinct from the contemplative abstraction of the music of the Second Viennese School, but the music of both these opposite poles grew rapidly in the 1920s after the war and because of the shock effect of the experience of the war on European culture, which had removed many people’s reservations in the area of tradition, culture, and sexuality.

In the 1920s many European intellectuals and educated people now fell in love with jazz and the dances that went with it. We see this kind of infatuation well portrayed in the famous dance by the false Maria in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927) and in the ecstatic reception given to the wild dances of the black American Josephine Baker in European clubs of the period.

By the 1930s what had remained only ideal conceptions of Dionysian art in the head of Friedrich Nietzsche had become willed actions on stages across the West, while in their spectacular political mass rallies and other events, the Nazis, borrowing from the Soviets, combined the Apollonian and Dionysian elements in a new, sinister political form of social ‘art’ that cut out the mind and reached directly into the feelings and will. All these ‘cultural’ developments reflected the failure of Europeans to evolve their own culture in a healthy direction in the new Age of Light; they had been knocked sideways by the catastrophe of 1914-1919.

From the 1920s onwards, as American culture, through its jazz, its dances, its crooners and, above all, its Hollywood movies, gradually took over in Europe, and western culture in general became more sexualised, black popular music increasingly pushed out traditional white European popular songs to the point where today BeyoncĂ©, Rihanna, and Nikki Minaj and their white counterparts (Madonna, Lady Gaga, Jessie J) and imitators can be heard in most public spaces. Black American music has had an overwhelming influence on pop and rock, rap has removed much of melody in the pop world, while hip-hop and drum ’n’ bass have killed out a great deal of harmony.

The focus has been on “getting down”, as the grandfather of American funk, James Brown, would say, getting down to the root chakra, the sexual centre which has traditionally driven biological human life but which is in our time increasingly seen simply as a source of ecstatic pleasure separated from conception, pregnancy and birth, as intellectual science has steadily divorced sex from birth. The tendency to sexualise music has been overwhelmingly pushed in the direction of the European masses by commerce and the mass media, which find it useful to control people through their subconscious drives.

But what about the opposite pole, the one which proceeded from Schoenberg’s Book of the Hanging Gardens? It continues within the western modern classical tradition, though not so often played live, but where do we see this pole, the nerve pole, the thinking pole, in popular music today?... (Read the whole thing...)

Saturday, 13 October 2018

First Principles

It should be self-evident that first principles can't be proved by logic or reason. They are deeper than that and consequently can only be known. If they are not known or denied or argued against, it is because the mind, for motives of its own, has cut itself loose from the moorings of truth. It has separated itself from reality and enclosed itself in illusion.

I am prompted in this thought by a questioner of my post on homosexuality who asks why can't we live and let live? Why can't homosexuals just lead their lives as they wish if it doesn't harm anyone else? An understanding of first principles should make the reason why quite clear but the point is that it does harm others if a society ratifies something which is against truth. That society has now cut itself off from the reality of God. It has rejected first principles and thereby put itself out of alignment with reality, and the consequence will be separation from the good and a descent into a downward spiral.  Disharmony and chaos will be the result and that will lead to eventual psychological breakdown. You might think I am exaggerating, and it is true this scenario will not happen overnight. But it will happen unless there is some kind of correction. You cannot swim against the tide for long without eventual exhaustion.

First principles are something about which we all should have an instinct. A culture that challenges first principles is one that is on the way down. It's a classic sign of decadence and has something in common with a jaded mind that seeks stimulation by breaking convention. The destruction of a society's forms and conventions, built in some sense on first principles, releases an energy that does indeed provide temporary stimulation but that energy is soon dissipated and you are left with nothing except an inevitable feeling of inertia and ennui that demands more stimulation to invigorate its faded sense of being. The downward spiral continues. The only solution is a restoration of first principles.

What are these principles? Funnily enough, they vary according to individual cultures. That is to say, they don't actually vary at all but the form they take does and focus might be on different aspects of the whole. That having been said, a primary requirement is acknowledgement of transcendental reality. This means an appreciation that this world is not sufficient in itself but is a creation. There is something behind it that is not directly perceptible by ordinary means, specifically thought and the senses, but is nonetheless the very basis of all things that are so perceptible.

Then there is the connected idea that human beings have within themselves the capacity to embrace higher levels of being, if they will. They are not just as they seem to be but destined for greater things. The recognition of this fact is very important because it means we do not just rest content with appearance but constantly aspire to see behind that and go beyond it. We do not rationalise our bad and wrong and sinful behaviour but know it to be an aberration which will hold us back from proper fulfilment.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about first principles is that goodness, beauty and truth are not constructed things, depending on an individual's preferences, but objective realities. Only if a culture acknowledges this will it seek to coordinate itself to the good, the beautiful and the true and discourage, or even outlaw, the expression of what goes against these things. We now have a sentimental attitude to freedom and self-expression believing, more or less, that anything goes, especially if it can be rationalised as art or justified as pushing the boundaries back a little more. A wiser society would know that many things will lead to its spiritual corruption and downfall if they are allowed to flourish unchecked. I would point to music as significant in this regard but one could include art of any description as well as sexual practice and even certain scientific pursuits. For that matter, even some forms of religion or what passes under that name.

It should be obvious that the contemporary world has almost completely lost contact with first principles. As it has expanded its idea of what human beings are in strictly material terms, it has abandoned any sense of a higher spiritual reality and the fact that men and women should be seen in that light. Not only are first principles denied, we actually believe that in so doing we are bravely forging ahead to a more enlightened world. Truly, the extent to which we are self-deceived is astonishing. The question is, why have we done this? Why have we rejected first principles? And the answer to that is we have become puffed up and proud, convinced of our own rectitude and wisdom. It is a kind of hubris and the ancient Greeks knew very well where that led.

First principles are not up for debate. They are fundamental to the well-being of any culture. They entail a recognition of God or the gods, and the understanding that this world has a proper pattern which should be adhered to if we would live in harmony with it and ourselves. The contemporary severance from first principles is unparalleled in history and will result in ever greater alienation and societal breakdown as human psychology buckles and perhaps even breaks under the strain of living in a world divorced from truth.

To relate the theme of this essay with the theme of this blog I would say there is no chance of Albion awakening until it rediscovers first principles. Something along the line of The Elizabethan World Picture would be a start even if that should be updated a bit to conform to contemporary consciousness which, although largely disconnected from truth as things currently stand, still has its own contribution to make when brought back into alignment with first principles.

Monday, 8 October 2018

The Elizabethan World Picture

About 30 years ago I was looking at some books that my brother was getting rid of. Among them was one that drew my attention. It was by an academic named E.M.W. Tillyard and it was called The Elizabethan World Picture. I had recently been reading books by Frances Yates, a scholar who more or less exhumed studies of occultism during the Renaissance, and this looked interesting. "Could I take it?" I asked. He didn't want it (it was an old school book) and so I salvaged it from the pile of rejects.

The stimulus for this book was the attempt to get to grips with the metaphysical background to Shakespeare's plays and to Elizabethan literature in general. Tillyard realised that to understand the idea of political order during the period of the English Renaissance he had to see it as part of a much larger cosmic order. He found that this could be conceived in three ways which were as a chain, a set of correspondences and a dance. The notion of cosmic order, in fact, ran through the whole of Elizabethan society and it was fundamentally religious in tone - as it would have to be since it was rooted not in the material world but in metaphysical reality. He saw that to imagine the Elizabethan age as a kind of precursor to secular humanism that was making the break from medieval religiosity, as apparently was often the case at the time he was as writing (1943), was completely wrong. It was much more the continuation and development of medieval thought and not really modern, as in humancentric, at all.

The basis of the Elizabethan understanding of the world was order. There was a divine order, reflected externally in the Sun and the planets, and this order was expressed hierarchically. The proper working of this order, and its proper recognition by Man, resulted in harmony. Its neglect or abuse caused disharmony. It was like a musical instrument out of tune. And what principally caused disorder was sin.

The awareness of sin was everywhere in the 16th century as it had been in earlier centuries. The idea of sin and salvation was familiar to and acknowledged by all sections of the populace. And sin was spiritual in significance. Man's sin did not just affect him individually. It corrupted the world and set it out of kilter with its source. It severed the links in the chain that led down from God to Man.

The Great Chain of Being from Robert Fludd (1574-1637). The hand of God reaches down through the stars to Nature and thence to the physical world.

The chain of being was the symbol that described both the connection of Heaven to Earth and its hierarchical nature. In Tillyard's words "The metaphor served to express the unimaginable plenitude of God's creation, its unfaltering order, and its ultimate unity. The chain stretched from the foot of God's throne to the meanest of inanimate objects." It bound the whole of creation together and each link took from above and gave to below which is not to imply that the movement was always in one direction only. One of the significant aspects of this understanding of life was that even lower links in the chain brought something to the whole which was not otherwise present. Stones are near the bottom "but they exceed the class above them in strength and durability". So God is never wasteful and everything has its purpose.

Tillyard's book contains a full description of the various links in the chain as visualised by the Elizabethans, but, for the purposes of this brief article, it will be sufficient to list them very basically. All starts from God, naturally enough, and then proceeds down from him through the various hierarchies of angels until it reaches the stars "which, though obeying God's changeless order are responsible for the vagaries of fortune in the realms below the moon." Man, poised between heaven and earth, is the nodal point of this system and "his double nature, though the source of internal conflict, has the unique function of binding together all creation, of bridging the greatest cosmic chasm, that between matter and spirit". Below man, of course, there are the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms.

The chain describes the vertical aspect of the world but the horizontal is also catered for in this system. Here operate the correspondences which relate various things to others of a similar kind. However, the correspondences are not only horizontal, that is to say, connecting things on the same plane, for there are correspondences between celestial archetypes and earthly manifestations too. For example, the Trinity is reflected in man in understanding, will and memory, divine Intellect in the light of the sun and so forth. The correspondences in this regard demonstrate the wisdom of the old Hermetic maxim. "As above, so below". The pattern of the heavens is repeated in things of the earth.

Finding connections is a game one can play endlessly and it can be illuminating too. However, I would refer the interested reader wanting to learn more to one of the many books on symbolism, or even astrology which is largely based on a similar idea, the sense that all things in this world are reflections of higher ones and also connected to each other in various ways.

The last chapter in Tillyard's book is called The Cosmic Dance and it describes how traditionally creation had been thought of as an act of music. This idea is echoed in the creation myths of both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis which each start with music. Tillyard quotes from A Song for St Cecilia's Day by John Dryden (memorably set to music by Handel) which, though composed a little later in 1687, perfectly encapsulates the Elizabethan idea of creation.

FROM harmony, from heavenly harmony,
      This universal frame began:
  When nature underneath a heap
      Of jarring atoms lay,
    And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
    'Arise, ye more than dead!'
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
  In order to their stations leap,
     And Music's power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
   This universal frame began:
   From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

But it is not just creation that is understood musically. The dance goes on everywhere at all times, the movement of the planets being a notable instance of it. The sea dances to the music of the moon. Time itself is said to be a kind of dance. Movement is musical. Life is musical. And it is no accident that courtship was thought to revolve around dancing. That idea survives today, even if in a much degraded form. In fact, you could probably judge the state of a society's civilisation by the sort of dances it favours. Which is bad luck for us.

These three things, the great chain of being, universal correspondences and the dance of life were at the heart of the Elizabethan conception of the universe. This was seen as existing both horizontally and vertically with all its component parts related to each other, all having a place in the scheme of things to which they should keep if the whole was to continue in harmonious fashion. This did not rule out growth and development, but that should be in line with the naturally unfolding patterns of life and not be in an arbitrary, chaotic, forced or wilful way which would surely introduce disorder and destroy harmony.

I am not saying that the Elizabethan World Picture is literally true but I do think that, as a symbolic representation of how the universe is organised, it is considerably more accurate than anything we have today. We now live in a world that has abandoned any higher sense of how the universe works and have consequently introduced the level of disorder that all traditional teaching warned  about if the laws of life were disregarded and human egotism allowed its head. We have disrupted order. Now it is up to us to rediscover it and remake the or, at least, our universe.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Confessions of a White Male

Twenty years ago I never thought of myself as a white male. Obviously that's what I was but I didn't think to define myself in those terms. But now I am increasingly being identified as such and that is thanks to the divisive identity politics created by the left as part of the ongoing attempt to undermine the West. Now, for someone like me, there appear to be only two choices. Either abase yourself and admit that, yes, you are a privileged oppressor or else just dismiss this nonsense and affirm that traditional Western (that's to say, Christian) culture really is better than any other, notwithstanding its faults. For this you might be vilified, branded a racist, extreme right fascist etc, but it is really the only reasonable thing to do if you don't wish to see the egalitarianism of cultural relativism erode civilised standards built up over centuries or watch humanity descend into mutually antagonistic groups full of resentment, all suspicious of each other and fighting for power. One might feel gloomy at the prospect of getting anywhere were it not for the fact that the revolution always ends up by eating itself as different members of the party turn on each other.

God created humanity with divisions. First and foremost, there are the divisions of male and female, reflecting something in his own nature. But there are also the racial divisions which were presumably part of his purpose or he would not have created environments in which they could develop and be expressed. We do not know what his purpose was but we can assume he had one. Perhaps it is just an example of his abundant creativity. Perhaps, as certain occult teachings say, human beings emanated from different sources or lifestreams, and racial differences could echo these even if it is also the case that these differences appear within the races as well as between them. This is dangerous ground nowadays, of course, but there is no obvious reason why it should not be so once you understand that the soul uses the body. It is not the product of that body. Therefore it is perfectly possible that different earthly expressions have come about to suit different forms of consciousness.

That having been said, all souls come from God. There is a fundamental unity and humanity is one creation. But the differences are real as well. So these groups do exist but their reality should not blind us to the truth that they should all be serving the same God. They have the same Master, the same Father. They are brothers.

St Paul said there is no Jew nor Greek in Jesus Christ which means that Christ is the truth for all. It does not mean that humanity is all one identical homogenous mass but that we can all find our salvation in Christ. The modern identity politics which seeks to divide must be rejected in the name of a higher unity but not a political unity which would almost certainly be coercive and oppressive. It must be the recognition of a spiritual unity in Christ.

What I want to say here is this. Beware of those who seek to divide and who hide their real agenda of power seeking behind fashionable egalitarian rhetoric. At the same time, know that divisions in humanity do exist and rightfully so. Not everything is equal even if everything is one at base. It is wrong to over-emphasise the divisions but it is equally wrong to claim that the unity overrides all other aspects of what humanity is. Ultimately we can only find the truth about ourselves in Christ. Everything else is just the thrashing about of the ego.

I am a white male but I do not think of myself primarily in those terms. What I really am is a human soul seeking the fundamental truth of his being in Christ.