Monday, 21 November 2016

Corbyn's Rite of Spring and 400 years of music

Jeremy Corbyn made an interesting speech last week attacking what he called the "fake anti-elitism" of Farage and Trump. He made a clear distinction between their cynicism and his own anti-establishment position:
"Politicians and political parties have a choice in this age of understandable cynicism. Do we play on people's fears and anxieties? Or do we take what might be the more difficult approach - to restore hope?"
Among the weird connections and coincidences I have experienced in the last week, powerful musical resonances to our current situation have been prominent. I went to a performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring at the weekend. I haven't heard it live for a long time. When I was growing up, this was "modern" music (although it wasn't really). Now it is over 100 years old - and still 'modern'! Our violent and tormented 20th century has produced some of the greatest music ever. I was also thinking that the class-ridden classical music scene is pretty horrible too - I really wish they'd fuck off with their tailcoats and black dresses.

I realise that little of the music I love dates before 1600 (apart from Machaut and Perotin). For most people, we have 400 years of music. That's basically from the early seeds of the enlightenment, or from Bacon's On the Advancement of Learning and Guy Fawkes.

In this time the fundamental paradigm of our thought and our science hasn't changed; technology has changed the context within which we live, and our society has been transformed as a result. But we have a 400 year story of science and scientific education which our universities are tied-up with.

Change to a 400 year habit of thought is like an "Ice Break" at the end of winter, or the thawing of the Russian permafrost. The former made me think of Tippett's opera of the same name of which I attended a fantastic performance in Birmingham a year or so ago (see I went to see it shortly before losing my job, and in the midst of the nastiest behaviour by the 'leadership' at the University of Bolton (thank God I'm not there any more!). Tippett's political conscience spoke of the race riots in the 1970s and social fragmentation. His 1941 oratorio, A Child of Our Time, begins with the words:
"The world turns on its dark side: it is winter"
 The message of hope here is a Jungian one:
"I would know my shadow and my light, so shall I at last be whole"
Is this Corbyn's hope? Personally, I'm not sure he himself knows his shadow and his light, but here he has said the right thing - the thing to focus on is the light. Trump is the bringer of shadows. His supporters are consumed by the darkness that has been brought about through the irresponsible power of governments and corporations.

The enlightenment was a new spring. It was the beginning of a cycle - our musical history has documented its seasons, and winter has been brought about by the confusion resulting from enlightenment's scientific model falling apart. Is winter always confused?

It perhaps seems odd to think that a new hope rests with a science of uncertainty. But it is the admission of uncertainty in science which can create the solidarity and social cohesion which Corbyn hopes for. In the coming "new enlightenment", we will not make the distinction between science and politics: we will see that they are fundamentally inter-connected. 

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