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Sunday, March 07, 2010 

"that capturing of the body by the pulse"

This is the worst, most contemptibly stupid and patronizingly wrong-headed thing I've seen written about music in a long time. Roger Scruton is absolutely the worst caricature of an academic; all that erudition squandered on a man who refuses to actually engage with the things he wants to demonize; demonizing them because he doesn't understand. It's a pathetic vicious circle, made worse because he does (for example) do an awfully good job of explaining why one particular type of beauty is valuable and how it works; like all aesthetic demagogues, however, he then makes the critical error of assuming that his preferred type of beauty and art is the ONLY valid kind.

To take just one minor example, how dare Scruton try to make phenomenological points about dancing when he's clearly never danced to modern music? At one point, yes, he does point out that it's pathetic for an older person to join, say, a mosh pit; but to claim the modern dance floor is full of people dancing alone, dancing "at" other people rather than "with" them, is to display a deep, profound ignorance of how a modern dance floor actually works for the people on it. Scruton's writing about music, and about art in general, never gets any better than that; it's a sad example of why expressivism is bad philosophy. Scruton dresses up his opinions with, again, erudition and a laudably clear and precise writing style, but his actual argument can be summed up as "I don't like it, I don't understand it, and you shouldn't like it."

1. 'the worst caricature of an academic'? Mr Scruton is an academic.

2. 'refuses to actually engage'? Why does he have to abide by your rules? For example: some of the best sports writers in this country have barely kicked a ball, held a racket or thrown a javelin - hardly engagement. Besides, few are better at engaging intellectually than Mr Scruton.

3. 'critical error . . . that his preferred type of beauty and art is the only valid kind.' Nothing wrong with this: it's called absolutism. You wouldn't expect a committed Christian to give equal validity to Islam or Hinduism. But then you, clearly, take relativism as a given and thus miss the point.

This is why Mr Scruton is so refreshing. He does not believe that every point of view is equally valid or that everyone should have a prize whether they deserve it or not. Etc, etc.

1. To be more precise I suppose I could have said something like "the worst caricature of academic thinking." But being an academic does not prevent one from also being the worst caricature of an academic. You, for example, are a troll, and a very caricatured one to boot.

2. Your last sentence here is demonstrably false. Mr. Scruton has failed totally to engage intellectually with much of what the linked article discusses. 'Some of the best sports writers in the country' know what playing sports feels like. Mr. Scruton does not know what some of the dancing he denigrates feels like.

3. Plenty of committed Christians throughout the ages have acknowledged various kinds of validity in other religions. The ones that don't are dogmatists and fanatics. You and Mr. Scruton are clearly comfortable existing in that category. The fact that many, many people have no problem apprehending beauty, real beauty, in forms where Mr. Scruton cannot - while also appreciating the beauty in the forms he chooses to lionize - points to why his and your blinkered, ignorant rejection of most of modern life is so desperately sad.

I have never written, suggested, or believed that "everyone should have a prize whether they deserve it or not," let alone that every point of view is equally valid (Mr. Scruton's is markedly less valid than some, for example). You are creating false dichotomies here, but hey, whatever helps you sleep at night.

How do you know, Ian, that Mr Scruton has never danced to modern music? Maybe you are too hooked up on caricatures to imagine that he possibly could, or has.

No, I'm afraid almost anyone of a left-liberal persuasion these days (unlike those charming and gentle folk of 50+ years ago) seems to get their knickers in a twist and rant with barely concealed hatred for the target of their abuse.

RS himself told his wife-to-be that if she stuck with him she must be prepared for Guardian headlines such as 'Scruton Eats Babies!' Throughout his career he has been demonised and has suffered quite unjustified and ruthless attacks from the liberal left. RS can not understand it. As he says: 'I do not hate them; I merely think they are wrong.' I believe they're frustrated because they have no one of equal stature to match his eloquence and force of argument.

Thus I find it (once more) sad to find yet another using not eloquence or brilliance but phrases such as 'contemptibly stupid', 'aesthetic demagogue' and then end by summarising with appalling journalese your 'Don't like, don't understand therefore you shouldn't like' hypothesis (perhaps that word unintentionally dignifies your summary).

And me! I'm a troll. How DID you know, Ian. An ugly, cave-dwelling being -- and caricatured! Presumably that makes me twice as ugly.

We have had a rough winter here in England, though, and I'm worried those old stalactites will start dripping all over my computer when it thaws. I'm not telling you whether I'm a giant or a dwarf, just in case you turn up on my rocky outcrop. But if you do and you discover I'm a dwarf please show some of that renowned liberal tolerance and compassion as I cower in my dark corner.

I'm a troll, fol de rol . . . I'm a troll, fol de rol . . .

I have a rule; anonymous trolls get three comments. That's two. Try to use your last one more wisely.

If Mr. Scruton has danced to modern music, why write that article in such a way as to suggest very strongly that he has not? Assuming he's done something that his writing indicates he almost certainly hasn't goes beyond inferential charity, and isn't warranted.

The rest of your comment has nothing to do with what I wrote in the original post or in my response here. And like Mr. Scruton, you are trying to draw a closer connection between aesthetics and politics than is actually true (which does not mean they are unconnected).

I don't hate Mr. Scruton - I have no opinion on the man himself. He may well be perfectly pleasant, for all I know I would enjoy his company. What my comments were and are directed at is his writing and the opinions presented within. My level of invective is if anything mild compared to the withering patrician scorn Scruton levels at those he dislikes, and he's not exactly one to shy away from personal attacks himself (neither are you, the hypocrisy of which seems to escape you). I don't think Scruton's an idiot, I think some of his positions are idiotic. He does not extend the same regard to those he disagrees with.

Quite frankly, at this point I rather suspect that you, my anonymous interlocutor, are Mr. Scruton himself.

PS. If you're going to quote me, especially to complain about the quality of my writing, please quote me accurately. Your web browser doubtless has copy and paste functionality, there is absolutely no reason you should look like you're not paying attention.

I'm not sure it's correct to characterize Scruton's argument as expressivist. Indeed, Scruton is one of the few analytic writers on aesthetics who actually considers the aesthetic (sensory, phenomenological) aspects of works of art, and attempts to connect these to the meaning and value of the work.

You're quite right that the linked article is awful, but it's awful because Scruton is ignorant, probably willfully so, about modern music. The structure of his argument (that pop music affects us in certain ways, which are linked to ways of behaving and living with morally cognizable properties) is exactly what we should be looking for in aesthetic criticism. The problem is that he's wrong about what the aesthetic properties of pop music actually are.

(Of course, Scruton has form in terms of aesthetic criticism of forms of art he doesn't understand - he infamously claims that photography and cinema are incapable of any aesthetic value at all).

I accept, Ian, that this is indeed my last comment and I appreciate your courtesy in allowing me to use your site. My misquote was deliberate - it was my pathetic attempt at precis.

Thank you for the compliment but I am not Roger Scruton. My name is Chris. I knew Roger many years ago and it was clear then that he was destined for great things. I do not agree with him on everything but it's true to say that I am on his side of the fence.

His journey from a fairly typical child of the sixties (albeit his gifts were outstanding)via a conversion during the Paris riots of 1968, which he witnessed, to his present postion, makes fascinating reading. Although I enjoy his writings I most admire his courageous work behind the Iron Curtain and his unflinching support for the dissidents in Czechoslovakia and Poland. He did, of course, receive the highest civilian award that the Czech government could bestow. Blurb over.

Cheers, Ian - and all the best. It's been fun.

Chris: Quite frankly, if you're willing to put a name to your words then I don't have a problem with you commenting, although I'd of course prefer the kind of civility you've just shown than the way you were writing earlier. I do have a problem with certain kinds of anonymous commenting on the internet - simply put, I can't abide people who won't stand by their words - but I'm not about the start demanding that anyone who wants to disagree with me get an account to comment. A name suffices; thank you for providing yours, and the best to you whether you choose to comment here again or not.

Voyou: I think it's the "probably willfully so" that so irks me about Scruton's arguments here. I probably wouldn't characterize Scruton's position in general as expressivist but here, in part because of that feeling of willful ignorance, a lot of his argument contra modern music seems to just be scrambling to come up with ways to justify what is, at its base, a visceral dislike.

I do appreciate Scruton's attempt at a phenomenological reading of things, but he kind of bungles it, at least here. He makes the same kind of error you see everywhere from Heidegger to Sartre - that of assuming that his experience must necessarily be the universal human experience.

Very good points though, especially about the structure of Scruton's argument. I hadn't put my finger on it earlier but that's definitely part of why I found this particular article so viscerally frustrating, that core of a good idea (although, as I mentioned earlier, I am not sure the connection between ethics and aesthetics is as inextricably wired together as he suggests it is).

After having read the article- and read up on Roger Scruton- all I gotta say is this: Ian. You're right. And it's all really simple. Scruton is an old white guy conservative. Holed up in academia. He doesn't understand that there are people out there that like things that have nothing to do with him and don't think like he does and have live experiences different than his. It scares him.
He thinks that there is the RIGHT WAY, HIS way- Mozart, Ellington, the PAST he's familiar with- and has under control. And the WRONG WAY: The weird scary future that he doesn't understand and doesn't look like what he imagined it would turn out to be.
Pretty, pretty simple.

One line in the article was particularly risible, though:
"and when we listen now to a jazz standard by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, or Hoagy Carmichael, we are struck most of all by the innocence of the idiom—the last time, perhaps, that old-fashioned, monogamous marriage was celebrated in our music!"
Oh, yeah, except Cole Porter was kind of a fag (Scruton writes in academically bullshit terms elsewhere that homosexuality is a perversion because it is not "otherness" enough).
We gotta get used to accepting that just people are very very smart doesn't mean they can't be very very dumb. :-)

Maybe Cole Porter is yet another argument in favour of gay marriage, then?

You're right, though. One of the things that is most guaranteed to earn my angry opposition in this world is any stance that claims to know the One True Way. Scruton pulls the old trick of claiming to make arguments against "relativism" but actually just arguing against anything that's not the One True Way, which of course he is one of the few to know.

There is one sure way to ascertain how authentic any and every one's "philosophy" is---check out the company they keep.

I say that Roger keeps very bad company. And is in effect an

He is a "scholar" at the AEI and the Opus Dei outfit The Institute of Psychological Sciences.

Both of these organizations were very much involved in the politics of deliberate and systematic cultural destruction described in this these two related references.



This process was further described in The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. A book with extensive FACT CHECKED footnotes.

I say that Roger effectively supports what is described in the above two references, and The Shock Doctrine.

The "culture" of death and suffering, systematically and deliberately dramatized on to the bodies and communities (and all over the world) that were the victims of this shock "therapy".

So much for "Beauty" and "Why Culture Counts".

That... isn't really about Scruton, is it?

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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