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Rock & The Ivory Tower

September 13, 1987

Like many others, I read Prof. Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" in hopes of being energized by a disciplined critique of contemporary intellectual culture. Our depersonalized mass society can surely use it.

While valuable in the scope of the undertaking, Bloom's closedness to some of the richness that has bubbled up through the intellectual and cultural cracks in the modern sidewalk is depressing. I was particularly incensed by his myopic harangue on contemporary music, which puts me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing completely with Hilburn.

Bloom's chapter on music did indeed include some of his liveliest writing and sloppiest thinking. The fact is, much of what he presents later as defenses of self, creativity and culture can be used to synthesize a position contrary to the one he takes on rock.

Hilburn reminds that some rock writers "use voices that speak with a purpose and dignity." Bloom derides rock music as having only one appeal, to barbarous sex, but says that culture "is the peak expression of man's creativity, his capacity to break out of nature's narrow bonds, and hence out of the degrading interpretation of man in modern natural and political science. Culture founds the dignity of man. Culture as a form of community is the fabric of relations in which the self finds its diverse and elaborate expression."

Surely not all rock is geared solely toward sex. Its capability to carry more dignified messages on many occasions has led to its enduring place in contemporary culture.

If rock has the potentiality to be dignified culture, surely some of its practitioners can be called artists. In this light, I can agree with Bloom that "the greatest men are not the knowers, but the artists, the Homers, Dantes, Raphaels and Beethovens. Art is not imitation of nature but liberation from nature. A man who can generate visions of a cosmos and ideals by which to live is a genius, a mysterious, demonic being. Such a man's greatest work of art is himself. He who can take his person, a chaos of impressions and desires, a thing whose very unity is doubtful, and give it order and unity is a personality. All this results from the free activity of his spirit and will."

To so direct the free activity of spirit and will in today's massified, depersonalized society is a Herculean feat.

Bravo to the artists of rock!


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