Morality and Music

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Matt Faunce

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Jul 3, 2022, 8:10:47 PMJul 3
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Simone Weil started off her essay, Morality and Literature, with this
paragraph.

“Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so continually fresh and
surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good. No desert
is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil. This is the truth about
authentic good and evil. With fictional good and evil it is the other way
round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied
and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm.”

Her fifth and sixth paragraphs say,

“But it is not only in literature that fiction generates immorality. It
does it also in life itself. For the substance of our life is almost
exclusively composed of fiction. We fictionalize our future; and, unless we
are heroically devoted to truth, we fictionalize our past, refashioning it
to our taste. We do not study other people; we invent what they are
thinking, saying, and doing. Reality provides us with some raw material,
just as novelists often take a theme from a news item, but we envelop it in
a fog in which, as in all fiction, values are reversed, so that evil is
attractive and good is tedious. If reality administers a hard enough shock
to awaken us for an instant, by contact with a saint, for example, or by
falling into the world of destitution or crime, or some other such
experience, it is then and only then that we feel for a moment the horrible
monotony of evil and the unfathomable marvel of good. But we soon relapse
into the waking dream peopled by our fictions.

“There is something else which has the power to awaken us to the truth. It
is the works of writers of genius, or at least of those with genius of the
very first order and when it has reached its full maturity. They are
outside the realm of fiction and they release us from it. They give us, in
the guise of fiction, something equivalent to the actual density of the
real, that density which life offers us every day but which we are unable
to grasp because we are amusing ourselves with lies.“

I’ll follow this up with the whole essay.

--
Matt

Matt Faunce

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Jul 3, 2022, 9:40:01 PMJul 3
to
Morality and Literature, by Simone Weil

“Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so continually fresh and
surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good. No desert
is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil. This is the truth about
authentic good and evil. With fictional good and evil it is the other way
round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied
and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm.

“This is because there are necessities and impossibilities in reality which
do not obtain in fiction, any more than the law of gravity to which we are
subject controls what is represented in a picture. In the space that
separates heaven from earth things fall easily and indeed inevitably
whenever they are not supported; they never rise, or only a very little and
by painful contrivance. A man coming down a ladder, who misses a step and
falls, is either a sad or an uninteresting site, even the first time we see
it. But if a man were walking in the sky as though it were a ladder, going
up into the clouds and coming down again, he could do it every hour of
every day and we would never be tired of watching. It is the same with pure
good; for a necessity as strong as gravity condemns man to evil and forbid
him any good, or only with the narrowest limits and laboriously obtained
and soiled and adulterated with evil; except when the supernatural appears
on earth, which suspends the operation of terrestrial necessity. But if I
paint a picture of a man walking up into the air it has no interest. That
is a thing which is only interesting if it really happens. Unreality takes
away all value from the good.

“A man walking in the ordinary way is a sight of no interest, whereas men
wildly jumping and leaping about would intrigue me for a few minutes. But
if I notice that both the one and the others are going barefoot on red-hot
coals my reactions change. The jumping and leaping become frightful and
unbearable to watch and, at the same time, behind the horror, tedious and
monotonous, whereas my attention becomes passionately fixed upon the man
who is walking naturally. Thus it is that evil, so long as it is fictional,
acquires interest from the variety of forms it can assume, which then seem
to spring from pure fancy. But the necessity which is inseparable from
reality completely cancels this interest. The simplicity which makes the
fictional good something insipid and unable to hold the attention becomes,
in the real good, an unfathomable marvel.

“It seems, therefore, that immorality is inseparable from literature, which
chiefly consists of the fictional. It is quite wrong to reproach writers
for being immoral unless one reproaches them at the same time for being
writers, as there were people in the seventeenth century with the courage
to do so. Writers with pretensions to high morality are no less immoral
than the others, they are merely worse writers. In them as in the others,
whatever they do and in spite of themselves, good is tedious and evil is
more or less attractive. One might, therefore, on these grounds, condemn
the whole of literature en bloc. And why not? Writers and devoted readers
will cry out that immorality is not an aesthetic criterion. But they must
prove, as they have never done, that aesthetic criteria are the only ones
applicable to literature. Since readers are not a separate animal species
and since the people who read are the same ones who perform a great many
other functions, it is impossible for literature to be exempted from the
categories of good and evil to which all human activities are referred.
Every activity is related to good and evil twice over: by its performance
and by its principle. Thus a book may on the one hand be well or badly
written and on the other hand it may originate either from good or from
evil.

“But it is not only in literature that fiction generates immorality. It
does it also in life itself. For the substance of our life is almost
exclusively composed of fiction. We fictionalize our future; and, unless we
are heroically devoted to truth, we fictionalize our past, refashioning it
to our taste. We do not study other people; we invent what they are
thinking, saying, and doing. Reality provides us with some raw material,
just as novelists often take a theme from a news item, but we envelop it in
a fog in which, as in all fiction, values are reversed, so that evil is
attractive and good is tedious. If reality administers a hard enough shock
to awaken us for an instant, by contact with a saint, for example, or by
falling into the world of destitution or crime, or some other such
experience, it is then and only then that we feel for a moment the horrible
monotony of evil and the unfathomable marvel of good. But we soon relapse
into the waking dream peopled by our fictions.

“There is something else which has the power to awaken us to the truth. It
is the works of writers of genius, or at least of those with genius of the
very first order and when it has reached its full maturity. They are
outside the realm of fiction and they release us from it. They give us, in
the guise of fiction, something equivalent to the actual density of the
real, that density which life offers us every day but which we are unable
to grasp because we are amusing ourselves with lies.

“Although the works of these men are made out of words there is present in
them the force of gravity which governs our souls. It is present and
manifest. In our souls, although this gravity is often felt, it is
disguised by the very effects it produces; submission to evil is always
accompanied by error and falsehood. The man falling down the slope of
cruelty or terror cannot discern what is the force that impels him nor the
relations between it and all other external conditions. In the words
assembled by genius several slopes are simultaneously visible and
perceptible, placed in their true relations, but the listener or reader
does not descend any of them. He feels gravity in the way we feel it when
we look over a precipice, if we are safe and not subject to vertigo. He
perceives the unity and diversity of its forms in this architecture of the
abyss. It is in this way that in the Iliad the slope of victory and the
slope of defeat are manifest and simultaneously perceptible, as they never
are for the soldier occupied in fighting. This sense of gravity, which only
genius can can impart, is found in the drama of Aeschylus and Sophocles, in
certain plays of Shakespeare, in Racine’s Phèdre alone among French
tragedies, and several comedies of Molière, and the Grand Testament of
Villon. There, good and evil appear in their truth. Those poets had genius,
and it was a genius oriented toward the good. There are also demoniacal
geniuses; and they too have their maturity. But since the maturity of
genius is conformity to the true relations of good and evil, the work which
represents maturity of demoniacal genius is silence. Rimbaud is it’s
example and symbol.

“The sole raison d’être of all those writers who are not possessed by a
genius of the very highest order in its full maturity is to constitute the
milieu within which such a genius will one day appear. It is this function
alone that justifies their existence, which ought otherwise to be prevented
because of the immorality to which the nature of things condemns them. To
reproach a writer for his immorality is to reproach him for having no
genius, or only genius of the second order, if such an expression makes
sense, or a still undeveloped genius. If he lacks genius it is not his
fault, in a sense; but in another sense it is his one crime. It is
completely vain to seek a remedy for the immorality of literature. The only
remedy is genius, and the source of genius is beyond the scope of our
efforts.

“But what can and ought to be corrected, in view of this very fact of
irremediable immorality, is the usurpation by writers of the function of
spiritual guidance, for which they are totally unsuited. Only writers of
the highest order of genius in their full maturity are fit to exercise
those functions. As for all the other writers, unless they have a
philosophical bent in addition to a literary one, which is rare, their
conceptions about life and the world and their opinions on current problems
can have no interest at all, and it is absurd that they should be called
upon to express them. This abuse dates from the eighteenth century, and
especially from romanticism, and it has introduced into literature a
Messianic afflatus wholly detrimental to its artistic purity. Formerly,
writers were domestics in great men’s households, and although this
position sometimes caused very painful situations it was much more
favourable than the Messianic delusion, not only to the moral health of
writers and public, but also to the art of literature itself.

“It is only within the last fifty or twenty-five years that we have seen
the greatest possible effects of this usurpation, because it is only since
then that it has extended to the masses. No doubt there has always been a
slight diffusion of bad literature, oral or written, among the people. But
formerly it had an antidote in the things of pure beauty which impregnated
popular life-religious ceremonies, prayer, song, story, and dance. And
above all, it was without authority. But during the last quarter of a
century all the authority associated with the functions of spiritual
guidance, usurped by men of letters, has seeped down into the lowest
publications. Because from these publications up to the highest literary
production there was continuity, and the public knew it. In the one milieu
of literary men, in which no one ever refused to shake anyone else’s hand,
were to be found those who occupied themselves exclusively with the lowest
publications, and their occasional collaborators, and also our greatest
names. Between a poem by Valéry and an advertisement for a beauty cream
promising a rich marriage to anyone who used it there was at no point a
breach of continuity. So as a result of literature’s spiritual usurpation a
beauty cream advertisement possessed, in the eyes of little village girls,
the authority that was formally attached to the words of priests. Is it
surprising that we should have sunk to where we are now? To have permitted
that state of affairs is a crime for which all who can hold a pen should
bear the responsibility as a remorse.

“For centuries the function of director of conscience has been exclusively
in the hands of priests. They often performed it atrociously badly, as
witness the fires of the Inquisition, but at least they had some title to
it. In reality it is only the greatest saints who can perform it, as it is
only the greatest geniuses among writers. But all priests, in virtue of
their profession, speak in the name of the saints and look to them for
inspiration and try to imitate and follow them, and principally the one
veritable saint, who is Christ. Or if they do not, as in fact often
happens, they are failing in their duty. But in so far as they do it they
are able to communicate more good than they themselves possess. A writer,
on the other hand, has only himself to fall back on; he may be influenced
by a number of other writers, but he cannot draw his inspiration from them.

“When, as a result of what was called the Enlightenment in the eighteenth
century, the priests had in fact almost entirely lost this function of
guidance, their place was taken by writers and scientists. In both cases it
is equally absurd. Mathematics, physics, and biology are as remote from
spiritual guidance as the art of arranging words. When that function is
usurped by literature and science it proves that there is no longer any
spiritual life. Numerous signs today seem to indicate that this usurpation
by writers and scientist has come to an end, although the appearance of it
still lingers. This should be a matter for rejoicing, were there not reason
to fear that they will be replaced by something much worse than themselves.


“But the works of authentic genius from the past ages remain, and are
available to us. Their contemplation is the ever-flowing source of an
inspiration which may legitimately guide us. For this inspiration, if we
know how to receive it, tends—as Plato said—to make us grow wings to
overcome gravity.”



--
Matt

Matt Faunce

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Jul 3, 2022, 9:58:24 PMJul 3
to
I’ve seen some musicians go down a dark path, and I see the beginning
desires for going that way. For example, as you probably know, it’s easier
to write high quality music in the minor keys than in the major keys. As a
result, it’s easier to write high quality music with an evil air than it is
to write high quality music with an air of goodness. The same goes with sad
and angstful music over happy and calm. Add to that the well known fact
that a musician, to reach the height of his art, must live the art. If he
thinks he must compose music with an air of evil, he will think he must
become evil.

Another lure of evil is the offer of a cure for stage fright: don’t care
what your audience thinks, in fact cultivate a disdain for their opinions.

--
Matt
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