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Re: [mythsoc] Owen Barfield

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  • John Davis
    Whilst within a relatively short framework of time (say from the early 20th century to about the 1990s) classical music did see a turning away from traditional
    Message 1 of 38 , May 26, 2011
      Whilst within a relatively short framework of time (say from the early 20th century to about the 1990s) classical music did see a turning away from traditional melody and harmony, in favour of more atonal and rhythmic music, I think this is probably only the case within in this very short time-scale. And indeed, recent years have seen a return in classical music to more melodic works, due to an extent to the influence of film score composers (thank you Howard Shore et al!). The same could possibly be said for popular music within an even shorter time scale - from melodic 50s songs to dance music and now back to X-factoresque bland melodies.
      In the larger view of the development of music, on the other hand, it is traditionally thought (though not necessarily correctly!) that first came rhythm, then melody, then harmony. After all, you can have rhythm without melody, and melody without harmony, but you cannot have melody without rhythm or harmony without at least a simple melody (by simple melody I mean more than one note played consequtively). Personally I find it hard to believe that melody did not come hot on the heels - if not at the same time - as rhythm, especially given some recent theories about the development of music predating and leading to the development of language (as in Mitchen's 'The Singing Neandertals'). But I'm not sure it is correct to say that emphasis on rhythm is a result of our removal from nature - both melody and rhythm being equally 'natural'.
      What might be a result of this alienation, however, is an emphasis on atonality, which is in essence 'unnatural' harmony. And certainly music with this emphasis is connected with modernism in other arts, 20th c. industrialisation of western society, and is often used to reflect or represent a sense of alienation or unnaturalness. So if you exchange melody for natural harmonies and rhythm for unnatural harmonies in your email, I think you may have an interesting point.
      ----- Original Message -----
      Cc: Dale
      Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 3:16 PM
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Owen Barfield


      Thank you! 

      I relish Bonestell's art (notably his paintings of a crescent Saturn seen from Titan), but I think Barfield could find plenty of support in the statements of noted physicists. 

      His "chronological snobbery" insight can become central to the thought of anyone who has begun to digest it.  One becomes more alert to and/or less ready to dismiss differences between the literature of our time and that of earlier periods. 

      Example: Barfield's passing remark on Anthony Trollope's Doctor Thorne prompted me to notice the abundance of references to blood and to blushing in that novel -- and to consider how relatively frequent references to blushing are in (at least some) earlier literature as compared to our time.  Thanks to Barfield, I am less ready to assume that these references are simply literary convention.  If I think of it, later today I will send a short file of quotations on this topic. 

      Example: Barfield helped me pay attention to, and get me to think about, Roger Scruton's remark about the enhanced importance of rhythm as opposed to melody in contemporary music.  I found myself hypothesizing: isn't it true that kids used to be admonished about whistling? -- but you never hear people whistling any more.  (I write these words about music with some trepidation, knowing that some listfolk are far more knowledgeable about music than I.  I beg your pardons if I am mistaken in simply thinking that "melody" means there's an emphasis on a tune that you could whistle.  "Wachet, auf" is a tune; so is Old Blind Dogs' "Pills of White Mercury."  I think that one reason "Celtic" music is so popular is that some people are eager for tunes and there they find them in abundance.  Some pop music is tuneful  -- take the Beatles' "Martha My Dear" -- but it's usually more rhythmic -- take an old favorite like the Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind" or Bob Dylan's more recent "Cold Irons Bound.) 

      The Barfieldian move would be -- if these observations are correct, what do they suggest about our typical mental states as opposed to earlier ones?  A rough approximation might go like this: the earlier emphasis on melody relates to a different relationship with "nature" and other people (I will forbear to attempt to summarize the argument of Saving the Appearances here!) than ours.   A key element of the older awareness was its unmediatedness.  People were more aware of the night sky, the starry hosts, for example, of the sounds and smells of growing things, etc.  Conversely, in many parts of the world we have withdrawn from the sky, there are few visible living things around us other than other people, and a great deal of our contact with them is mediated (e.g. writing emails, talking on phones, etc.).  I think a spontaneous upwelling of feeling in unmediated circumstances expresses itself in melody (not necessarily cheerful), while enclosure in a mediated way of life apparently lends itself more to rhythm.  Barfield sometimes takes an idea up to a point and leaves it there, and that's what I will do for now.


    • John Rateliff
      Very sorry to hear it. I never met Edward Carlos Plunkett, though I did meet his father (the famous Lord Dunsany s son). Thanks for posting the news, Dale. We
      Message 38 of 38 , May 26, 2011
        Very sorry to hear it. I never met Edward Carlos Plunkett, though I did meet his father (the famous Lord Dunsany's son). Thanks for posting the news, Dale.
           We can be grateful to this Lord Dunsany for one thing: he allowed the publication of a number of his grandfather's works that had lain neglected in a bank vault for decades -- a novel, a play, a volume of short stories, and various odds & ends. None of them had the stuff of greatness that makes me rank Dunsany as the best fantasy short story writer ever, but it's good to have even the lesser works of a great writer.
           --John R.

        current reading: THE BOOK OF WONDER [1912]

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