It was either Goethe’s Werther or Wilhelm, that provided me with a certain sense of balance. I’d never really read the books except as exercises in seeing how much I could glean with my sparse knowledge of German.
It was a secondhand account, either in a book or in some online posting that I gained some familiarity with the plot and style.
I’d taken an interest in Goethe after stumbling across Blixa Bargeld while listening to internet radio a number of years ago. I’d already been steeped in Nietzsche, as every edgy teenager should be, and thought it would be fitting to add another dead German to my Trane of pretensions.
Blixa’s rendition of Wanderers Nachtlied (Ein Gleiches) is very good but the poem is even better. It’s sparse and stuffed with ponderous depth. Something I’ve come to expect from all things German.
Bach’s genius I think lies in taking something very simple and making vast frescoes and stuccoes out of it in the uncanniest of ways. I’d already been pretending to be fond of Bach for years. So all the pieces of how I thought an antiquarian revivalist should behave had fallen into place.
When I say pretension I do not mean it a negative way. Although there was some ulterior motive in that I was struggling to set myself apart. This instinct for differentiation common when crossing the bridge from boy to man was well served by my choice of subject.
Classicism is life. Classicism is the lodestar that guides one to the True Course. So when I say pretension is not negative I mean that there is absolutely a necessity for everyone to assume an affectation. Today’s ‘authenticity’ with its blue jeans and four chord ballads is itself an affectation. One can choose to don it, or cast it aside in favor of another, but either way, the choice must be made, and it had better be a good one.
Certainly, those who prefer the bold-mans affectation will feel a bit stifled by the tried and true sure bet of classicism but I think this would be a misreading. Just like one can’t really play jazz without being well versed in the rules that need to be broken one can’t really be an adventurous man of action without knowing from what it is he is departing.
Alan Watts described classical music as being the purest expression of music for music’s sake.* I don’t think that it would be a mistake to say that he found classical music to be tres Zen. I happily agree with his assessment.
Wu Wei is the True Way and Classicism is the best of affectations because it is the ultimate falling into place. The sense of solidity that one gains from something obviously good, from something that is Der Ding An Sich, is not just an accident of custom. It is not something that we relish and cherish simply because it is old.
No. It is old and remembered because it retained the most salient features of the human experience in the most efficient way possible. This is the reason why I call it the lodestar to the true course because those who don the affectation of Classicism will be able to forge new paths. Paths that last. And even if one does not forge any new path one will be fortified by an acquaintance with transcendent beauty that will make even the dreariest of circumstance bearable.
Today’s obsession with novelty and authenticity seems to produce nothing but remakes. Those who most proudly proclaim progress and define themselves as acolytes of the future are stuck in the past feeding on bread that’s decades stale.
Why is it that the seventies, eighties, and nineties produced so much that was so new and so full of depth? Because those generations were still steeped in classicism. They had good models from which to diverge. Today we merely have the echoes, of the ghosts, of what they built to rely on.
There is much that I like about today and there are still amazing artists, philosophers, and scientists and I don’t think it needful for everyone to mutter over Virgil to make valid and beautiful contributions. However, a bit of Virgil would certainly help.
Just the hint of what Goethe was getting across has helped me to gain a surer footing and be productive as a writer and amateur musician. Not only has it helped me in these regards but it has helped to cement my purpose and sense of what it is to not only be a man but a human being.
Some web searching being in order I found the thing that had been transmitted to me through the hint of Goethe: Entsagung. A word which roughly translates to renunciation. Renunciation of what exactly. I think a renunciation of swaying to and fro. I think that perhaps a more fitting term would be resignation. Resignation to what? To Wu Wei, to something like the Tao, or what have you, if you will.
So the thing in itself, Der Ding an Sich, Art pour le art, etc. is simply the purest expression of what is to be human and is grasped when you have the balance you get, from Entsagung, a balance that allows you to see loading trucks as fuel for writing poetry.
The classics in whatever form, whatever genre, will never be forgotten. For it is through their cardinal points that we find Wu Wei that truest paths…
A path lined with columns, arches, and flowering gardens of the most sublime craftsmanship hinting and singing of the most profound depths that lie in even the commonest of things.
* Alan Watts wrote several books and delivered many lectures so the specifics of the attribution may be a tad off. I’ll attempt to either rectify or supplement this information when I get the time.