Rebirth of Reason


The Three Stooges Meet Bissell
by Fred Seddon

When I talked with Roger Bissell at the Advanced Seminar this year, I promised him I would read and comment on his JAWS article “Art As Microcosm.” The comments that follow pertain to his attempt to argue that, despite appearances (and Rand’s words in places) to the contrary, music fits Rand’s general “definition of art."

Now rather than present a traditional argument against this position, I thought I would borrow a story told by Peter Kivy in his book AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PHILOSOPHY OF MUSIC. (155-6) The story concerns three gentlemen named Moe, Larry and Curly.

Moe is a fanatic about Renaissance painting. He enjoys visiting museums that feature this period and has been known to travel to Europe in pursuit of his love. But there is something you must know about Moe. He is unable to see representations. When he looks, for example, at THE SCHOOL OF ATHENS, all that he can see or appreciate is the “beautiful patterns and colors.”

Larry, on the other hand, doesn’t care much for painting. He professes a deep love of German poetry. He has a very large collection of CDs that feature German actors reading German poetry, but he doesn’t own a single book of German poetry. The reason is not far to seek. You see, Larry can’t read or understand German! If asked, he will tell you he just loves the sound of German being spoken, and has not one clue about the meaning of what he is hearing.

Finally, consider Curly. He loves classical instrumental music. Music without words, programs, or titles. Music that is usually called “absolute music.” He revels in the structure of the sounds, the tonal colors of the instruments, the textures, harmonies, melodies etc. of the music. Like Moe, he perceives no representation in the music; no philosophical or narrative content. Like Larry, he understands no semantic meaning in the music.

Now what is odd here? What is odd is that Curly, unlike Moe and Larry, is NOT odd at all. Millions of listeners enjoy music just like Curly. Most of us would say that Moe and Larry are missing the essence of their arts, but few would say the same about Curly. I have never met anyone like Moe or Larry, but I know many people like Curly. Peter Kivy and I for two. Kivy even claims that many sophisticated conductors, performers and theorists listen to music just like Curly.

But if music were mimetic then Curly would be a real stooge. But he is not. From this a rash person, like Kivy or me, might conclude that music is not a selective recreation of reality.

I liked Kivy’s story. In many respects you could say of it what many say about pictures, that it is worth a thousand words, or articles. At least, Roger, this is how the story affected me.
Sanction this ArticleEditMark as your favorite article

Discuss this Article (71 messages)