Anarchist Aesthetics

1. a person who advocates anarchism as a political doctrine; a believer in voluntary association as the most satisfactory means of organizing society.

The greek root means "leaderless".

1. the branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic, etc., as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgements concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgements.
2. The study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty.

The greek root from which the word aesthete derives means "to be a perceiver".

To me it seems important to get away from academic jargon and the post-structuralist swamp of words it tends to lead to. I have no pretentions to being exhaustive or authoritative. My aspiration is to be simple, clear, and practical –to perceive art organized by voluntary association.

Anarchism has two paired goals: to undermine accepted hierarchic practices; and to generate cooperative ones. The first seeks to create a vacuum in which new methodologies can grow, the second to build foundations that will displace old methodologies. Both of these goals are important, but to my mind the major weakness of the anarchist movement has been the natural emphasis placed on the negative: the definitions that are based more on what it isn’t than what it is; the sense of what should not be done as opposed to what ought to be done. This exclusionary methodology has been marginalizing anarchists and their work by creating a context ("self-serving ghetto") of absence at the center of it. We would be better and more broadly served by giving voice to what is present in our ideas and how these presences arise reasonably from natural conditions. The childish emotional desire to differentiate oneself from everybody else is narcissistic, elitist, and generally non-productive. My working hypothesis is that everybody (with the possible exception of the truly deranged and inhuman) is an anarchist, but very few have realized and/or accepted it. What I feel we should be doing (aside from providing a creative and vigorous critique of the status quo) is exposing our fellow citizens to their own innate anarchist beliefs.

As a maker of music, my interest lies more in the productive than the destructive aspects of anarchism. Critique of existing forms and methods is often essential, but it doesn’t actually get much work done. It serves more as a corrective element, an educational tool to be used to challenge received preconceptions or to identify pitfalls when problems arise –a way to improve bodies of work rather than dismissing them.

My methodology aims at inclusion, at generating a context of presence, at embracing the latent anarchism present in the works of non-professed anarchists. As our philosophy is an emerging one, we should look for roots and tendencies even in art which from a more general perspective doesn’t claim or appear to be anarchic at all.


In my high school music class someone referred to the Jefferson Airplane as a "radical" band and our teacher, the great Richard O’Connor, had us analyze their songs as musical structures to make the point that underpinning the radical verbal statements was a very unradical approach to harmony, melody, rhythm, and form. He wasn’t condemning it, he just thought it was worth pointing out.
Modes of Music: Alex Ferris interviewed by Clio Landor-Toomey

I want to distinguish between music that is intended to support verbal content and music that intends to express its message solely through its sounds. It’s all music, but the aims are different. I love Crass (!!!), Citizen Fish, Gogol Bordello, Gang of Four, etc –even Chubawamba (sometimes -generally too poppy-sounding for me), but that’s not what I’m examining here. )

Briefly, since anarchist "rules" are propositions rather than dictates, I will sketch an outline of what I consider to be applications of the concepts of anarchism as they apply to the making of music. At the root of this is the belief that our art should reflect and recapitulate our social ideas.

It is important to keep in mind the propositional nature of all of this. Dogma is contrary to anarchism and the failure to bear this in mind has often poisoned our movement and weakened our work (the illusion of certainty is the essence of fascism). It is equally important to remember that we need positive propositions to work from ("you can’t land on a fraction" or take off from one), even if we later learn than all or parts of them need to be jettisoned. Our work needs to concern itself more with establishing a sense of direction and an openness to re-examining that sense than with achieving any kind of finality. Accepting the inherent incompleteness of our work, our ideas, and ourselves is among our primary emotional challenges. (The great lesson of post-structuralist thought has been to show us the dynamism of ambivalence.)

Some of these ideas may seem new, but for the most part they are extensions and developments of qualities that have been latent in music all along, perhaps now viewed from a different perspective. The music we make need not be all that different from the music we have been making for centuries –it is as important to examine the continuities we work with as it is to examine the differences. What we want from it is that it expresses, on fundamental levels, the ethos we live by. At the heart of that ethos is the concept of mutual participation and personal responsibility applied toward creation, so the distinguishing characteristic of this music generally will be that it embodies the desires, abilities, imaginations, self-disciplines, and practices of its participants. Because of this, the music will be only secondarily concerned with how it finally manifests as product. This music will require a different kind of engagement (less passive, more comfortable with inconclusiveness) from its listeners than music that is principally created as a product for listening.



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