Friday, July 13, 2007

The batteries for my iPod died Tuesday night, so in search of entertainment, I went to the library and took out Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. The late Bloom taught at the University of Toronto and I discovered him by way of his extremely nuanced translation of Plato's Republic, which I actually never bought. Bloom wrote the foreword to this book in the wonderful month that was May of 1986, the first of many coincidences that resulted from my impulsive decision to borrow this book.

Bloom discusses music among the many inadequacies of modern youth and their education. He notes "nothing is more singular about this generation than its addiction to music." Rock music is especially insidious to Bloom, for it "has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire...[that is] undeveloped and untutored." Whether it is realized or not, "rock has the beat of sexual intercourse", and the result is that "life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy."

Reading that in place of my iPod on my way home, I was all of a sudden quite glad that the batteries had died on my iPod. Here I am two days later, and I can still hear Bloom's booming, eloquent voice in my head every time I think about re-charging my iPod. I can't say I take Bloom's criticisms of rock music all that seriously. There is something thoroughly inciteful, he is insightful in saying, about catchy rock music that is absent in more complex music. I'm not certain that all rock music is primarily erotic. Bloom and his student, Clifford Orwin, who was my professor of political philosophy, are preoccupied with the erotic to a degree that verges on lecherous for grey-haired men. Nevertheless, the point about the uniquely manipulative and corrosive effects of insipid popular music in the late-twentieth and twenty-first century is a cogent one.

At any rate, Bloom mentions in passing American philosopher Herbert Marcuse and his book Eros and Civilization, who advocates precisely the hyper-sexualized society that Bloom condemns. Bloom observes that though "the unconscious has been made conscious, the repressed expressed...Mick Jagger tarting it up on the stage is all that we brought back from the voyage to the underworld." Plumbing the depths of our psyche has yielded no psychosocial El Dorado, but only a new set of trivialities.

All this, of course, is neither here nor there. There I was on the subway again on Wednesday night, when I looked across the train and saw, sure enough, a smartly-dressed young man reading Marcuse's book. Further compounding the eeriness of the incident, I saw him again on the subway today, but opted to sit in a different car lest I get transported to a different vortex than the urine-tinged black hole that is Kipling station.

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