Monday, September 04, 2006

Against Common Sense

Funny how you can use a phrase for years and never really consider what it actually says. I've just discovered Peter Ackroyd's fascinating polemic Notes For A New Culture in the Oxford public library. It's providing me with an great list of books I now want to read (as if that list wasn't long enough already!), and his argument is intriguing - though it suffers from omitting Marx's thought, I feel (Marxism as a critical method, that is, rather than an Althusserian 'scientific' Marxism which Ackroyd rightly dismisses). Anyway, he points out the origin of the phrase 'common sense' - a late seventeenth century idea that '[t]he truth of the Reason that [language] has been constrained to name instead of itself is primarily a social one, since it is founded upon a notion of shared responses and of a community of judgement'. A not at all foolish or ignoble idea, but one which followed in a straight line leads to commercialist arguments such as the idea that popular music must be wonderful because lots of people agree to part with their money in exchange for it, and by the same token any music without wide popularity must therefore be rubbish. So let's hear it for uncommon sense!!

This week I have mostly been listening to . . . The City Wears A Slouch Hat, which is a wonderful 1942 radio play by Kenneth Patchen with music by John Cage. I've had the CD for a while, but never got into it so much before. One of the great things about listening to a recording of the original broadacast of an old radio play is that it allows one to imagine one is really listening to the radio in the 1940s! The piece is very definitely dated, but wonderfully vibrant. The music is raucous and raw, while the play itself manages to evoke for me from moment to moment things as diverse as Raymond Chandler, An Inspector Calls and even the Goon Show while still very much holding together on its own terms.

I've also started looking into chess (a passion of Cage's, as it happens) a little seriously over the last few days, something I've been meaning to do for a very long time. Amazing how a very little study opens up so many things to one's attention - I guess I'm just pretty slow in noticing them otherwise!

And finally . . . just watched the Metallica documentary, Some Kind of Monster. At one point producer Bob Rock describes drummer Lars Ulrich as 'the Pollock of funnel arrangement'.

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