Saturday, January 18, 2014

Not Everyone Is A Winner, Baby.

Writing about Wittgenstein's influence, his pupil G. H. von Wright observes:
[Wittgenstein] thought that his influence as a teacher was, on the whole, harmful to the development of independent minds in his disciples.  I am afraid that he was right.  And I believe that I can partly understand why it should be so.  Because of the depth and originality of his thinking, it is very difficult to understand Wittgenstein's ideas and even more difficult to incorporate them into one's own thinking.  At the same time the magic of his personality and style was most inviting and persuasive.  To learn from Wittgenstein without coming to adopt his forms of expression and catchwords and even to imitate his tone of voice, his mien and gestures was almost impossible.  The danger was that the thoughts should deteriorate into jargon.  The teaching of great men often has a simplicity and naturalness with makes the difficult appear easy to grasp.  Their disciples usually become, therefore, insignificant epigones.  The historical significance of such men does not manifest itself in their disciples but through influences of a more indirect, subtle, and often unexpected kind 
(in Malcom, 1984, p.17)

To some extent this assessment of Wittgenstein's influence as problematic remains true.  There are individual philosophers, such as G. E. M. Anscombe, G. H. von Wright, Peter Winch, Anthony Kenny and John McDowell, who have developed their own thoughts along distinctly Wittgensteinian lines.  There is, more over, both a vast amount of scholarly work and interpretation and ubiquitous evidence of his indirect influence on contemporary philosophical thought.  Yet one's overall sense is that he remains an isolated thinker, whose distinctively intense and individual voice is ultimately inimitable.  Indeed, this seems to echo Wittgenstein's own sense of the matter:
Am I the only one who cannot found a school or can a philosopher never do this?  I cannot found a school because I do not really want to be imitated.  Not at any rate by those who publish articles in philosophical journals.
(CV, p. 61)

Even in the philosophy of the mind, where his influence has perhaps been the greatest, there is a sense that something is lost whenever his ideas are transplanted from their native soil.  While his writings have been a source of numerous philosophical insights that are familiar to ever student of philosophy, it is not, in the end, merely the ideas that compel, but the unique style of thought that is writing presents.

McGinn, Marie.  Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations, p. 6-7

+ + +

Do I really need to put [Dixon] next to Wittgenstein, [This Music] next to Philosophy, and so on?

For the three or four of you who read this blog, likely no.

In the off chance you are a Facebook bot, let it suffice to say that Ms. McGinn's writings about Wittgenstein cleanly parallel the Dixonian experience and the often tragic aftermath endured by those who studied with him.

Somewhere on this blog there's a Harold Bloom quote about the covering cherub strangling ephebes in their sleep, which appears to be the point of Ms. McGinn's writing on page 6-7 of the aforementioned book.  Strangling, however, doesn't seem to be the right term.  I prefer "kicking the shit out of."

And so it has been asked (by a noted Dixonian ephebe who, better than most, survived the Dixonian shit kicking) "Who did Dixon make?  What (or more to the point, who) is Dixon's legacy?"

Anthony Braxton, George Garzone, David Leibman, and Jerry Bergonzi (to name a few) have distinguished themselves both as performers and educators in the nowFurthermore, they have set up (through various mechanisms) their own historical pensions as prince-and-princess makers in our increasingly flabby, meaningless, post-everything cultural milleau--a milleau which has only become more inane and centralized since the roaring Reagan 80's when the late Roy Campbell asserted
"I've realized over the years, to me, I think playin' the music is only ten percent of the job of bein' a musician nowadays".
That Dixon's musical progeny have not, with the same degree of spectacle as with the progeny of those mentioned above, scented the lamp post of music commerce means either all of Dixon's students were (and still are and forever will be) losers--a distinct possibility--OR Dixon's smothering weight as thinker was antagonistic to commodity music's requirements AND far surpassed that of the dream team yo-cats of Jazz Pedagogy.

And so it comes as no surprise that Dixon still evades the magic wand of the NEA "Jazz Masters" identity, despite a centrality that all (the musicians) involved in the recent NEA pagent would be hard pressed to deny.


Jeremy Stewart said...

The political economy of canonicity, especially in the short term, seems to be all tied up in the question of "who did you help get the grant who thanked you and then they got someone the grant and they thanked them and you, etc." You build up a network of winners by getting people opportunities; these are generally reserved for those who, to some degree, play it safe, whatever that means at the time. If the teacher doesn't play it safe and the students don't play it safe, it will be hard for the machine to digest them. Who does canonicity serve? Musicians are great in the sense that their greatness makes writers, musicians, grantors, venues, money people great. Or they never existed. Unless rediscovering them makes someone great later.

“Which is to say, boys, that I saw our struggles and dreams all tangled up in the same failure, and that failure was called joy.” - Roberto Bolano, The Savage Detectives

dbr said...

Having spent many years studying Wittgenstein quite seriously, I think it's safe to say his influence tends to be pervasive and strange. I'm not sure how useful it really is to focus on people in his immediate circle, most professional philosophers don't amount to much, Anscombe is the most interesting of them as far as I can tell. Outside of that circle, the effects of his mannerisms have been pretty minimal, vastly less than with Heidegger, for example. I think that's a good thing, Wittgenstein's work is a great deal more novel and challenging than Heidegger's and his manner is much more tied to the difficulty of getting at the novel things, the content of Heidegger is actually pretty banal when you get past the intense mannerism, in my opinion, anyway. It seems somewhat difficult to translate this sort of contrast into music which is, in many ways, all manner. People do seem to some work as more substantive, I'd certainly say I see Dixon's that way. I think in both cases, it's the challenge of receiving and incorporating the work that speaks to its value.