Recent musings about Sun Ra have diverted my attention to an old project of mine:
The Jazz Avant-Garde, Mysticism & Society: Meaning, Method & the Young Hegelians (2002, 2004)
I have noted that one of the most striking things about some of these avant-garde jazz composers/musicians is the individualism that characterizes their construction of belief systems or esoteric/mystical conceptions. Coltrane graduated from traditional Christianity in North Carolina to eclecticism in Philadelphia, studying everything, professing tolerance of a multiplicity of paths, while developing no original system of thought. Sun Ra concocted out of his sources an Afrocentric cosmo-mythology combining an interest in ancient Egypt with interplanetary travel. Sun Ra was from Birmingham, Alabama, so it is understandable why only taking up residence on the planet Saturn could get him far enough away from the South. Anthony Braxton comes out of Chicago, constructing an original esoteric system more mathematical and abstract. There must be a way of analyzing this historical trajectory in a fashion different from both uncritical boosterism and from an overall historically and sociologically impoverished atheist/humanist movement.
I concluded the ruminations collected herein with two generalizations—the moral of the story, if you will (pardon the fancy language):
(a) Oppositional mystical/metaphysical positions are anticipations of developments to come, formulated at a time and staking out a territory before they can be concretely realized in society and developed in theoretical form. In Hegelian fashion, that which is needed but cannot become concrete must live as abstraction.
(b) When the historical moment is due for the sublation of mystical/metaphysical abstractions into scientific/cultural form, and this fails to happen, then a regression takes place, and the dark side of mysticism—intimately connected with fascism—comes out into the light, the concealed weaknesses of a cultural strategy become manifest, and the cultural strategy goes bankrupt.
"Bankrupt" is the key word for today. Neither a return to the 1950s, perpetuation of navel-gazing avant-garde noodle-doodle, nor indulgence in the pole-dancing bullshit many of you take for music today, will do. But there is something missing in thought as well as in culture, and for that neither nostalgia nor presentism will do. Our work of mourning involves living in a state of tension between present and past, and figuring out how to survive a future that is rapidly being stolen from us.