Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Art and religion – part 2

In the post below I discussed the intersection of religion, art and politics. The topic came up again this Monday in a Guardian profile of John Tavener by Charlotte Higgins. The word that I would have used to describe his music up until now was 'uninteresting'. Then I read this.

Tavener, though, is fantastically disarming. When he starts talking about his music being written through divine agency and having visions brought on by chatting to Apache medicine men and what a bad idea the Enlightenment was, part of you wants to snort with derision. The other part realises that, however batty it all sounds, he means it, and it's real for him.

Don’t come over all post-modern Charlotte, all of you should snort with derision. It may be real to him, but this does not mean that it is real. It doesn’t sound batty, it is batty. However, thanks to your article I now have a new word for his music – and it isn’t batty – it is Traditionalist.

Traditionalism is not well known as an ideology but its influences crop up now and then. Tavener is quite explicit about the link when he is quoted as saying that he “had a kind of vision from the Sufi Frithjof Schuon”. Schuon was an important Traditionalist figure who, in his later years, was obsessed with native Americans, mixing their customs with his bizarre version of Sufi Islam. Tavener also talks of “a visionary to whom the Virgin Mary would appear, always naked”, reflective of Schuon’s Maryamiyya cult and his 'primordial gatherings' when women would dance naked in front of him!

All this might sound like depressing, if harmless, New Age drivel or hippy ramblings, but Traditionalism is an ideology with deep roots and a far more dubious history. Though it is not exclusively right wing, it has had links with the far right, especially Italian Neo-Fascist terrorism, and with fringe Islamist movements. If you want to read more about it there is a super book by Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World, which I reviewed for Democratiya here. Sedgwick runs a good web site on Traditionalism too.

Rather than just finding the music tedious, I now understand that there is something sinister underpinning it and my dislike is political as much as artistic.

1 comment:

Graeme said...

Thinking out loud here:

John Tavener is sometimes mentioned alongside Arvo Part, who seems pretty loopy as well, albeit not quite as loopy as talking about Apache medicine men and what not.

Arvo Part is nice to listen to, mind you--it's effectively new age music for sophisticates, but it sounds nice.

I'm not sure what this comment is actually about.