The Rhythms of Civilization and Culure
If we seek to interpret and give meaning to what is happening today in the world and in the field of music we must differentiate the one global process of civilization from the many cultures which are born, mature, and decay.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, civilization was conceived as a gradual, unidirectional advance from "barbarism" to ever more differentiated, refined, and "spiritual" forms of "civilized" living, feeling, and thinking. The growth of science and technology after the Industrial Revolution and the development of humanitarian movements whether at the religious, God-inspired level of the Baha'i Faith or at the materialistic, atheistic level of Marxism seemed to justify the concept of "progress." Progress was worshipped in the nineteenth century just as reason was deified during the eighteenth.
The start of the first World War was totally unexpected by the majority of people. Its alleged and much publicized German atrocities and the horrors of trench warfare with whole regiments ordered to rush to mangled death across a barbed-wire no man's land shocked the human mind. The second World War, its total annihilation of large cities by aerial bombings, the increasing use of torture as an instrument of policy, and the grim reality of atomic warfare then the growing evidence of the wholesale pollution of the planet by the waste-products of technological achievements have indeed made a tragic joke of the religion of progress. Yet many individuals cling desperately to it, and the inbred optimism of the American middleclass still fights against negative visions of doom which facts certainly tend to support, unless a more inclusive picture of human evolution reinterprets them more wholesomely.
In such a picture civilization is a process operating through the organic development of many simultaneous as well as successive culture-wholes, each of which is born, grows, matures, and more or less rapidly disintegrates and decays. Each culture actualizes in concrete forms and specific modes of activity one particular aspect of the evolving potential inherent in mankind. The process of civilization, on the other hand, is a universalistic, all-human, planetary movement, but it can operate concretely only when embodied in the psychomental substance of a people and in the root patterns of a culture conditioned by climate, flora, and fauna. As a culture is formed out of a combination of new, dynamic elements and the remains of the past revitalized by these elements, its function in the overall evolution of humanity is to embody a new human quality or Tone, an as yet untried way of life based on new myths, symbols, and social institutions. These operate at the level the planetary process of civilization has reached when the new culture is formed. Thus civilization is multidimensional not linear. Its operation results in more or less localized up-and-down eddies nevertheless forming an all-inclusive spiral. Thus humanity advances, though cultures, often catastrophically, decay. Humanity advances through and especially during the periods of decay, for in such periods decay is polarized by the formation and release of mutating seeds.
The Tone the process of civilization releases, however, has life-shattering implications. If the structures culture has built are not able to resonate to the new vibration, they are destroyed. The destruction is not, however, the fault (as it were) of the process of civilization, which must go on, for its momentum is essentially irreversible. It can be stopped only if there is no possibility of a culture-whole being formed to respond to it until the possibility arises again, perhaps in some other cosmic location. The responsibility for the destruction of sclerotic structures rests with the culture-whole that made an at least relative failure of its mission (destiny or dharma) to be a vehicle for the manifestation of the new Tone released by the process of civilization.
The problems the Euro-American culture now faces are the results of the profoundly disturbing resistances met by the new vibration (a new potentiality in the development of human consciousness and activity) released into the planetary organism of the earth several thousand years ago, probably at the beginning of what Hindu philosophers and myth makers call Kali Yuga. The new vibration presumably was released as a spirit-emanated power, but it had to pass through a long process of involution (or descent as creative Sound) before systems of human organization could be formed on a public scale which would be able to resonate substantially to its impact. This new vibration gradually evoked specific responses in human nature and in the cultures born since that time.
The first resonance produced what some anthropologists call the vitalistic age the period of fertility cults based on the worship of the interaction of life's male and female polarities. It was the age of agricultural development and the formation of large tribal societies on the banks of large rivers. Eventually cities were built, and the process of individualization began to affect human consciousness. It took a definite, if embryonic, form during the sixth century B.C., particularly in the East-Mediterranean Greek world and in India. Pythagoras in the Mediterranean region and Gautama Buddha in India stand as the highest symbols of the resonance of their respective cultures to the descent of the new Tone released by the process of civilization.
The resonance given by the most vibrant and open spirit of the Greek world, even if it was initially positive and creative, could not be sustained in its purity and deeper quality by people of subsequent generations. The Greek culture that found its most significant and vibrant manifestation in Athens failed because the city-state which sowed the seed of democracy actually was ruled by an elite of male citizens dominating a mass of slaves; and the majority of Athenian citizens either still operated along old vitalistic lines solidified into gradually more empty religious cults or could respond to the mental possibilities of the new vibration only in terms of endless arguments and sophisticated vulgarizations. Alexander's conquests spread what was but (at most) superficially understood the intellectualism and Aristotelianism of Greek culture, which the organizational competence of power-hungry Roman administrators institutionalized, somewhat on the model of Darius's Persian empire. The Greek and Roman cultures decayed, but human civilization did not fail. What failed was the culture and institutions that tried vainly to give concrete form to the new Tone civilization had sounded.
The new culture-whole that developed in central and western Europe accepted many Roman sociopolitical institutions as foundations. Even the Papacy took the form of a religious Roman empire, incorporating political and military power in the building of a massive organization of collective psychism. This in turn led to the reactionary rise of the overly individualistic spirit of the Renaissance and the materialistic character of empirical science. The Church and the extreme scientific and psychological reaction against its control of the psychism of European people - a control only superficially modified by the Protestant Reformation have been and still remain dominant factors in present-day Euro-American culture.
Today this Euro-American culture has to meet the results of its failures, having spread its profit-oriented technology and passion for power all over the globe, thus accelerating the disintegration of all other cultures. Here, too, the process of civilization is not to blame but the inability of European culture to give wholesome embodiment to the ideal that was its task (destiny or dharma) to actualize: the illumination of the Athenian mind by the light and compassion of Christ love. The fault lies in what Europe made of the powers released in ancient Greece by men inspired by a new quality of mind and in what the Church made of the spirit-emanated impulse focused through and released by Jesus. The Christ spirit was emotionalized and dramatized by Paul and further materialized by the fathers of the Church. These devoted but often spiritually ambitious men struggled against the intellectualizations of the Alexandrian elite and the popular lure of the Mithraic cult and other vitalistic ghosts haunting the gradually more empty collective psyche of the Roman empire, which was burdened by an immense number of restless slaves and at the mercy of an army of mercenaries. The Church fathers encapsulated the spirit into dogmas with which to feed the emotions of slaves and the European masses. Today we may witness the Gotterdammerung of all the world's cultures, but civilization will not perish as long as seeds for a new culture can be sown.
This difference between the one vast process of planet-wide civilization and the organic, cyclic development of the many culture-wholes is, I believe, a realization of fundamental importance for an objectively valid understanding of what has been happening in music (and in all the arts) since the beginning of this century. The development of the rationalistic and scientific Western mind, which has been a product, albeit tragic, of the interaction of civilization and culture, has also vastly enlarged the possibilities of producing sounds. While in archaic times the field of music was limited to the tone-producing ability of the male and female voices and a few instruments, each with a range of sounds limited to three or four octaves at most, now all the vibratory frequencies the human ear is able to register can be produced by musical instruments. Keyboard instruments, particularly the organ and piano, encompass this entire field of practically usable sound frequencies (about seven octaves).
The technological inventions of the European mind are not, however, solely responsible for this expansion of musical space. As or more significant has been the capacity of human beings to establish interpersonal and intergroup relationships on the basis of an individualized pluralism rather than on the basis of a compulsive tribal unanimity or a social organization of masters and slaves. In European collective psychism and musical communication, this new type of relationship provided a foundation for polyphonic choral singing. People no longer felt compelled to demonstrate fundamental unanimity by singing as of one voice. The dynamic interplay of several simultaneous melodic lines led to the use of chords, but these chords had to operate in the same rigid manner that socially related persons had to behave for example, in guilds, monasteries, or at the court of a king. Chordal organization was endowed with (or sanctified by) a quasi-divine character insuring its perpetuation in spite of the accelerating expansion and complexification of cultural, social, and political activities.
The remarkable increase of the range of musically usable sounds and the complexification of tone relationships within polyphonic motets and orchestral symphonies can be attributed to the pluralistic, expansionary spirit of European culture, but I would rather interpret these developments as being the response European people made to a basic change of vibration in the process of civilization. The cultural institutions engendered by this response are responsible for the sociopolitical chaos and general psychic emptiness the whole world now faces. But the actual carriers of the responsibility are the human beings whose minds passively accept the institutions that molded them in childhood, because a deep-seated, radical process of severance would be too difficult to sustain. Yet personal-emotional protest, while it may be the first step in the necessary process of cultural and psychological deconditioning, is not sufficient. Protest does not, and indeed cannot of itself alone, build the foundation of a new culture. The builders must be attuned to the new Tone of civilization to a new quality of thinking, to the mind of wholeness. Such an attunement, however, implies more than the transformation of the outer personality and its ego-center; it demands a total shift of level of consciousness and operation which is not, however, a natural process. In the individual experiencing such a process the basic energies of nature have to be repolarized.
The development of a mind conscious of being conscious and able meaningfully to relate all sense experiences and biopsychic feelings to an internal individual center able to say "I am" is the essential characteristic of the human stage of planetary evolution. Any organism that has not reached this level of mental operation is subhuman or protohuman. The organism is alive, but not human. It resonates only to the natural rhythms of the biosphere. Whoever is human is more than natural, even if rooted in a biological organism powered by natural energies. To be truly human the centralizing power of consciousness the individualized self has to overcome the compulsions of the natural state. It has to maintain itself, stable yet fully active, at the level of mental processes whose operations are no longer bound to the dictates of biological functions.
Until this is the central fact of individual existence, mind cannot function as the mind of wholeness, as the harmonizer of spirit and matter at the human level of objective self-consciousness, for it would be too involved in material energies. The mind of wholeness should neither be totally absorbed in the unity of spirit nor afraid of dealing with because too easily controlled or obsessed by the multiplicity of matter. It does not deny or repudiate the reality of life as a principle of organization of material elements. It understands the necessity of life organization at the level of earth nature and animal nature; but it hag stabilized itself at a super-natural level of consciousness and activity; and at that level it eventually builds for itself a fully operative, organized field of operation.
The new Tone slowly being released by the universalistic, all-human, planetary process of civilization during the last millennia stimulates the possibility for individuals to develop this fully human, individualized, and objective mind. At first it has to operate as the mind of individuality in order to form a stable center of reference for the activity of the nervous system, the brain, and the currents of collective psychism. But eventually it will be transmuted into the mind of wholeness. This transmutation is today the goal of civilization in its spirit-oriented form; but it cannot be effected until individuals stop being afraid of creative freedom and a truly self-induced but not biologically or emotionally compelled spontaneity. People are afraid as long as they cling to the matrical security and comfort of the culture which molded their social and psychological responses. In the field of music this means as long as they cling to the safety and easy vibrations of tonality and to a "natural" concept of harmony.
This natural, theoretically consonant harmony assuredly has its place and function. It can be deeply enjoyed, as all the beauty and luxuriance of nature should be enjoyed. But this enjoyment should not bind the consciousness that is able to reach beyond the field of natural energies. Archetypal Man stands "in the midst of conditions." His is the "middle way," the way of "harmony through conflicts." He stands poised between all extremes. In Man the mind of wholeness encompasses all there is, was, and ever will be, in that equilibrium which is peace; but at times it is a peace of seemingly unbearable dynamic intensity, because in this peace all opposites meet. It is a peace to be won by the unceasing victories of the assuaged mind.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
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