31 January 2009

Everything I Need to Know, I (Might Have) Learnt from Schoenberg

(All right, perhaps not; but sometimes it seems so.)

The main thing impressing the decline or downfall of our art and culture on all those Spenglers, Schenkers, and so forth, has been an awareness of themselves as totally lacking in creative talent. A natural and very simple reaction to such findings would have been contempt for themselves, not even for others comparably impotent. For that to happen, though, their realization would have had to be clear and conscious. But such people are outstandingly good at suppressing everything of the kind; their self-preservative instinct triumphs, everyone else can decline, so long as it helps them to get to the top and stay there. Nowadays, according to such prophets — the only ones ‘with honour’ in everybody’s country — the creative disposition no longer exists; what does exist, plentifully, is critical trash such as themselves, and these are the only ones still to have ideas, to possess creative gifts, even — the only geniuses, then! So there are no more geniuses, only critics. But if the latter are geniuses after all, then geniuses do exist; if they are not, then there is no reason to give them credence, for anyone knows as much as non-genius! The difference between the two kinds of person lies precisely in what they know or don’t know: secret science.

The Fatherland extends to these false prophets an incomprehensible amount of credit — it is downright inexhaustible! Fiasco follows fiasco, on the largest scale, yet the words of these men, who can do less than anybody, stay in business, in the same old way, alongside works whose value they have contested. Simply as curiosities, of course, and only thanks to the existence of the works they oppose. All the same, the tendency to start believing them again is always there. But the remarkable thing (or, rather, the characteristic thing) is that, in my case, respect for Spengler or Schenker never lasts very long! And it is too stupid of me, to let myself be impressed anew, time and again, by these loudmouths. Although I see that they are merely thrashing about with tasteful turns of phrase (Hauer does the same), although I see through their arbitrary clockwork mechanism, I fall for it every time; those who shout the loudest win the day.

At least I never praised Spengler, but I am genuinely sorry for what I have said about Schenker. I so enjoy paying due tribute, or tempering criticism by dwelling on whatever there is to praise — but I almost believe that here I am in the wrong, and that this case calls for action with a firm hand, or even, perhaps, foot.

Mödling, June 9, 1923
[ Untergangs-Raunzer : Those Who Complain About the Decline ]

1 comment:

Cato said...

Schoenberg's strongest argument against Spenglerian theses on decline and fall was the existence of...Schoenberg!

With such a genius around how could one say the The West was in decline?

On this topic, I heartily recommend historian Arthur Herman's analysis The Idea of Decline in Western History, where you will find the sources (both left-wing and right-wing) of such pessimism, and why The West has persisted.