Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Villages of Dreams

 Some time ago I bought the paperback edition of Republic of Dreams – Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960, by Ross Wetzsteon, copyright 2002.  I liked its encyclopedic nature and eventually bought a hard copy, but several times in venturing a few more pages, I give it up.  In the realm of dogs, each one enthusiastically begins life pretty much like all its ancestors, learning pretty much the same things anew.  It is true they can be trained, like the Belgian Malinois I’ve been watching in the Seal Team series, but this learning can’t be (as far as I know) passed on to the Malinois’ descendants.  Humans are a bit like that, but they think they (some of them) are creating something immortal.  But we notice that subsequent generations reject what the previous ones produced.  They in turn value something they consider “more advanced.”

The Bohemians of whom Wetzsteon writes can be excused for their overweening pride because they had no understanding of our (homo Sapien’s) history.  Maybe we have “progressed” into the species we have become especially during the last 200,000 or 300,000 years.  Then perhaps in the last 15,000 we have become something new, something clearly relatable to the abandonment of our hunter-gatherer past and the living in villages.  Perhaps we already had the ability to advance that the leisure of village life enabled.   In any case, 15,000 years is a very short time for our village-dwelling species to have advanced to a point where it can declare: this art is good, and this is not – except in very temporary terms.  They should more precisely say “this seems good and that seems not good to us here and now.”  That would leave open to the next generation to declare something different good and not good.  And given a few more generations, perhaps they would have the perspective to understand how temporary their judgements were.

We have no difficulty accepting advancements in technology, for example the technology associated with fighting wars.  What I am seeing portrayed in Seal Team is far beyond anything we had when I was in the Marines in the early 1950s, but a modern warrior would be unlikely to look down upon the warriors of, say, our Civil War.  Courage and resourcefulness are appreciated even while we recognize the limitations imposed upon them by not having the more technologically advanced equipment that we have today.  That same sort of understanding has not been developed by artists who fancy that their art is more advanced (superior) to what was considered good art in previous generations.  And by “art” I have in mind literature – both novels and poetry.  

When we think of sculpture, we can hark back to Greek achievements in stone and admire the results.  Changes have occurred; whether modern results are “more advanced” than achievements by the Greeks I’ll leave for others to debate.  In music, what we call “classical” or orchestral is still appreciated, in all available periods, by afficionados.  In regard to “songs,” perhaps judgements that apply to literature or poetry might apply to songs as well.  Famous old songs are appreciated by older people more than younger, it would seem.   Songs and the way they are sung change from generation to generation.  Young people who value the “latest” songs merely frown upon songs valued by their parents without claiming “their” songs to be more advanced . . . at least it seems that way to me.  They simply “like” the new songs better than the old, and about comparisons in terms of “likes” there can be no argument.