Who Gets to Decide What’s Bad? (not you)

As I was reading through the Republic, I can say with 100% certainty that I embodied the yes men Plato used to further his conversations. Yes, Socrates, that’s great. Yes, that sounds fabulous. Stories that show unflattering sides of the gods should not be told to guardians? Yeah, sounds great to me. None of what you say is realizable in reality, so just keep on talking. Get rid of sad songs, relaxing songs so the Guardians won’t feel any sort of emotion that could prevent them from being strong and courageous? I disagree with that, but I don’t want to think too hard right now because this book is giving me a headache, so, a yes for that too. Anything with a lack of grace, with bad rhythm, with disharmony is akin to bad speech and bad character and therefore cannot be part of a Guardians upbringing?

This is where I took my first break. All examples above were from when I was reading Book III, pages 72-84, and every single bit of it, in unflattering terms, pisses me off. The Guardians are the protectors of society, the strong and courageous military police that protects the people from threats both within and outside the city walls. Putting aside the physical requirements of a Guardian, I can say with every bit of confidence that my strength and courage come from what Plato is trying to get rid of in his teachings to the Guardians. But I could ignore all that, if just for the moment. When Plato brought up that disharmony etc. was akin to bad character, I just couldn’t say yes anymore.

The key to my anger is his assessment of disharmony. One of my favourite composers is Claude Debussy. His works are a harmonic wonder, and always enjoyable to play, but he wasn’t always regarded as a good composer. Why? He was the first to use 7th, 9th, and 11th chords in a chain, and structuring music on 4ths or major seconds. His tonal organization is ambiguous. What does this mean? It means that he was the pioneer of utilizing non-harmonic tones and the father of impressionist music. Today, we hear them and go “Yeah, that sounds kind of haunting and creepy. So what?” But back then, his works embodied disharmony. His piece,  Prélude à l’Aprèsmidi d’un faune is the landmark piece that marks innovation in 20th century music. Today, his works are no longer non harmonic. He created a completely new type of harmony.

Another example would be Arthur Schoenberg. Famous for his 12 tone tonalities and his experimental atonalites, the resulting music can be described as chaotic. Listen to his atonal experiments and call that traditional harmony. It isn’t traditional. This is an atonal harmony, a new harmony of the modern era.

I could go on about rubato rhythms and how there is no such thing as a bad rhythm in music and that everything is subjective, but knowing that Plato is a monomaniac, I won’t go there. I’m just going to put out there that disharmony has nothing to do with bad character.Using Plato’s own circular argument, if the definition of musical harmony and disharmony can change over the years, does that not mean the definition of internal harmony and disharmony in a person will change also? Therefore, if former disharmony in music is now modern harmony, does that not mean that what in the past may have been considered disharmony in the person is also now harmony? If this past disharmony is current harmony, does that not mean there is no such thing as true disharmony? If there is no such thing as disharmony, how can it contribute to bad character?

Or that’s how I see it, anyways.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply