Henry Flynt gorostasna je figura, višeglavo čudovište koje se bavi stotinama stvari. On je filozof, ekonomist, matematičar, avangardni muzičar, violinist, antiumjetnički aktivist (borac za "akognitivnu kulturu" i "višu civilizaciju") te likovni umjetnik (povezan s Fluxusom - izumio je izraz "konceptualna umjetnost"). Usprkos tome, prilično je opskuran i baš pogodan da vam postane novi "kultni autor".
"Blueprint For A Higher Civilisation" (pdf)
Purified By The Fire (1981)
The psychedelic sounds of musical pioneer henry flynt’s drone works with collaborator C.C. Hennix are quietly becoming the stuff of legend. Over some 40 plus minutes, we are treated to a true tour de force that’s part hindustani inflected musical miasma and part warped hillbilly vibrational swing that sways in and out of auditory focus. this is opulent minimalism for the third ear that is hugely absorbing. Band line up : henry flynt – violin; c.c. hennix - pandit pran nath tamboura. - boomkat
Henry Flynt / The Insurrections, I Don't Wanna
He's made his mark with his brand of ecstatic north indian raga inspired minimalism on c tune, the full bodied experimentalism anthologized on raga electric and the avante-hillbilly bumpkin fiddle joyride on back porch hillbilly blues volume 1 & 2. "I don't wanna!" sees flynt shatter the categories once again with this surprise collection of his short lived 1966 basement rock protest band, The Insurrections. Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind: Flynt's version of protest music isn't your cultural-commissar school of folk posturing. It's agro punk & Flynt is an unhinged showman on helium induced vox and electric guitar (his teacher was none other than Lou Reed). Imagine a mix of Sky Saxon (of Seeds fame) with a dash of Roky Erickson on vocals, a little bit of the Cramps' scary monster dramatics thrown in for good measure & the swamp chugalug laziness of vintage Pussy Galore and you get an idea what Flynt was up to at this phase in his non-career. Features legendary sculptor Walter De Maria on drums, confirming our hidden suspicion that in every great artist there's a desire to rock & beneath every fine gallery, there is a basement. Photos by George Maciunas." - boomkat
The 21st century has been pretty good to Fluxus fiddler Henry Flynt, which is funny, as the four decades previous yielded but one cruddy, dubbed cassette from a gallery show in 1981. After Alan Licht ranked it in his Minimalist Top Ten, that tape-- a ferocious wail titled You Are My Everlovin', which slashed like Tony Conrad and Eck Robertson in a straight-razor fight-- finally made it to the CD age. From that point onward, numerous other Flynt releases have appeared, documenting a powerful and prolific artist, and revealing a moonshine and meth to his madness.
Following two excellent explorations of Flynt's obsession with the demented drone behind mountain music on his Back Porch Hillbilly Blues series, the Locust label digs up dead weathermen from the basement tapes for their fifth release by the man, documenting a (lone?) rehearsal from 1966. Though he's more renowned these days for his bow-pulling and unfettered dancing, he'd just learned guitar by way of the Velvets' Lou Reed at the time of I Don't Wanna, and was rolling tape with a drummer/sculptor named Walter De Maria. Soon forgoing the crackling thunder of the drums, De Maria would go on to gain international fame with his Lightning Field sculpture in New Mexico.
Whether you hear his strumming patterns as inept or outsider, goony or genius, Henry Flynt sucks in all aspects of time for his sound. He gets that chilling thwack of Dock Boggs' bailing-wire blues from the 20s, the Fugs-frenzy and Godz-idiocy of the Lower East Side in the mid-60s, and anticipates Bob Log III's 90s catgut caterwauling. The sneer and stumble that constitute protest songs like "Uncle Sam Do" and "Goodby Wall St." tremble outside of time. De Maria, far from the cleanliness of the gallery scene, pounds and splats in the muck, his ideas of dumped garbage can as snare drum still heard in the trashy thud of Gibson Brothers, Pussy Galore, and the In the Red label's entire catalog.
With the shuffling rhythm of "Sky Turned Red" or the almost-competent keyboards and bass that join in for "Corona Del Mar", you could mistake the duo's basement space for a juke joint, just as the stomp of "Missionary Stew" would pass as a Junior Kimbrough tune, were he backing up The Cramps' Lux Interior. Over some wiggling squalls of saxophone on "Jumping", Flynt strums out clumps of surf-reverb that suggest more than just a single idea of protest. Closer "Dreams Away" is even further out, a spindizzy solo on guitar that fidgets and twists before speeding into a blur of white light-- meaning it's quintessential Flynt. - Andy Beta
The image of the untrained “folk creature” as avant gardist
When I first heard the New York guitar music on this I DON’T WANNA album just eighteen months ago, I was gobsmacked and derailed by the agitated attack of Henry Flynt’s bluegrass-meets-hillbilly-meets-R&R guitar sound, and the manner in which he took Troggs-simple riffs and upended them into dustbowl dances for tigers on Vaseline. Where had this horseless rodeo been all my life? Contained within these Flyntian grooves was a dehydrated atmosphere of such simultaneously Biblical ancientness and futurist heathenism that it appeared as though some petty sub-Jehovah had chosen to install our man Flynt unfairly and squarely into the darkest episodes ever torn from the pages of J.F.K.’s A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS; if this guy owned a car, it was a kaput Model T drawn by mules for shit damn sure; if this guy owned a chicken coop, it was most likely that same Model T. Furthermore, the manner in which Flynt commandeered his own riffs or even whole tracks for crooning new songs over at a later time (‘Missionary Stew’ IS ‘Uncle Sam Do’) really blew my mind - especially as the artist himself (hardly yet out of adolescence) looked like a cross between Stork from ANIMAL HOUSE and Napoleon Dynamite. Moreover, brothers and sisters, this guy was a true Zelig of the underground – an everywhere and nowhere baby whose name cropped up time and time again in articles about the American Civil Rights Movement, the modern New York art world, and the new Socialist philosophies being thrown up at the cusp of the 50s/60s. And although no real articles appeared to have been written about Henry Flynt, from the various snatches of info that I could discover from biographies of his more celebrated contemporaries, I gleaned that Flynt had always been considered a heavy conceptual artist, nay, for some people THEE original conceptual artist. But even for the few souls who knew Henry Flynt’s work, he never was a guitarist but a violinist, and a musical theorist to boot. Indeed, in an essay written for Yoko Ono’s 1992 boxed CD set ONOBOX, The New York Times rock critic Robert Palmer referred to Henry Flynt as a ‘composer, violinist, and the theorist who coined the term “concept art”’. Palmer went on to include Flynt in his list of the very earliest of the Fluxus artists – John Cage, Yoko Ono, La Monte Young, Richard Maxfield – whose art was so named by the gallery owner George Macunius for having been permanently in a state of flux; that is, forever at the moment of becoming…
And yet the difference between Henry Flynt and most other conceptual artists of his time is that the more you play I DON’T WANNA, the more you need to hear it. I know Flynt initially conceived this album in a flurry of post-EPI excitement, probably as nothing more than an adjunct to his more serious violin drone music. But for listeners who get the picture, repeated plays soon become an emotional and cardiovascular necessity. You wanna steep yourself in his hip spikey yokeldrones and his catch-all pop-art lyrical take on the protest movement, and you wanna blast the fucking world to rights. Flynt’s formulaic approach is the difference between the obnoxious and obsessively listenable genius of Takeshisa Kosugi’s majestic 1975 proto-Martin Rev Ur-drone CATCH WAVE and the excessively intellectual violin-tapping non-muse of that same artist on his LIVE IN NEW YORK album five years later. Or the difference between Bill Nelson’s barely contained and primal ‘70s guitar tantrums with Be Bop Deluxe and his pale David Byrne-worshipping World Music-isms of the following decade. And in terms of being a truly Intuitive Non Career Mover, Henry Flynt really did take the fucking cake, limiting his releases to a few private cassettes from time to time, indeed refusing proper releases for any of his works until the beginning of the 21st century. But while I rant and rave about the epic quality of this music, lay back awhile and let The Insurrections burn a few holes on your Inner Carpet, whilst I relate to y’all how Mr Flynt reached this magically (and timelessly) funky place. Hell, motherfuckers, as George Clinton noted on Funkadelic’s ELECTRIC SPANKING OF WAR BABIES – ‘Funk can sit and sit and never go sour’. Well, Beloveds, this Insurrections stuff is almost 40 years old and (like Captain Scott’s bully beef) it’s still as fresh as the day they laid it down…
Henry Flynt reading his essay ‘FROM CULTURE TO VERAMUSEMENT’ in Walter De Maria’s New York loft, in February 1963.Avant-Bumpkin Hillbilly Joyriders of the Coming Revolution
In the early months of 1966, during Andy Warhol’s EXPLODING PLASTIC INEVITABLE performances at The Dom, and just before The Velvet Underground recorded their first LP, John Cale became so sick from the group’s unhealthy lifestyle that he was forced to take some time away from their performances. Determined to replace himself with a valid substitute capable of understanding the Ur-drones necessary for fulfilling The Velvet’s highly specific metaphor, Cale asked his friend and fellow LaMonte Young acolyte Henry Flynt to fill in for him. Unfortunately, this young experimental violinist and early Fluxus member was himself currently obsessed with re-awakening his North Carolina roots. And so Flynt brought to the Velvets not the removed and numbing sophistication of Cale’s wind tunnel viola, but a brutally hickish and highly volatile hoedown that brought the young southerner to physical blows with Lou Reed. Henry Flynt says of the experience:
“Reed taught me their repertoire in about five minutes, because basically he just wanted me to be in the right key. At one point I got in a fight with him onstage because I was playing a very hillybilly-influenced style on the violin and that upset him very much. He wanted a very sophisticated sound; he didn’t want rural references in what was supposed to be this very decadent S&M image that they were projecting.”1
However, disastrous though the experience was, Flynt struggled through several further performances with the band, and – in lieu of payment – received six hour long lessons of guitar tuition by Lou Reed himself. Taking this apprenticeship extremely seriously, and stimulated by Bob Dylan’s recent adoption of rock’n’roll in the face of huge criticism, Henry Flynt decided immediately to process and utilise this new sonic information as a vehicle for his other main obsession – political activism. Or, as he wrote later:
“Given my political engagement, I had been waiting for an impetus to try songs with ‘revolution’ lyrics.”2
Initially comprised of only Flynt on vocals and electric guitar accompanied by his sculptor friend Walter De Maria on drums, the duo was nevertheless a superb and highly volatile agit-punk outfit that soon went by the name of Henry Flynt & the Insurrections. Rehearsals initially took place at De Maria’s downtown loft, where the duo swung rhythms around against each other and battered smart 13/8 and 5/4 tempos so hard that they sounded like old vinyl caught in a locked groove. Released temporarily from his LaMonte Young-fixated violin drones, but still determined “to reject the claim of cultural superiority which musicology made for European classical music”3, Flynt’s spangly and disorientating guitar licks and tumultuous Reedian rhythm playing came on like Armand Schaubroeck’s Churchmice playing frenetic Bulgarian wedding music, or John Fahey as fed through the Boards of Canada filter. Moreover, this neo-New Yorker’s refusenik motor-mouthed verbal onslaughts were delivered in an ultra southern preacher twang said to have been far stronger than when he’d first stepped off the train from North Carolina several years previously. Behind Flynt, Walter De Maria’s drumming was a swirling and bruising snare-led dervish dance, inspired by a desire to jettison the indolent thuggery of his previous band The Primitives, whose now legendary 45 ‘The Ostrich’ had almost been an accidental hit in 1965 for its writers Lou Reed and John Cale.4 And such was the musical effect of Henry Flynt & the Insurrections on its protagonists that they soon attempted to validate their group in the eyes of the New York art community by adding a bass player and organist. However, both Flynt and De Maria were overtly paranoid of the possible unbalances that could be wrought by unsympathetic playing from any new members. And so it was with some trepidation that they asked their friends organist Art Murphy and upright bassist Paul Breslin to extend The Insurrections into a quartet. We shall never know, however, quite how the four piece incarnation of The Insurrections would have fared in a live situation, for, due to Flynt’s wariness of the commercial music business, they were disbanded after recording just one LP’s worth of material in 1966. Flynt would later claim that it was the music hall approach of The Beatles that was to rid pop music of the essential ethnic qualities that had attracted him in the first place, whilst the assassination of Martin Luther King would – for Flynt – be the final nail in the coffin of the civil rights movement that was to drive this delicate soul underground forever.
Flynt’s assumption that his ‘playing would entail commercial success as a by product’ was severely battered by the absolute commercial failure of The Velvet Underground, so recently championed as the New York avant gardists’ answer to The Rolling Stones. It all seemed evidence enough to Flynt that popular rock’n’roll had become “uniformly loud in a way which was vulgar, mechanical, and bloated.5” Here was a perfect excuse for Henry Flynt to bow out of mainstream culture entirely and disappear for good, rather than “competing with musicians for whom the last step in composing a piece is the sale—musicians for whom a bad piece that sells is a good piece.” Thereafter, this marginalised (and highly shell-shocked) artist chose a strictly non-combative path, still quietly exploring his theory of a new American ethnic music in the face of what he called the ‘Youth Disintegration Industry’, but damning all post-’69 rock’n’roll as a ‘one-way march towards grotesquerie and defilement.’ By 1984, Henry Flynt had given up playing music of any kind and had retired inwards into his art theories. He appears to have gained some kind of solace in the notion that all Western art movements were equally pervasive, equally brutal and equally unjust.
The timelessness of I DON’T WANNA
But where does this leave Flynt’s sole recorded statement made with The Insurrections? At times, this guy is as much of a Zoroaster staring down the Iranian charioteers as is Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammill, and – after eighteen months of repeated listening - I personally consider the record to be a truly dislocated and barbarian classic. Moreover, although I’ve attempted several times to make I DON’T WANNA into Album of the Month, I have always previously backed down at the last minute in case it was just my ultra-compassionate, or overly romantic side talking. But still I’d come back for one more spin and fall in love all over again.
The recorded evidence contained within the grooves of this album reveals such an astonishing quicksilver energy of interplay between the guitar and drums that it all sounds contemporary even today. Whilst De Maria’s drumming ricochets around the heavens and, at times, makes no more attempt to keep down the beat than did Mickey ‘Circle Sky’ Dolenz at Monkees concerts, Henry Flynt’s guitar melds Sterling Morrison’s cyclical mantras to Lou Reed’s freerock abandon with effortless ease, all the while his vocalising conjuring up a bucolic and Biblical imagery utterly at odds with the downtown New Yorkscape in which the recordings were made. Except for the seven minutes of ‘Dream Away’, each of the songs is concise – most being under three minutes in length - and each inevitably sounds somewhat reminiscent of L. Reed’s playing in his pre-Velvets groups (which I could never get enough of anyway). But does I DON’T WANNA truly qualify as having been made by a group? Perhaps not. For “Jumping” is a duel between Guitar Henry and an overdubbed Violin Henry with ne’er a thought for the other three guys in the band, whilst “Dreams Away” is virtually solo Henry throughout its entire seven minutes. It seems that, in choosing a double bass jazzer such as Paul Breslin over an electric bassist, Flynt was clearly intending his sideman to be seen (for credibility’s sake) and not heard (as Leo Fender commented in 1951, the double bass was always ‘the doghouse’ – inaudible to all but the front rows of the audience and NEVER in tune). Perhaps the highly-respected Breslin was put in place to make the Insurrections FEEL more like a ‘proper’ group to outsiders. But you can strain your ears all you wish and barely hear a pulse from that double bass, other than the occasional boogie down on ‘Sky Turned Red’. Furthermore, that Art Murphy’s organ playing was equally secondary to the powerhouse of Flynt and De Maria is also clearly evidenced on I DON’T WANNA, being audible only during the unnecessary and slight instrumental ‘Corona del Max’ (which sounds more like the work of a typical organ-led garage rock band such as The E-Types than hefty musical dudes from a NY seminary). However, as Murphy went on to play with both Steve Reich and Philip Glass in the 1970s, perhaps he too was added to the line-up to infuse a psychic heftiness to this otherwise guitar’n’drums-only ‘quartet’.
But whatever his reasons, Henry made his single most magical statement with this self-styled ‘protest band’ The Insurrections, and mighty thankful should we be for the release of this hitherto unknown gem. Indeed, so should our man Flynt. For, with such a substantial statement now in place, much of Henry Flynt’s other performance work (from the ‘Dreamweapon’ appearances with LaMonte Young to the recent slew of releases via the Locust Music label) will be much easier to access by utilising this record as the gateway to his skewed and elliptical underworld. My compassion for this anguished theorist grows with everything new I learn about the man, especially as his own writings reveal no anger at his lack of commercial success, but instead betray all the compassion for modern humanity of a prophetic voice truly crying out in the desert. As Mr Flynt so percipiently commented back in 1980:
“I have to believe that the audiences which support the deluge of crass, gross music experience a far greater misfortune than I… Under the circumstances, the horrible symbiosis represented by mass culture cannot be upstaged by one iconoclast.” - Julian CopeViolinist North Carolina's Henry Flynt (1940), who is also a highly-productive (and unpublished) philosopher launched an ambitious project to found a "new american ethnic music" that should fuse avantgarde music (particularly the hypnotic aspects of minimalism and free-jazz) and hillbilly/country music. It's as if John Fahey had fallen in love with LaMonte Young (and his alumnus Terry Riley) instead of the ragas. Flynt stopped playing music in 1984, despite the fact that most of his music has been released "after" he stopped playing. You Are My Everlovin'/ Celestial Power (Recorded, 2001) is an anthology of 1980-81 performances, some of his most primal. Spindizzy (Locust, 2002), the second volume, contains one of his masterpieces, Jive Deceleration. Hillbilly Tape Music (Recorded, 2003), the third volume, collects material recorded between 1971 and 1978, including the S&M Delerium. Graduation and Other New Country and Blues Music (Ampersand, 2001) contains his masterpiece Celestial Power (1981). C Tune (Locust, 2002) documents a 1980 live improvisation with Cathrine Christer Hennix on tamboura and Flynt on electric violin. Raga Electric: Experimental Music 1963-1971 (Locust, 2002) is another anthology, including Raga Electric (1966) and Free Alto (1964). Back Porch Hillbilly Blues - Volume 1 (Locust, 2003), with Acoustic Hillbilly Jive and Blue Sky Highway and Tyme, and Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Volume 2 (Locust) add more rarities. Both are collected on Back Porch Hillbilly Blues, Volumes 1 & 2 (Bo Weevil, 2004). I Don't Wanna (Locust Music, 2004) documents a garage-punk band, the Insurrections, that Flynt led in 1966. Purified by the Fire (Locust, 2005), recorded in december 1981, repeats the format of C Tune: Cathrine Christer Hennix on tamboura and Flynt on electric violin. The 41-minute raga is dominated by the languid phrases of the violin, that test the border between melodic fragments and distorted tones. The "Indian" element is the background of hypnotic tamboura drones, but Flynt's improvisation at the violin betrays the influence of jazz music. Like in the case of C Tune, there isn't enough variation or development to justify the lengthy of the piece. After a few minutes, one wishes that Flynt had listened to more ragas before venturing into a raga of his own. It is only towards the end (the last ten minutes, basically), that the violin, perhaps due to physical exhaustion, loses some of its fluency and becomes less smooth. This turns out to be beneficial, as this rougher and eventually frantic ending is far more engaging that the previous lulling 30 minutes. Ascent To The Sun (Recorded, 2007) contains a 40-minute piece for overdubbed electric violin recorded in december 2004. Henry Flynt & Nova'Billy (Locust, 2007) collects material recorded between 1974 and 1975 by the punkabilly band Nova'Billy. Dharma / Warriors (Locust, 2008) documents a 1983 collaboration with C.C. Hennix on drums. Glissando No 1 (2012) contains the 28-minute Glissando No 1 (composed in 1979) and the 27-minute Stereo Piano (composed in 1978). - www.scaruffi.com/avant/flynt.html The Music of Henry Flynt Archival recordings and interview from this obscure, genius musician, recorded between 1966 and 2001. Flynt was initially (1962) a composer of the post-Cage school who quickly turned completely against modernist music and created his own Flynt genres, primarily through radicalizing Southern musical forms like Bluegrass, Country, and Country Blues-elevating them to an enchanted level, much as Coltrane did with the jazz of his time. His music is a parallel stream to his extremely distinct and radical philosophy (his primary work is as a radical intellectual, with visionary, wide-ranging work that is highly intellectually demanding). - UbuWeb
Henry Flynt & The Insurrections – I Don't Wanna (1966)
- Uncle Sam Do 2:52
- Good By Wall St. 2:59
- Go Down 2:55
- Corona Del Mar 3:00
- Missionary Stew 4:30
- Jumping 3:03
- Sky Turned Red 2:33
- I Don't Wanna 3:18
- Dreams Away 7:29
Vocals, Guitar – Henry Flynt
Bass [Acoustic] – Paul Breslin
Drums – Walter De Maria
Keyboards – Art Murphy
All tracks originally recorded in 1966.
New American Ethnic Music Volume 2: Spindizzy (1968-76)
- Hoedown (1968) - 14:43
- Solo Spindizzy (1971) - 2:57
- Banjo Country (1976) - 1:12
- White Lightning (1983) - 4:41
- Solo Virginia Trance (1975) - 3:16
- Double Spindizzy (1975) - 6:40
- Rockabilly Boogie (1982) - 8:05
- Jumping (1976) - 4:08
- Hillbilly Jive (1977) - 9:09
- Jive Deceleration (1976) - 18:47
New American Ethnic Music Volume 2: Spindizzy (1968-76)
- Violin Strobe (1978) 5:06
- Guitar Rebop (1971) 3:16
- Telsat Tune (1971) 2:00
- Full Telsat (1971) 2:00
- Jumping Wired (1976/2001) 4:10
- Leather High in A (1978) 6:30
- Leather High in E (1978) 8:29
- S & M Delerium (1978) 15:00
Purified By The Fire (1981)
C. C. Hennix
Violin [Electric] – Henry Flynt
You Are My Everlovin / Celestial Power (1980-81)
"Instead of the bombastic thud of rock, Flynt's playing included 'rollicking', 'forward-sweeping', flexible rhythms, indivisible by bar lines, creating an expansive, nearly suspended, rolling sense of time." --Ian Nagoski
First volume in a series subtitled: New Americam Ethnic Music. "Two 45 minute sets of live improvised 'avant-garde hillbilly and blues music' featuring Henry Flynt on (a rather gained) violin, one (YAME) is a duo with an unaccredited tambura player (drenched in reverb/background acoustics), the other (CP) featuring 1 track of violin, and 2 tracks of volume pedal guitars -- all performed by Flynt (drenched in reverb/background acoustics). Henry Flynt is a vanguard American conceptual artist, key Fluxus participant, ally to both La Monte Young (esp. in the early New York years, contributing to the key Fluxus document; the La Monte-edited An Anthology) and George Maciunas (several mid 60s collaborations including 'Communists Must Give Revolutionary Leadership in Culture'), author of many pamphlets and public propaganda works (Blueprint for a Higher Civilization, Down with Art), magazine articles ('Extracts from Personhood's Self Cancellation', perhaps more relevant 'The Meaning of My Avant-Garde Hillbilly and Blues Music'), recently obsessed with furthering the ideals of Meta-Technology. An interesting set of performances, both extended extemporizations on extended alpha-state ascension through excessive application of overtone-series note relationships/harmonics over a single chord/form. Close in spirit to La Monte perhaps, closer in application to something like Tony Conrad or Arnold Dreyblatt, only with a unique country-fried holler-bent that's at once alienating to art-music lovers but at the same time much more personable. An important cultural and historic link, one of the only fully realized Fluxus audio documents (despite it's 10+ year delay to the 'classic' era) available in the CD age. Seminal" -- Hrvatski
Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Volume 1
- The Snake (3:40)
- Sky Turned Red (2:35)
- Acoustic Hillbilly Jive (12:01)
- Blue Sky, Highway And Tyme (15:53)
Tambura [Pandit Pran Nath Tambura] – C. C. Hennix
Violin [Electric Violin] – Henry Flynt
Barefoot in the Head
Henry Flynt's Dizzy Music Spins Out of Obscurity
By Ian NagoskiHindsight ain't 20-20, no way, no how. People forget, and unless you have someone writing you into the permanent record, you, kind reader, will be history the day after tomorrow. The greatest writer whose books were burned or the most inspired musician whose scores disintegrated into dust in a piano bench somewhere will never enjoy reevaluation from a clear-eyed future.It remains to be seen whether any iota of philosopher/musician Henry Flynt's ideas will be relished in the years to come. But thanks to the recent efforts of Baltimore musician, impresario, and Flynt-advocate John Berndt--who recently released a disc of Flynt's incendiary, ferocious music on his Recorded label as New American Ethnic Music, Volume 2: Spindizzy--Flynt's chances have improved. A little.
Hearing Henry Flynt's gleeful violin playing on Spindizzy, you wouldn't guess that he had been a tangential part of the New York art scene that gave birth to the big mahout minimalist composers Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and La Monte Young; that he had played for four nights with the Velvet Underground (substituting for an ailing John Cale); or that he has been the author of thousands of pages of deeply subversive texts calling for a new, elevated civilization. Flynt's fiendishly bowed fiddle, with its tricky double-stops and blast-off glissandos, is part of an uncompromising and unconventional life's work that has, until recently, remained hopelessly obscure--a rumor of a footnote.
In fact, Flynt and his soaring fiddle have adamantly refused to fit in anywhere for half a century. Born in Greensboro, N.C., in 1940, Flynt studied mathematics at Harvard but dropped out, moving to New York in his early 20s. There, he contributed to the art world by coining the term "concept art"; lecturing and performing at Yoko Ono's loft; jamming with La Monte Young, poet and original Velvet Underground drummer Angus MacLise, sculptor Walter DeMaria, and filmmaker and musician Tony Conrad, among others; and collaborating with George Maciunas, kingpin of the emerging Fluxus art scene. In 1966, he began performing solo hillbilly fiddle pieces, which he describes in his text "The Meaning of My Avant-Garde Hillbilly and Blues Music" as "aspir[ing] to a beauty which is ecstatic and perpetual." This, from a self-described "creep" in glasses.
Flynt devoted nearly 20 years to developing his music, a sui generis mix of New York-school minimalism, Indian classical music, and the sounds and forms of Appalachia, Dixie roadhouses, and other loamy American roots-music cellars. But apart from a cassette issued in 1986 in Germany, none of Flynt's music was available until a little over a year ago, when Berndt put out a two-CD reissue of the cassette as New American Ethnic Music, Volume 1: You Are My Everlovin'/Celestial Power. Since then, three more recordings of Flynt's music have been released--one on Ampersand and two on Locust Music, both Chicago-based labels. After decades in which practically no one outside a tiny New York elite had ever heard Flynt's music, suddenly there are six discs' worth to choose from.
But it is impossible to address Flynt's music meaningfully without putting it in the context of the elaborate philosophical and aesthetic inquiry to which he has given his entire adult life. Tellingly, his only book, published in Italy in 1975 and long out of print, carries the ambitious title Blueprint for a Higher Civilization. A cross-section of hundreds of pages of his writing is posted at www.henryflynt.org, which Berndt maintains.
Flynt calls for absolute originality and a total cessation of belief--belief in anything, including, for instance, the belief that you can move your body. His purpose in seriously advocating--in fact, dedicating his life to--such a seemingly nihilistic point of view is a kind of starting from scratch. In his philosophy, there is a real nonexotic, nontrivialized potential for awakening. But his attacks on the most sacred cows of culture--art, science, mathematics--and his refusal to associate himself with predecessors or peers has won him few friends and has created a situation in which he is, for all intents and purposes, ignored. Even in an art world that increasingly celebrates the childlike and fanciful, the playfulness and touching sincerity of his work--as in his instructions for walking through walls, his poignant essay on "Romance as Illumination," or his troublemaking one-page case for the impossibility of the number two--have remained neglected. But for those willing to pay attention and slog through his sometimes opaquely self-referential texts enough to hear his message, these pieces are magnificent and authentic renderings of a truly dissenting voice and glimmers of a utopia to come.
Infused with a similar lofty idealism and serious intent, Flynt's music has lately found a wider audience than his writing. Spindizzy, which features 10 pieces spanning 1968 to '83, is as incendiary and ferocious as anything in the BYG Actuel or ESP-Disk catalogs of late '60s/early '70s avant-jazz while remaining tied to country and rockabilly. "Hoedown," Spindizzy's mind-melting opener, superimposes raucous, country-fried fiddle licks in expansive structures with a sense of fluid, genuine improvisation. As a native of the American South, Flynt identified strongly with and utilized elements of the region's indigenous musical language--the particular rhythms, intonations, and phrasing of country, bluegrass, and blues, forms he sees as anything but naive, but rather as the statement of an esthetic and philosophy that is irreconcilable with Western classical music and its use as an indicator of class and cultural currency. At the same time, Flynt's knowledge of Hindustani classical music (through his studies with Indian classical vocalist and minimalist guru Pandit Pran Nath) and of drone-school minimalism are partly responsible for the blissful modalism and open-ended construction of pieces like "Hillbilly Jive." Like the early-'60s innovations of Coltrane, his compositions are, at heart, a kind of gorgeous protest music.
The slippery construction and head-down, speed-demon abandon of "Jumping," which features Flynt's weird, smoking, guitar runs and chord chomping, produce a delirious physical pleasure. Like Ornette Coleman's playing, "Jumping" reveals an unending wealth of ideas that roll out as fast as the body can express them, but the sound owes more to '60s Nashville and early rockers like Bo Diddley, and the sheer wildness of the performance saves it from the tiresome and pretentious Einstein on the Beach-isms of Flynt's contemporaries. It is an unstaged, spontaneous document of the human mind a-popping.
Out of despair caused by lack of an audience, Flynt abandoned playing music in 1984 to focus on writing. Berndt, who first wrote to Flynt in 1990 and met him 1993, began discussing the release of Flynt's music in 1996. It took another five years before the first volume of New American Ethnic Music to appear. Two more releases, focusing on Flynt's multimedia project Hillbilly Electronic Music and Hallucinogenic/Ecstatic Sound Environments of the '70s, are slated for release on Recorded, offering adventurous listeners another manifestation of Flynt's expression.
Will this wave of documentation of Flynt's musical career lead listeners toward his writing, or will he slip through the cracks of indie-label obscurity as just another far-out crackpot, despite the unique beauty of his work? The answer probably lies in the direction the culture takes--for or against a Flyntian future in which everything is questioned, nothing is assumed, and it's present sight that's 20-20.
Taking Henry Flynt Seriously
by Benjamin Piekut
Henry Flynt, 1963
Photo by Diane Wakoski
Philosopher, composer, and violinist Henry Flynt occupies a unique place in the history of experimentalism in the United States. Highly critical of established institutions of “serious culture,” Flynt began in the 1960s to combine blues licks and country fiddling styles with a modal approach to extended improvisation. He has recently released ten albums, a string of recordings spanning modernist sound experiments, hillbilly fiddling, rawkus garage rock, Hindustani-inflected solo violin improvisations, and what might be called “minimalist country.” Produced between 1963 and 1984, these works provide a wonderful opportunity to re-examine histories of experimental music in the U.S. from the critical perspective of an iconoclastic intellectual. However, the project of interpreting the story of Henry Flynt is being constantly deferred by what seem to be much more basic concerns: the need to establish a historical record in the first place, to provide some sense of the body of work under discussion, and indeed, to justify the whole enterprise. As Flynt told me last year, “I could bring you twenty to thirty people who would say that everything Henry Flynt ever did was totally worthless.”1 So why do I think this obscure figure is important for the study of U.S. experimentalisms, and how can we justify work on such marginalized, or “outsider,” artists? I will return to these questions, but for now I’ll begin by offering a few short Flynt stories.
As a student at Harvard in the late 1950s, the classically trained violinist and self-taught composer Henry Flynt was exposed to jazz and became very enthusiastic about the innovations of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.2 At the same time, he read Samuel Charters’s book on country blues, and sent away for the accompanying anthology of Mississippi blues recordings.3 Upon hearing these recordings, Flynt was turned completely around. As he later put it, “From that moment on…I’ve been ... a conscious, dedicated enemy of … [laughing] the European vision.”4 He soon began developing his own blues and country style on the violin and guitar, mixing it with minimalist tape-delay techniques and free-jazz sonic experimentation to create what he calls “avant-garde hillbilly music.”5 In 1965 and 1966, after having taken guitar lessons from Lou Reed, he assembled a band called the Insurrections and recorded a series of political rock ’n’ roll songs to protest the Vietnam war and colonialism in Africa (with songs such as “Missionary Stew”).6 His musical activities in the 1970s included leading the communist country band Nova’billy, taking voice lessons with Pandit Pran Nath, collaborating with mathematician and composer Catherine Christer Hennix, and performing a few solo violin compositions over tambura drone. He eventually stopped making music in 1984, having only played a few concerts over the previous twenty-five years, but amassing dozens of hours of his performances on tape. These tapes remained unpublished until 2001.7
In 1960, a twenty-year-old Flynt flunked out of Harvard, where he had been majoring in mathematics. In the spring of 1961, he finished his first monograph, called Philosophy Proper, in which he argued that language is a short-circuited system, and that mathematics is demonstrably false.8 Several noted scholars, including Noam Chomsky and Saul Kripke, saw the manuscript and rejected it as worthless.9 He continued developing a very eccentric and iconoclastic philosophy that encompasses (among many other things) aesthetics, phenomenology, cognitive nihilism, and the logic of contradictions. His only book, Blueprint for a Higher Civilization, was published in Milan in 1975.10
In December 1960, Flynt met the composer La Monte Young, who at that time was at the center of an active downtown avant-garde. Two months later, Flynt traveled to New York to give two performances on a now-legendary concert series curated by Young and held in Yoko Ono’s loft, where he presented “unstructured, improvised time-filling,” poetry, “jazz,” and other musical pieces (as listed on the concert announcement).11 Influenced in part by Young’s short text pieces, Flynt wrote an essay in which he described a new aesthetic/mathematic practice, calling it “Concept Art” — “a kind of art of which the material is language.”12 At the time, he wrote only four pieces that he considered properly of this genre, but in the late 1980s, he would revisit the form and make new works under this label.
In the spring of 1963, while visiting his parents in Greensboro, North Carolina, Flynt observed a civil rights demonstration and sent a letter about the experience to the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party, which they subsequently printed in their newspaper.13 After relocating to New York in 1963, he was quite active in the organization, attending meetings, distributing leaflets, and representing them in public on issues of race and colonialism.14 Most importantly, he wrote for their newspaper, contributing some twenty articles in 1964 on subjects ranging from the civil rights struggle to decolonization in Zanzibar, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Congo.
In the meantime, Flynt was developing a strong anti-art position. He delivered his critiques of bourgeois high culture in public lectures and at demonstrations outside of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in February 1963. He led a picket in front of two Stockhausen concerts in 1964 in protest of the composer’s disparaging remarks on jazz and the prevailing attitude that dismissed non-European musics as primitive, and soon thereafter published a pamphlet urging communists to give up on European folk and elite music, and to embrace black popular styles for delivering the Party’s message to the proletariat.15 He eventually left Workers World Party in 1967, and in 2004 told me that his sojourn in the dogmatic Left was in some sense a compromise to avoid being swept away into obscurity.
It is tempting to think of Flynt as a kind of willfully obscure hermit, or “outsider artist,” so repulsed by the vulgar society around him that he would rather work in solitude than actually engage in a meaningful dialogue with the world at large, but this would be a mistake, for he was, and is, constantly straining to present his ideas to the public. After a January 1962 recording session with La Monte Young, Flynt sent tapes to Nesuhi Ertigun at Atlantic Records, who as Flynt recalls, “…wrote back to me and said, ‘This is the most original thing I have ever heard, and for that reason, we cannot possibly publish it.’”16 He also submitted demo recordings to Earle Brown at Time Records, and to Folkways and ESP, all of whom declined to publish his music.
Flynt himself has devoted several essays to exploring the condition of outsider status. In an unpublished text from 1979, “On Superior Obscurity,” he stressed the importance of engaging with established institutions:
What I do say is that one must get one’s protest of stupidity on the record. I do say that one must meet the enemy (in the military sense)…. And you must not punish yourself because the establishment has failed you.17
His commitment to public dialogue led him to make necessary concessions to have his voice heard, he recalls: “I … had to make all kinds of compromises not to simply be swept away. I mean, in other words, I … should have simply starved in the gutter or something like that. The reason that didn’t happen is because I started bobbing and weaving.”18 One example of this “bobbing and weaving” was the publication of his Philosophy Proper, which Flynt had edited down to a single-page manuscript titled “Primary Study Version Seven” by the end of 1963. After it had been rejected by two philosophy journals, Flynt took the advice of his friend George Maciunas and published it in a Fluxus newspaper called V TRE, which was being put together at the time by the artist George Brecht (Maciunas designed the graphics). Flynt explains, “[I]n one sense that has been a disaster, since the people that I’m dealing with…, all that they see is that Henry Flynt has a text in Fluxus, that must mean that the text is a Fluxus text and that Henry Flynt is Fluxus. I mean, … it was the only way I had of placing it on the public record in any form at all.”19
I propose that we recognize Flynt’s singular musical vision and the many ways his story complicates our understanding of the post-Cage continuum in New York. At a time when many composers spoke of liberating the performer and enacting musical models of utopia, Flynt was agitating for a different kind of freedom: freedom from imperialism, from racial oppression, and from what he identified as elitist cultural institutions. What’s more, he maintained that this commitment to liberation could not proceed from a European high-art position, arguing that the authority complex of “serious culture” was part and parcel of global systems of domination. Furthermore, his critiques of Cage and Stockhausen antedate the far better-known attacks of radical English composer Cornelius Cardew,20 as well as the leftward turn of his Harvard classmate Christian Wolff.
After hearing one of my presentations on this subject, a colleague of mine noted, “There is a ‘crackpot’ side to all this,” and he was right—Flynt has been called a charlatan by several respected figures in a wide range of disciplines. His often strident tone (which he now regrets as an unfortunate product of the times) and eccentric manner may be partially responsible for his obscurity, but surely many celebrated artists and intellectuals throughout history would be subject to similar charges. Rather than focusing on issues of personality or individual psychology, I find it more productive to examine material and structural reasons for Flynt’s disappearance from the historical record. To put it another way, there is a difference between the terms “marginal” and “marginalized.” That “-ized” signals a very important shift in meaning, for it calls attention to the way that discourses position subjects differently in structures of power and legitimacy; the study of “marginalized” figures necessarily entails an examination of the systems that produce them. For example, the absence of Henry Flynt’s story from histories of experimental and popular musics, mathematics, visual arts, philosophy, and radical politics suggests the limits of bounded disciplines when dealing with multidisciplinary intellectuals.
But a more powerful explanation of Flynt’s invisibility concerns the class and racial specifics of his cross-cultural appropriations, and how greatly they differed from the borrowings of many European-American experimentalists.21 When other composers, such as La Monte Young, dipped into non-European traditions, their interest usually maintained a commitment to court musics and elite audiences; in this sense, the practice offered a limited experience of cultural difference, and bolstered already existing social hierarchies within the North Atlantic context. Long-standing discourses about race and authenticity in the history of modernism only sanctioned such encounters when they confirmed notions of the European subject in particular ways, and the differences between this familiar narrative and that of Henry Flynt are significant (and too many to include here). In contrast, Flynt completely abandoned modernism in favor of the music of working-class African Americans and poor whites, wielding it as a weapon to challenge the revolutionary bona fides of his avant-garde peers, as well as the very legitimacy of high culture as an institution. Pierre Bourdieu has called this refusal to play by the rules “the one unforgivable transgression”—one possible explanation for the near-disappearance of Flynt from historical narratives.22 More importantly, this example suggests one way that studies of obscure figures like Flynt can expand to engage larger social structures, and to offer broader insights on how the history of cultural practices is written.
Editors’ note: For more information about Henry Flynt and his music, visit <www.henryflynt.org>.
1 Henry Flynt, interview with author, 2 November 2004.
2 For the following biographical passages, I am relying on Flynt, interviews with author, 2 November 2004, 8 December 2004, and 1 April 2005. Also see Alan Licht, “The Raga ’n’ Roll Years,” The Wire (October 2004), 26-29; and Ian Nagoski, “That High, Dronesome Sound,” Signal to Noise (Winter 2002), 50-53.
3 Samuel Charters, The Country Blues (Rinehart, 1959).
4 Flynt, interview with author, 2 November 2004.
5 Examples can be found on New American Ethnic Music, vols. 1–3, Recorded CDs 003, 006, and 007; Back Porch Hillbilly Blues, vols. 1 and 2, Locust Music CDs 14 and 16; and Graduation and Other New Country and Blues Music, Ampersand ampere8.
6 Many of these songs were collected, mastered, and released in 2004 as the album I Don’t Wanna (Locust Music CD 39).
7 One track, “You Are My Everlovin,’” had been released on a cassette in the 1980s. Henry Flynt, Edition Hundertmark, Köln, 1986.
8 The text was published in full in Flynt, Blueprint for a Higher Civilization (Multhipla Edizioni, 1975).
9 Flynt, “On Superior Obscurity” (unpublished manuscript in author’s possession, 1979), 5.
10 See n. 3.
11 An image of the concert announcement appears on Flynt’s website: http://www.henryflynt.org/overviews/artwork_images/43.jpg.
12 See Flynt, “Essay: Concept Art,” in An Anthology of Chance Operations, ed. La Monte Young (La Monte Young and Jackson Mac Low, 1963), and Flynt, “La Monte Young in New York, 1960-1962,” in Sound and Light: La Monte Young Marian Zazeela, eds. William Duckworth and Richard Fleming, 44-97 (Bucknell University Press, 1996).
13 This chronology remains a bit hazy. Flynt recalls the trip occurring in May 1962, but Workers World published nothing on this subject until 25 May 1963, when the paper ran a story called “I Saw the Birth of Freedom in Greensboro, N.C.” by “Charles Henry.” (Many of the paper’s writers adopted pseudonyms; in 1964, Flynt wrote under the name “Henry Stone.”) It seems most likely that Flynt visited Greenboro in May 1963 after leaving Boston and before moving to New York City permanently.
14 “WLIB: Opinions. Fwanyanga Mulkita, Zambia’s U.N. representative, and Henry Flynt, author of ‘Behind the Crisis Over Zimbabwe,’ discuss the racial crisis in South Africa.” “Radio: Today’s Leading Events,” New York Times (3 July 1966), 50.
15 Harold Schonberg, “Music: Stockhausen’s ‘Originale” Given at Judson,” New York Times (9 September 1964), 46. Flynt, Communists Must Give Revolutionary Leadership in Culture (Worldwide Publishers, 1965).
16 Flynt, interview by Kenneth Goldsmith, WFMU, East Orange, N.J., 26 February 2004.
17 Ibid., 4.
18 Flynt, interview with author, 2 November 2004.
20 Cardew’s polemic Stockhausen Serves Imperialism was published in 1974, also the year he joined the radical rock/folk group People’s Liberation Music. The British composer apparently was aware of Flynt’s early anti-art activities —in Blueprint for a Higher Civilization, Flynt quotes a postcard from the English composer, dated 7 June 1963: “Dear Mr. Flynt, …Since I may be depending on organized culture for my loot & livelihood I can wish you only a limited success in your movement….” Flynt, Blueprint, 73.
21 This list would span generations, and include Henry Cowell, John Cage, Lou Harrison, La Monte Young, and Pauline Oliveros, to name a few.22 Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production (Columbia University Press, 1983), 81.
Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen
Grey Planes No. 2, 1993, acrylic on linen‘The sole purpose of this argument is to cause trouble’, begins Henry Flynt’s ambitiously titled 1997 treatise That 1 = 2. Systematic provocation might also have been the goal of Activities 1959–, this retrospective and first-ever institutional exhibition by the US artist / anti-artist / musician / philosopher. Curated by Kunstverein director Hans-Jürgen Hafner in close collaboration with Flynt, the show brought together visual pieces, some of them recreations of previous versions, which unfolded and collapsed in contradiction, as well as the artist’s unique brand of very reasoned nonsense.
Flynt’s prints and paintings comprise diagrammatic illusions, semantic puzzles and optical quandaries which seem clipped from Logic or Gestalt psychology textbooks. The intermedial hand of Fluxus is never too far, though Flynt disputes the association (despite his friendship with La Monte Young, George Maciunas and Tony Conrad). This distancing seems to be part of his attempt to stake out ground for his work on its own terms, in conceptual solitude. Likewise, as acts of crystalline optical reduction, these pieces strip visual experience to the rudiments of viewership. Interior Boundary Painting (1992), for example, is a mask on a black square, which was installed on a windowpane in the Kunstverein’s upstairs foyer – looking through the window revealed shifting visual information depending on viewers’ perspectives – the frame surrounding the image (and hence the piece) perpetually fluid.
In essays such as The Psychedelic State (1992) Flynt has invoked the idea of transposition as it relates to the musical scale: as one goes up or down a scale, there is an infinite number of any given note. Middle C sounds different from C one octave higher but, then again, it’s the same note (so, in a way, as in Flynt’s treatise, 1 does equal 2). Likewise, the discrete pieces here on display seemed like many transpositions of one logical experiment, formulated in various ways. Concact (Conceptual Activity) of Colored Sheets and Optical Scans for The Optical Audiorecorder (1961–2), a hexagon of folded and cut newsprint, was included in a vitrine along with other historical works and documents from the 1960s; the piece looks like a Moebius strip flattened into 2 dimensions – fitting in light of the number of logical impossibilities in the show. One True Sentence (1989/2012) extends the liar paradox: ‘Every other sentence on the wall is false’ was printed over and over on a large, yellowish wallpaper installation. Logically Impossible Space, first realized at the 1990 Venice Biennale, features an empty room whose walls are printed with dozens of Necker cubes: an optical illusion wherein the brain, in perceiving a two-dimensional figure as a three-dimensional cube, sees the ‘front’ of the cube as the ‘back’, and vice versa. The effect of multidirectional illusion was compounded by the number of Neckers, as well as this piece’s installation in a cubic space opposite the Kunstverein.
Works like these belong to what Flynt, since 1961, has called ‘concept art’ (not Conceptual Art), which he has glossed as ‘an object-critique of logic and mathematics’, where ‘physical displays’ are ‘supports of contexts’. The deployment of objects and images (displays) become logical extensions, or settings, for thought experiments. What sound is to music, concepts are to concept art, to borrow the artist’s analogy. Flynt’s generative analysis and explication of ‘concepts’ through such visual tools are often more interesting than the tools themselves; meta-discourse often trumps the original problem. Here, one might think of Wittgenstein’s well-known example of a ‘duck-rabbit’, plausibly viewed as either a duck or a rabbit, but not both. (The Wittgensteinian title of Flynt’s essay Philosophical Reflections from 1996 is one of many such nods to the Austrian-British philosopher.) But if Wittgenstein were to talk shop with Flynt, I suspect he’d press him on this very point: aren’t concepts always only intelligible through physical displays (imagined or real)? In that sense, what’s to distinguish concept art from any visual example?
And how do we make the leap from visual schematic to a work of art? Well there’s the real paradox. The most present self-contradiction here was Flynt’s positioning as an artist, despite his loud activism on the ‘anti-art’ ticket. The show excluded his numerous musical compositions, for which he’s well known. While this deliberate omission gave overdue attention to his visual practice, the show amounted to a broad critique of the institution of the art work, that is, to a sort of triumph of anti-art. A photograph taken by poet Diane Wakoski in 1963 at Walter de Maria’s loft shows Flynt, in dictatorial pose, standing behind a desk, under a portrait of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and beside signs bearing anti-art slogans: ‘DEMOLISH LINCOLN CENTER’ and ‘VERAMUSEMENT – NOT ART’ (Flynt’s neologism). And indeed, one was hardly given ‘art’ here – concept art seems to fall outside a traditional understanding of aesthesis. Instead, on view was a curious, entertaining form of ‘veramusement’. Exactly what that means, only Flynt knows.—by Pablo Larios
Tuesday, September 8, at 8:00 P.M. Judson Hall (57th, Street east of Seventh Avenue),
“jazz [Black music] is primitive... barbaric... beat and a few simple chords... garbage... [or words to that effect]” Stockhausen, Lecture, Harvard University, fall 1958
Of all the world’s cultures, aristocratic European Art has developed the most elaborate doctrine of its supremacy to all plebian and non-European, non-white cultures. It has developed the most elaborate body of “Laws of Music” ever known: Common-Practice Harmony, 12-Tone, and all the rest, not to mention concert etiquette. And its contempt for musics which break those Laws is limitless. Alfred Einstein, the most famous European Musicologist, said of “jazz” that it is “the most abominable treason”, decadent”, and so forth. Aristocratic European Art has had a monstrous success in forcing veneration of itself on all the world, especially in the imperialist period. Everywhere that Bach, Beethoven, Bruckner and Stockhausen are huckstered as “Music of the Masters”, “Fine Music”, “Music Which Will Ennoble You to Listen to It”, white aristocratic European supremacy has triumphed. Its greatest success is in North America, whose rulers take the Art of West Europe’s rulers as their own. There is a Brussels European Music Competition to which musicians come from all over the world; why is there no Competition, to which European Musicians come, of Arab Music? (Or Indian, or Classical Chinese, or Yoruba, or Bembey, or Tibetian percussion, or Inca, orhillbilly music?)
STOCKHAUSEN AND HIS KIND
Stockhausen is a characteristic European-North American ruling-class Artist. His magazine, The Series, has hardly condescended to mention plebian or non-European music at all; but when it has, as on the first page of the fourth number, it leaves no category for it except “’light music’ that can be summed up by adding a question mark after ‘music’”. Stockhausen’s doings are supported by the West German Government, as well as the rich Americans J. Brimberg, J. Blinken and A. Everett. If there were a genuine equality of national cultures in the world today, if there were no discrimination against non-European cultures, Stockhausen couldn’t possibly enjoy the status he does now. But Stockhausen’s real importance, which separates him from the rich U.S. cretins Leonard Bernstein and Benny Goodman, is that he is a fountainhead of “ideas” to shore up the doctrine of white plutocratic European Art’s supremacy, enunciated in his theoretical organ The Series and elsewhere.
BUT THERE IS ANOTHER KIND OF INTELLECTUAL
There are other intellectuals who are restless with the domination of white plutocratic European Art. Maybe they happen to like Bo Diddley or the Everly Brothers. At any rate, they are restless with the Art maintained by imperialist governments. To them we say: THE DOMINATION OF WHITE PLUTOCRATIC EUROPEAN ART HOLDS YOU TOO IN BONDAGE! You cannot be intellectually honest if you believe the doctrines of plutocratic European Art’s supremacy, those “Laws of Art”. They are arbitrary myths, maintained ultimately by the repressive violence that keeps oppressed peoples from power. Then, the domination of patrician Art-which is aristoctat-plutocrat in origin, as Opera House etiquette alone shows - condemns you to be surrounded by the stifling cultural mentality of social-climbing snobs It binds you to the most parochial variety of the small merchant mentality, as promoted by Reader’s Digest - “Music That Ennobles You to Listen to It”. Even worse, though, the domination of imperialist white European plutocrat Art condemns you to live ammong white masses who have a sick, helpless fear of being contaminated by the “primitivism” of colored people’s cultures. Yes, and this sick cultural racism, not “primitive” musics, is the real barbarism. What these whites fear is actually a kind of vitality the cultures of these oppressed people have, which is undreamed of by their white masters. You lose this vitality. Thus, nobody who aquiesces to the domination of patrician European Art can be revolutionary culturally - no matter what else he may be.
THE FIRST TASK
The first cultural task of radical intellectuals, especially whites, today, is:
(1) not to produce more Art (there is too much already);
(2) not to concede in private that non-European culture might have an “ethnic” validity;
Whatever path of development the non-European, non-white peoples chose for their cultures, we will fight to break out of the stifling bondage of white, plutocratic European Art's domination.
STOCKHAUSEN-PATRICIAN "THEORIST" OF WHITE SUPREMACY: GO TO HELL!
Action Against Cultural Imperialism
359 Canal Street, New York, N. Y. 10013.
(April 29, 1964: First AACI Demonstration)
JOIN THE DEMONSTRATION AT THE WEST GERMAN COMPOSERS CONCERT,
TOWN HALL (43RD. STREET WEST OF SIXTH AVENUE), WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 8:00PM
In a lecture at Harvard in the fall of 1958, Stockhausen contemptuously dismissed "jazz" as "primitive... barbaric... beat and a few single chords...", and in effect said it was garbage.
By the time he made that dscist-like attack on Afro-American music, Stockhausen was a well-known symbol of contempt and disdain for every kind of workers', farmers', or non-European music, whether the music of Black Americans, East European peasants, Indians, or even most of the music that West Germans workers themselves like. All of the West German composers on tonight's program share this contempt; Stockhausen is their most significant representative.
"ONLY MY MUSIC EXISTS"
Stockhausen's magazine, as well as his lectures, have decreed over and over that the one True Music is European Serious Music. They have decreed over and over that today music must obey the "scientific" Laws of Music, discovered by Stockhausen - or else it does not exist. ( That is, you must compose passage work (Zeitmasse), a concerto grosso (Gruppen), "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" (Gesang), a Mahler Symphony (Carre), or some such. ) In other words, the music of Japan, India, Africa, or in the U.S., R&B or hillbilly music, does not exist! And Stockhausen's reason: because it is not composed, or is not made up of pitches, etc. etc. (Die Reihe 4, the first essay, sums up the doctrine of Stockhausen's claque.).
STOCKHAUSEN'S DECREES SERVE NEO-NAZISM
Why does Stockhausen NEED to vilify every kind of toiler's music, to limit True Music to the European owning classes, to invent "scientific" Laws which require all music to start from the premesis if 19th.- century European Serious Music? And mainly to carry on fascist vilification of the Black peoples' music as "low and primitive"? Because Stockhausen's music is composed to serve the West German bosses. Stockhausen is a lackey of the West German bosses and their government, just as Haydn was of the Esterhazys. His patronage comes mainly from the government-owned Cologne Radio. _______Like all court music, Stockhausen's Music is of course a decoration for the West German bosses. But more than that, it is ideology, capitalist, fascist ideology. Stockhausen's repeated decrees about the lowness of plebian music and the racial inferiority of non-European music, are an integral, essential part of his Art and its "appreciation". Stockhausen's Music is West German fascist ideology.
THE BOSSES HAIL STOCKHAUSEN
Of course, some conservative, philistine elements among the bosses have opposed Stockhausen as "too modern". But this kind of opposition to Stockhausen is rapidly melting away as the bosses of West Europe and America realize that Stockhausen is one of the best salesmen they're going to get. The West German government, which is in the hands of the bosses there, patronizes Stockhausen and brings him here tonight. Already more than a few U.S. millionaires have begun to spoort Stockhausen. and because of the power of the West German and U.S. bosses, this Musical style is imposed on all weaker nations of the "Free World".
FIGHT FASCIST MUSICAL THOUGHT!
STOCKHAUSEN GET OUT! _______________TOO MANY LIKE YOU HERE ALREADY!
Action Against Cultural Imperialism
359 Canal Street, New York, N. Y. 10013.
TOWARDS AN ACOGNITIVE CULTURE
Henry Flynt talks to Stewart Home, New York 8 March 1989.
Henry Flynt was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1940. In 1961, after his New York debut in Yoko Ono's Chambers Street loft, he originated the idea of concept art. Then, in 1962, Flynt initiated a utopian critique of art from the stand-point of the absolute subjectivity of taste. He destroyed most of his early works, left the art world and began a campaign to 'demolish serious culture.' Flynt continued to produce music but his cultural activities tailed off in the late sixties. Despite this he did appear in Ira Cohen's 1968 drugs and magic underground short "The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda" as a member of the The Universal Mutant Repertory Company with cohorts Loren Standlee, Ziska Baum, Angus MacLise, Raja Samayana, Tony Conrad, and Jackson MacLow; the resultant celluloid is notorious as perhaps the most drug damaged cinematic experiment of the psychedelic era.
During the seventies Flynt returned to college to take a phd in communist economics. In 1987, he resumed making concept art in conjunction with the crystallisation of his researches into the foundations of science. Flynt now views his previous assessment of art as being heavily conditioned by the period in which he entered the New York art scene. Nevertheless, his critique provides a useful starting point for discussing the class basis of culture. As the eighties draw to a close, Flynt's extreme utopianism is gaining currency among a younger generation of thinkers (particularly those who emerged from the now defunct Neoist movement). Simultaneously, his recent work is creating ripples of interest among the cognoscenti of the official art world.
The principal collection of Flynt's writings is "Blueprint For A Higher Civilisation" (Multhipla Edizioni, Milan 1975). A recent essay on concept art by Flynt and an interview with him can by found in "Io" #41 edited by Charles Stein (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley 1988).
My interview with Flynt took place in a sandwich bar on the corner of Broadway and Spring, a few yards away from the Emily Harvey Gallery where Flynt's "Classic Modernism and Authentic Concept Art" was on show. It is chiefly concerned with Flynt's activities during the sixties and his utopian critique of art.
HOME: How did your ideas develop, what direction were you coming from in the early sixties?
FLYNT: My early work was philosophic, what would be called epistemology, I was convinced I'd dicredited cognition. When somebody says that all statements are false, the obvious problem is that as an assertion it's self-defeating. I had to find a way to frame this insight which was not self-defeating and that's in "Blueprint", the essay entitled "The Flaws Underlying Beliefs." One has to do what Wittgenstein claimed to do in the "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus," which is to use the ladder and then throw it away. The way I devolved, moved out from, this position of strict cognitive nihilism, was with the idea of building a new culture which would depart profoundly from the scientific culture in which we live.
I was a student at Harvard and that's where I learned about so called avant-garde music. Jackson Pollock, abstract expressionism and action painting were well known at this time, but the music was more of a cult thing with individual composers doing very unusual work. It was very hard to find out about what these people were doing. I was told that people like Cage were the latest thing. Christian Wolff, who was an associate of Cage, was at Harvard as a graduate student and there were a lot of concerts of so called avant-garde music held at the university.
HOME: How did you got involved with the set promoting this type of music?
FLYNT: I was trying to be up with the latest thing. To a point I just took what I was offered, logical positivism in philosophy and the so called avant-garde in music. I began composing works which were imitative of the music I was being told about. I was also very interested in translating the music into visual terms. At the same time I felt a tremendous disquiet about the avant-garde, there was something very inauthentic about it. There was the mystique of scientificity, Stockhausen was making claims which were actually false, that were philosophically discreditable.
Another thing that happened was that when I came to New York, I began to meet the people who became the most famous artists of our time. I was insecure about my own level of ability, I didn't know whether I could compete with these people and, at the same time, I was wondering what is this anyway? I felt very uneasy about the fact that all these people were competing with each other to become rich and famous and the original reason for all this activity had been lost.
HOME: So it was when you came into contact with the people composing this music that you became critical of it.
FLYNT: When I began competing with the other artists in New York. Also, at that time, I discovered classical North Indian music. I spent a lot of time with this and began to question the whole enterprise of classical music as such. I have a lot of problems with modern European culture. I find European music to be very four-square, it really lends itself to computerisation. In classical oil painting, there seemed to be a radical turn to seeing things as the camera sees them, with that technological modification. I began to have a tremendous problem with all of this. At the same time I was listening to black music and I began to think that the best musicians were receiving the worst treatment. The people who were doing the greatest work were despised as lower class, with no dignity accorded to what they did, while the stuff being promoted as serious culture and performed in the Lincoln Centre was absolutely worthless. There was no real emotion in it, the possibility of ingenuous experience had been replaced by an ideology of science and scientism.
I became very angry about the fact that I'd been talked into going to these Cage concerts when I was in college, that I'd sat and tried to make myself like that stuff and think in those terms. I felt I'd been brainwashed, that it was a kind of damage to my sensibilities. I'm still mad about this, I still feel I've not recovered from the experience.
HOME: How was this anger expressed in your activities during the early sixties?
FLYNT: At that time I was initiating concept art. I was doing a lot of things, many of them imitative. The purpose of concept art as a genre is to unbrainwash our mathematical and logical faculties. At the same time it's bound up with aesthetic delectation. I think these two aspects are integral to concept art, it's not just an artificial pasting together of the two things, they actually change each other in the course of their interaction.
From there I moved to an absolutely subjective position aesthetically, where each individual should become aware of their unformed taste. I used the term brend to signify this and thought that it would replace art. Basically, at this time, I viewed any work of art as an imposition of another persons taste and saw the individual making this imposition as a kind of dictator. I don't think there's any irony about the fact that I was beginning to dabble in political leftism at the very time I was inventing a theory in which art disappears and is replaced by a kind of absolute individualism. It's not strange if you understand what the final utopia of socialism was supposed to be. It's no different from talking about getting rid of money or the state.
It was then that I began demonstrating against serious culture. In hindsight, the actual course of events has been very humiliating for me because no one picked up on the intellectual critique I made of Stockhausen. Another point I made was that black American music was a new language and I don't feel this was ever really acknowledged. What happened was that rock became an incredible commercial success, people just became bored with serious music and it was forgotten. It was not an intellectual battle or a battle of principle at all.
HOME: How was the group Action Against Cultural Imperialism organised?
FLYNT: It wasn't, the organisation didn't exist, it was just a bluff.
HOME: You didn't hold policy meetings?
FLYNT: No. There were two stages to this affair, at first we were demonstrating against all serious culture. The organisation was really just me and Tony Conrad. At that time Tony was living with Jack Smith, who just came along with us. At first he didn't want to do it, he told us he had work in the Museum of Modern Art and that he wouldn't picket them. Then I got out the signs that I'd made for the demonstration and he began giggling hysterically. He ended up coming along because he thought it was funny. The focus changed tremendously as my interest in politics developed. I was meeting people who were calling my attention to issues of socialism, which I'd never really thought about.
HOME: Who were these people?
FLYNT: You wouldn't know them, somebody named Richard Ohmann, he's an English professor today. I converted myself to Marxism through reading. The Cuban revolution had just taken place and there was a tremendous discussion going on about it, there were books coming out on the subject. I got into it in that way and by 1964 I was affiliated with a Marxist group. The focus of the cultural demonstrations changed tremendously, I began to concentrate on the issues of race and imperialism. As a political statement the demonstrations were an absolute failure, nobody understood why I was holding them. I was told my activities were creating deep confusion about where I was coming from and why I was angry. The chairman of Workers World Party suggested I write a book. He said, you don't present a new theory at a demonstration, you write a book about it. That's how "Communists Must Give Revolutionary Leadership In Culture" came to be written.
HOME: So this was in the mid-sixties?
FLYNT: Yes, a lot of things were happening then. Around 1967 I began backing away from dogmatic Leninism, not so much because I thought it was false, I just decided there was nothing utopian about it. When you translate it from theory into practice it becomes just another political event.*
HOME: To return to the point about confusion, to me that seems central to what you do. Before we started taping the conversation, you said your writing was a black hole which would suck people in and deconstruct their mode of thought.
FLYNT: That was in relation to cognition. I have a picture of an ideal consciousness which the writings are directed towards producing. It's not confused, I'm actually a great fan of lucidity.
HOME: I wasn't implying that your formulations were confused, what I was trying to say was that the texts have a disorientating effect on the reader.
FLYNT: I associate lucidity with belieflessness. I'm trying to assemble materials for a different mode of life, but it's a completely open question about how they might connect up. The whole drive of western culture, the part of it which is serious, is towards an extreme objectification. It's carried to the point where the human subject is treated almost as if it's dirt in the works of a watch. I'm trying to go to the source of this insane aberration, so that I can dissolve it. I want to do this by integrating subjectivity and objectivity, by making these two things intrinsically interdependent.
* i.e. the modernisation strategy of last resort. c.f. 'The Three levels of Politics' in 'Blueprint.' [Note added].
First published in Smile 11, London Summer 1989.
Chapter on early Fluxus from "Assault On Culture" (Flynt dislikes being associated with Fluxus and views those linking him to this anti-art group as hostile to his thought, but within the art world he is widely but "wrongly" perceived as a "Fluxus artist")
About Henry Flynt
Henry Flynt: abbreviated list of publications
Henry Flynt: selected unpublished manuscripts
Henry Flynt: correlative chronology
Photos of Henry Flynt
Photos of Henry Flynt art works
Show in Advance of Its Existence
The SAMO© Graffiti
The Flaws Underlying Beliefs
Primary Study: Informal Paraphrase
The ‘Does Time Exist?’ Trap
Is Incredulity Self-Defeating?
Conventional wisdom on the progress of knowledge: Aristotelian discourse-universes
How Substantial Is Non-Actual Possibility?
Rhetorical Appraisal of Theories
Uncompromising Positioning -- Part I
Uncompromising Positioning -- Part II
Preface to collected writings in meta-technology
Meta-Technology: An Analytical Sketch
Lessons in Meta-Technology
Refutation of Arithmetic
That 1 = 2
The Crystallization of Concept Art in 1961
The Invalidity of Mathematics: The Original Concept Art Essay and the Refutation of Arithmetic Project
Mathematics, Tokenetics, and Uncanny Calculi: 1961 Concept Art in Retrospect
Introduction to the Logic of Contradictions
Shall the logic of contradictions be forestalled by verbally neutralizing paradoxical perceptions?
The Logic of Admissible Contradictions: Introduction
Common Sense Analyzed as a Paradoxical Theory
Insane Conclusions Forced by Common Sense: Paradigm 1
STUDIES IN PERSONNESS AND PRE-SCIENCESuperseding Scientific Apprehension of the Inanimate World: The "Phenomenological" Base of Physics
D. Novel Possibilities of Integration
Appendix A. Hilbert's stroke-numerals and Freudenthal (PDF, 884K)
Sentences Which Are Rigorously Unknowable But True
Studies in Constitutive Dissociation
The Choice Chronology Project
The Counting Stands: Plurality, Thinghood, Contradiction
Meta-Technological Evidence: More on 1=2
An Epistemic Calculus: Realizing "Impossibilities" by Lifting Annulled Reality-Grades
The Apprehension of Plurality (PDF file, 10.1 megabytes)
STUDIES IN SCIENCE
The Repressed Content-Requirements of Mathematics
Is Mathematics a Scientific Discipline?
The Disintegration of Possibility: On the Commitments Which Frame Physics
How Physics Doctrine Morphs on a Time Scale of Decades
The Biological Anthropic Principle
Personalysis: A Sketch
Personness II: Attachment's Turbulent Causation
CRITICAL NOTES ON PERSONNESSDEPTH PSYCHOLOGY AS A POST-SCIENTIFIC MODALITY
I. Objections to Personalysis
II. Case Studies in Personness
III. The "Other Minds" Difficulty
IV. Personness: Self-Cancellation
V. Elevated Experience
The Personness Premise -- III
Preface to "Personness IV"
PERSONALYSIS: 1995 Tutorial
Part I. The totality as "individual experience" integrated around personal identity and purpose
Intermezzo: A recapitulation with topical commentary
Part II. High-level affections when "personal experience" is integrated around personal identity and purpose
PERSONNESS AND DESTABLIZING EFFICACY
An Essay on the 1981 Essay and the 2001 Revision
Transforming Personness by Conscious Action
Personalysis: An Account of Dignity and Its Opposite
Dignity: An Outline
VALUES, REVERENCE, HUMILITY
1. So-called value disputes: reflections and autobiography
2. Philosophy of Reverence and Humility
The Psychedelic State
Hypnosis and the Delusiveness of Normal Perception and Logic
Romance As Illumination
Appendix: Critiques of Scientific Psychology
The Collectivity After the Abolition of the Universe and Time
Escaping "Social" Reality: Principles of a Higher Civilization
Analytical Sketch of Life-Conduct
Conduct and Preferability: The Observed Need for Values
Self-Justification in Human Relations: The Factual Platform for Justifying Claims Rules for Historiography
Prospect: The Economic Phenomenon
Indictments of Capitalist Imperialism?
Premises for Communist Economics
Marx's Economic Axioms: Their Compatibility with Bourgeois Economy
Rethinking Communist Economics After the Twentieth-Century Debacle
A Crisis for the Socialist Idea: the First Step
The Theory of Socialist Economic Administration: Notes on Chs. VII, VIII
The Theory of Socialist Economic Administration: How is the consumption vector arrived at?
Essay: Concept Art
My New Concept of General Acognitive Culture
Art or Brend?
The Meaning of My Avant-Garde Hillbilly and Blues Music
On Pandit Pran Nath
The Art Connection: My Endeavor's Intersections with Art
AGAINST "PARTICIPATION": A Total Critique of Culture
(Chapter 6) Structure Art
(Chapter 9) Newness as Sole Value
(Chapter 10) Post-Dada and the Crumbling of Art's Purposes
(Chapter 11) "Brend," chapter from From "Culture" to Brend
1998 thoughts for the next draft
Bibliography of Aesthetics
Marxist Art Roster
MY NEW CONCEPT OF GENERAL ACOGNITIVE CULTURE
[This essay was written c. May 1962 and published in décollage No. 3. This transcription serves to correct the typographical errors. Footnotes are written in 1992.]
Of the adult (human) activities I discredit explicitly, consider pure mathematics (and structure art and games of intellectual skill), and Serious Culture/all art/literary culture/science fiction/music. I show that these activities (as such) should be repudiated. Now humans are likely in any case to resist this radical idea of repudiating these major institutionalized activities; but especially if nothing were to take their place, if the idea were negative only. Even when the activities' Serious Cultural pretensions have been discredited and repudiated, and their obvious confusions of purpose have been noted, humans are likely to be interested in them still, to like them in at least one respect: for their entertainment, recreational value; for their value as "ends," in themselves. (And are thus likely to fear that to repudiate these activities without anything's taking their place would be to give up all recreation, doing things "just for fun," doing things just liked.) Now this chapter will be first, an analysis of the concept of entertainment, recreation, of doing things just liked, which will criticize the activities even as just entertainment. (And will discredit my own initial notion of "acognitive culture," as not going far enough.)
I discredit these activities, show they should be repudiated, for "everybody," adult humans and creeps. Now since I am a creep, my primary constructive concern is to point out something rather than these activities, for creeps: my new concept of "creep acognitive culture." However, I am going to "do adult humans a favor" in the hope that it will keep them from just changing the discredited activities into something no less wrong and confused, and will encourage them to repudiate the activities. "Creep acognitive culture" is, to speak generally, a concept of "recreation" (resulting from analysis of the concept of recreation) for conscious organisms. Part of it is applicable for adult humans (as well as creeps), in replacing the discredited activities for them. I am going to give that general part here, in this book--my new concept of "general acognitive culture." (The specialization for creeps I will give in Creep.) The specialization of this concept for adult humans I will leave to them, since that is their concern. Incidentally, even though generally applicable, the characteristics of general acognitive culture may be reminiscent of creepiness, but they will not in any case embarrass mature adults, which is where I draw the line between the adult human and the really creep.
To give a better idea of the major area of life, "recreation," I am concerned with here, let me mention, along with the activities mentioned above: games, possibly athletics "for fun," conventional entertainment and recreation, and children's play. Or "acognitive culture" in my initial sense. Further, let me suggest the area with respect to its place in (adult) human life today. Naively, a worker has a job, job hours, an occupation, does work (which produces material wealth), to obtain his means of consumption. His job is a "means"; even though he may like it he is pretty much forced to do it. This can be extended to apply to the whole area of his responsibilities to society. Then he has after-hours, time when he doesn't have to do anything, and does what he does more as an end, in itself, "for fun," because he likes it: here is where recreation is included. This is when workers listen to music, read science fiction, play games, and the rest. A thing is more purely recreational the more it is done just "for fun," the more is it is not an extension of the job, a means. This can be extended to apply to the whole area of what he does just because he likes it; and the area can now be conceived as existing (presumably as a matter of course) side-by-side what he does "for society." All this can be said about recreation today.
To arrive at the preliminaries of my concept of general acognitive culture, a certain concept of "recreation" applicable for any conscious organisms (my initial notion of "acognitive culture"), let me give some characteristics which the activities I have listed, in their recreational aspect, have in common, which would apply for any conscious organisms. No one of the activities is biologically necessary (or biologically harmful) to the organism. Probably no one is necessary for society, co-operation among the organisms. They are not technology (although they may use it). As ("mere") recreation, they are not supposed to have cognitive value (and in particular are without associated cognitive pretensions, so that they cannot be Serious Culture). (They may use believings, especially wrong ones, as "experiences," but these are not claimed to have cognitive value in any way.) They do not involve anything, in particular sensuous indulgence, which has sophistication-proving significance. And of course, they are entertainment, recreation, are things just liked. These characteristics are the preliminary, initial determination of the parts of life, of any conscious organism, which I am selecting out to consider as one area, a unity, that of acognitive culture.
Having located and initially determined the area of life I am concerned with, I will now analyze, explicate the concept of pure entertainment, recreation, doing things just liked (with respect to the individual); and at the same time elaborate my new concept of general acognitive culture. Consider, for contrast, work, or the cognitive. With respect to these, there are "objective" or "intersubjective standards of value," for ex., whether a table top is level, or whether many people like a thing. One may well make a contribution to these areas even if one doesn't like the areas, or one's contribution; one can make a level table even if one dislikes the table and finds making it tedious. It makes sense to specially exert oneself to contribute to these areas, to drive oneself to work in them even though one would just as soon do something else. Now 'recreation' connotes, "general acognitive culture" is defined to be, exactly the opposite. One does the latter because one likes it (now), for no other reason. It doesn't make sense to try to do acognitive culture as objectively valuable, in conformity with objective standards. If one doesn't like what one does, it can't be acognitive culture. One can't create acognitive culture as a profession.
It is obvious, then, that Serious Cultural institutionalized activities, doing things in Serious Cultural institutional Forms, such as the Fugue, cannot be recreation, acognitive culture. What is not obvious, a point of this analysis, is that the whole institution of society's providing Forms (for the individual to do things in) supposedly for his recreation and self-expression, such as Science Fiction and Pole-Vaulting (or my Linact), is absurd. The notion that the Forms are the real right ones, represent the real right thing to do, are objectively valuable, inevitably grows up around them. As an example, consider the Form of "Composition," as any writing of specifications of activities (supposedly) for others to do as recreation. Compositions are primarily the writings, as opposed to doing the activities specified; their existence begins when the writings are completed. They are for "others" to do (and may never be done by anyone), showing that they are thought to be objectively valuable. The tendency is to turn out and store up quantities of them no matter whether the composer or anyone else likes them. Recreation, acognitive culture, cannot include Composition. Then there is the notion that given a Form, such as I am considering, one should do things in it whether one likes to or not, until one "understands" the Form, because one will like to then; and that the Form is objectively good if this happens. This has no place in recreation, acognitive culture. People who do things in these Forms all do so largely because they have acquired the notion that the Forms are the real right ones, are objectively more valuable than just anything. A proof of this is that the Forms are so extremely "objective," common, impersonal. This is why one can be unable to tell anything about the people themselves from what they do in the Forms. People have no idea of the extreme extent to which they are socialized even in what they do for recreation, self-expression. Even being a writer of any kind, a maker of objects, a creator of works, in the traditional, established, and common sense, is already extremely objective, impersonal, and indicates that one is extremely socialized. (This is what was wrong with my initial notion of "acognitive culture.") The reader may ask, if these Forms are so impersonal, what a personal Form will be like, how personal one can get. The answer will be given below.
Thus, an excellent determining principle is that it's pure recreation, acognitive culture only if it's what one would have done, would do, are doing, "anyway"; "prior" (to being "advanced" enough) to "know" the real, right, objective, the impersonal things to do, not from trying to contribute to an established real, right Form. Acognitive culture is not created by special exertion. One does it "anyway" "first," and "then" it turns out to be in the category of "acognitive culture." In fact, the concept of acognitive culture is only used applying retroactively. One doesn't set out to produce so many units of acognitive culture; one realizes that what one did which one would have done anyway was acognitive culture. What, then, is the reason for making the analysis, having the concept at all? Conscientious persons who have suspected the impersonality, of established Forms supposedly for their recreation and self-expression, have had great difficulty in repudiating the Forms, in not being ashamed of not contributing to them, not feeling that they have stopped doing anything. The reason for making the analysis, having the concept, is to help these persons with this difficult step, and to show those who are to give up the discredited activities what replaces them: to show that in giving them up they have not given up doing things just liked. So that they will "take seriously," pride themselves on what they do just "for fun," doing what they like, would do anyway; rather than being ashamed because they do not contribute to the discredited activities. The analysis, concept, is to make possible an attitude so one can thoroughly, consciously do things just liked.
Since acognitive culture is what one would do anyway, does entirely because one likes it, is for one's liking, it excludes entertaining others, conforming to another's likes--which are an intersubjective standard, making entertaining work. Further, on analysis, being entertained by another, another's creation, becomes questionable. Can the "creation" of another be liked by oneself, be for one's liking, represent oneself, as well as the "creation" of oneself? One may admire work by another, with respect to an objective standard, as being better than one's work with respect to that standard, but all that is irrelevant to acognitive culture. If it fits oneself who's doing the liking, if one allows oneself one's likings, then oneself is the source of value and, it would seem, will as a matter of course like one's creations best. Does it make sense for me to appreciate "great" chess players, poets, pole-vaulters (if their activities are to be regarded as recreation)? My point here is quite radical, but would seem entirely plausible. To go back, analysis of the concept of entertainment shows that separation of entertainer from entertained is incompatible with a thorough-going concept of pure entertainment; entertaining as work is discredited. This does not exclude every kind of involvement of others in one's recreation.
All this leads to the idea of (one's) acognitive culture as a part of oneself--as within oneself, at least so far as specifications are concerned. This would seem to be the opposite of contributions to impersonal Forms. Acognitive culture (being what one would do anyway) would not, it would seem, consist of artifacts built up outside of, separate from, oneself, to be gone back to (for ex. recordings, writings); or specifications one would have to be concerned about remembering. If one is wanting "what one likes, would do anyway," one will have it; one shouldn't have to be concerned about retaining it.
The reader may have been asking, 'But may not merely what one would do anyway be less interesting than the pseudo-recreation which is created by special exertion, such as Flynt's "Reproduction of the Memory of an Energy Cube Organism"?' Strictly speaking, this question doesn't make sense: how could anything be more interesting to oneself, likable, than what one just likes, than what one would do anyway "prior" to "knowing" the real, right thing to to? However, I will give a heuristic answer to the question. Asking the question shows that one has as yet no idea of what specific doings would be included by the category of "acognitive culture" as I have defined it. They may well be so different from the discredited activities, the traditional, established, common real right Forms supposedly for recreation and self-expression, as to be irrelevant to them, so to speak. They are going to be indefinitely more "new," "different," interesting, just as individuality is more so than anonymity. It is a matter of one's realizing that what fulfills the supposed function of the discredited activities are things one would not have thought of as replacements for them. All this will become obvious, when one considers what specific doings of oneself meet all of the specifications, are included by the category of "acognitive culture" as I have defined it. It may further be asked whether doing just what one would do anyway won't lead to a nihilism of acognitive culture's becoming indistinct, being absorbed in undistinguished personality, life, leaving only "nature"; or a nihilism that if acognitive culture needs to happen it will just happen, a nihilism of not doing anything. Well, something disappears, namely trying to do things just liked as a real right objectively valuable Form, a profession, by special exertion. However, acognitive culture doesn't disappear, because conscious organisms in any case just do anyway things just liked, which are distinguished, and which are "then" included by the category of "acognitive culture," "people have their recreation"--the category of "acognitive culture" represents a selecting out of things which presumably the life of any conscious organism will include, for which there will presumably be a place in any life.
As I have mentioned the possibility that the reader may as yet have no idea of what specific doings would be included by the category of acognitive culture as I have defined it, it might seem in order for me to describe some examples of such specific doings. Actually, however, it is just not in the spirit of acognitive culture to try to describe such examples. Real acognitive culture is not likely to lend itself to reduction to words. And trying to describe examples of acognitive culture cannot but be a tendency to make them into works; actually, there is no reason why one's acognitive culture should mean anything to another, or even to oneself at another time. Thus, although I might informally describe examples in conversation, I am not going to try to write any up. The reader who does not yet understand what specific doings are included by the category will just have to study the specifications of acognitive culture some more, and then consider what specific doings meet all of them. When the reader does understand, then he can discover the parts of what he does anyway, already does, that are included by the category of acognitive culture: they are his acognitive culture.
This completes the elaboration of the concept of general acognitive culture. My proposal can now be seen to be plausible, that one give up the discredited activities, all established real right activities which would otherwise be retained as quasi-recreation; and have in their place "nothing," except one's acognitive culture, or rather recognition of it. Now this chapter is relatively short, and the ideas in it are intrinsically simple. At the same time, it is of major scope; and it is socially radical, counter to major entrenched interests, institutionalized chess, institutionalized art, Olympic games, and the rest. In the past, there has been a tendency for people to read, but not "notice," such writings. I want last to say something to counter any such tendency with respect to this chapter. This chapter may be short and simple, but it is what I have been led to, my complete conclusions, after years of contributing to art and post-artistic activities and thinking about aesthetics and post-aesthetic fields (in an attempt not to waste time as a result of taking the wrong things for granted). Further, it will be outrageous if this chapter is ignored, just bypassed, merely because it discredits major entrenched interests while being short and simple.
Escaping "Social" Reality:
Principles of a Higher Civilization
(c) 1996 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.
An explanation expressed in the old terminology
Until now, modes of life have been based on the material servitude of the mass of people. Intellectual exploration, intellectual creativity, and the substance of personal freedom have been limited to minorities of the population. Intellectual exploration as a paid job has been limited to accredited social élites.
The priesthood of ancient Egypt already anticipated the role of élites in subsequent civilizations. In consigning the mass of the population to material servitude, advanced capitalism shows no essential difference from ancient Egypt. Intellectual creativity is pursued in a minority of the population (ranging from bohemia to academia, with the latter as the accredited élite).
One might understandably predict that no matter how much "social change" occurs in the future, the pattern--in which the mass of people are occupied in material servitude, and substantive freedom and creativity are limited to minorities--will continue indefinitely.
What I offer here amounts to a science-fiction speculation about a civilization "far beyond Communism." In this civilization, the collective could freely change the laws of nature. That depends on my claims, made previously and elsewhere, that scientific reality can be superseded. Let me provide a glimpse of what I mean. There is a dispelling of deceit and gullibility, concomitantly with the awakening of faculties, and with emotional sensitization: yielding intellectual techniques which supersede the compartmentation of faculties characterizing the present culture. Thereby, new mental abilities are invented. The community is open to avenues of metamorphosis of the life-world. The comprehensively assembled "meta-technology" would be self-conscious about the inherited view of factual reality, going beyond it in an operative way. Again, my perspective is that of a novel arena which outruns what was formerly considered factual reality. (My meta-technological writings, etc., are a prerequisite for understanding the terminology of the requirements to follow. See the Appendix for a bibliography.)
Emotional sensitization and personal faculties are culturally correlated. Referring to past, achieved cultures, we find that the dispelling of gullibility, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the awakening of faculties, or emotional sensitivity, may not correspond. The historical record suggests that democracy and rationalism may be accompanied by all-pervading commercialism, and thus by crassness and banality; and that nobility may accompany despotism, superstition, and squalor. The envisioned mode of life invokes dimensions of human potentiality which hitherto were supported only by different cultures. I'm seeking a unitary experience which transmits many dimensions of potentiality.
My interest here is with the [implications] of these claims for interpersonal life. If meta-technology could be implemented collectively, we would accede to an uncanny life-world. To express the matter from a present-day standpoint, the new mode of life would be a waking-dream reality or enchanted reality.
What is most original here is the argument that: in order for a collective to be able freely to change the laws of nature, all persons would have to have parity of "station in life" and parity of authority in the culture. Moreover, the total of menial and routine labor would have to decrease to the vanishing point.
That, in fact, is why I insist on speculating about a mode of life which does not consign the mass of people to material servitude. And this premise cuts the other way also. It means that I cannot admire modes of life based on the material servitude of the masses: no matter whether they achieve the "spiritual wealth" of Egypt, India, or Islam--or the consumer abundance of advanced capitalism. (This is why I refuse to admire the traditional societies in which the good serfs know their place and toil away, etc. etc.)
One intellectually unavoidable outcome would be that the realism of history would be placed in suspension. The higher civilization would consign history to a lesser grade of realism. There would be reasons why the supposed edifying effect of history could be foregone.
The statements are requirements--expressed as if from within the new mode of life, in the new terminology. Parenthesized numbers refer to comments on each statement, collected in the following section.
The life-world (lived experience) is understood as an integration of:
- -- substantial, operative interdependencies of awareness and
-- the conventionalistic grading of experiences (as to "realism");
- The foregoing cannot be achieved merely by adopting a neutral,
inert mental state, by positioning oneself mentally relative to
*] Sustainable inspiration (exalted centered activation and presence) and uncanny states of consciousness are required.
- The principles of evaluational processing of experience (or
grading of experience) which underlie a novel determination of reality are
shared or collective. Only thus can novel determinations of reality be
promulgated in the life-world.
- The novel determinations of reality are linked to emotionally
supportive intersubjectivity. Only thus can the novel determinations of
reality appeal to a community.
- The other persons have parity of "station in life" and parity of
authority in the culture with "the self" ("this individual," myself). Only
thus can they stimulate inspiration and uncanny states in "this individual."
- The community from which people concretely originate and "learn to
feel" becomes the same community that pursues mastery over scientific
objectivities and gains an uncanny or ecstatic sense of the world. Inasmuch as
the required shared principles of grading experience, and the required
intersubjective emotional gratification, connect, a person-configuration freed
from demeaned pragmatism is evinced. (3)
- The individual experiences "desirables" as qualitatively specific.
- The individual insists on the satisfaction of the qualitatively
specific and unequal needs of self and peers for the material requisites of
life. (To recognize inequality of individual needs does not mean endorsing
different grades of reward. To resolve competing claims, a representative body
is needed.) (5)
- Production of the material requisites of life is planned by a
representative body to shrink necessary labor time. (Automated collectivism.)
- Individual and the collective entertain spontaneous "amusement" or
"play" ("brend"), without seeking to displace or objectify it.
- Sensuous-concrete vehicles for the collective expression of
exalting values are encouraged.
- Individual and collective are receptive to future novelty which is unpredictable and incomparable and yet is coherent or thematic. (7)
-- logically impossible situations (states of the world)--i.e. situations requiring simultaneous mutually exclusive descriptions in the medium of thought inherited from scientific civilization.
The principle of the personality's orientation in "reality" is: consciously to maneuver through the logically impossible world-states, manifesting instrumental mastery over objectivities inherited from the previous civilization. (I.e. scientific objectivities). (1)
- Self-subsistent objectivities, and affirmative consistent theories, would
no longer be sought as foundations of reality. As far as the physical world is
concerned, a fragment of what I envision is provided by my "Superseding
Scientific Apprehension of the Inanimate World: The Phenomenological Basis of
The higher civilization presupposes an intellectual defeat for physics;
for Marx's materialism; and for all the doctrines which hold that capitalism is
necessitated by physico-biological nature itself. For the latter, see the
- The new mode of life is not compatible with a social order in which most
people are consigned to material servitude. Not only would the sought-for
inspiration not appear; the uncanny instrumental activity or meta-technology
would not appear.
So it's not like Pakistan and the atomic bomb (or the priesthood in
ancient Egypt)--advanced technology coexisting with a population of paupers or
- Here uncanniness and ecstasis are positioned as notions reactive to everyday banality. In the new mode of life such counterposition would no longer be necessary.
- This is much stranger than those uninitiated in economics may realize. It requires a complete rewriting of the economics of preference. Rejection of the Axiom of Pure Greed and the Axiom of Nonsatiation. Sharp distinctions between consuming and hoarding, between substitution and compensation.
- This statement on satisfaction of needs is pertinent so long as a separate sphere of material requisites of life can be distinguished.
- This implies an intellectual defeat, again, for doctrines which hold that capitalism is dictated by physico-biological nature. It requires an intellectual defeat for the Austrian school's "inarticulate knowledge" argument against central planning. It requires a defeat for Milton Friedman's argument that totalitarianism is inevitable in a planned economy.
- To the present civilization, the new mode of life would seem a waking-dream-reality or enchanted reality.
drafted September 1981; retypeset 1996
Marxism proves more decisively and relentlessly than any other ideology that we are robots. It then goes on to say that those of us who are in bondage should be freed. But at the level of the cogency of the ideology, if the slaves are robots, then why in the world must they be freed? (So that there can be an exponential expansion of production? But to what end?) What difference does it make to a robot? (Let me hasten to reassure the reader that I am not really shocked that Marxism is incoherent as an idea.)
Marx wanted "revolution" to transform the economic class structure while remaining relentlessly loyal to the scientific world-view. Ironically, this program may be self-frustrating. It may not be possible for a movement which preaches loyalty to the scientific world-view to gain support in late capitalist society for an insulated overturn of the economic class structure. Capitalism may be able to assimilate to its own fabric any scheme of economic liberation which proclaims the equality of people as robots and commodities. My investigations have led me to conclude that what is at stake is not an isolable pathology in economic class structure, but an entire civilization and what it knows as "reality." My investigations lead me to treat the question of (the determination of) reality and the question of social reorganization not as independent questions but as the same question.
The whole Marxist-Leftist tradition is too crippled by the presuppositions of the modern Western culture of which it is a late variant: blind faith in natural science, dogmatic materialism, the assumption that natural science and dogmatic materialism are allies of revolution, socio-idolatry. It is my forecast that no tendency or movement which takes "proletarian revolution" as its program or slogan will be able to make a proletarian revolution -- so that the Marxist conception of the revolutionary project gives a direction to consciousness and action which defeats the pretended revolutionary purpose. What is paramount is the struggle for a post-Western culture (civilization), characterized by 1) a technology-beyond-technology which can overwhelm scientific technology, and 2) a way of coping with "the world" which devolves entirely from [the person-world premise]. Communism can only be a byproduct, almost an afterthought.
I indulged Marx's historical materialism as a plausible explanation of the moral codes of past epoches. But even this plausible contribution of Marxism may have to be extensively reinterpreted. Perhaps the succession of stages in history was necessary. But our understanding of what those stages embraced [realized choice alongside external conditions of the moment, realized choice and external conditions as equal constituents of a single "world"], and of what constituted their necessity, may have to alter if it is not to be belied by the person-world premise.
Quotes from: The Crystallization of Concept Art in 1961
Henry Flynt © 1994
Concept art was meant to replace all of mathematics with an endeavor which involved a Rorschach-blot semantics; and which did not claim to be cognitive, at least not in the inherited sense. Mathematics had already been disconnected from claims of realism; and I was extending that disavowal to a disconnection from claims of a priori truth. Concept art's value consisted in beauty, a beauty which was non-sentimental. Later I would say that its value consisted in "the invention of new mental abilities." Popularity had nothing to do with whether this avenue was worth taking. With that background, it was easy for people to object that concept art had nothing to do with art. At the end of the original concept art essay, I offered that thought myself. My observation was quoted by the reviewer of An Anthology in the Times Literary Supplement of August 6, 1964. Admittedly, concept art does not belong to a traditional artistic branch or medium (e.g. painting), and it is not pictorially sentimental. On the other hand, there is a very strong tradition in mathematics which claims artistic value for mathematics (in effect). What is more, there was a period in which "serious music" became intellectually pretentious and nonsentimental--and the serious music establishment backed this development.
Concept art was meant to replace all of mathematics with an endeavor which involved a Rorschach-blot semantics; and which did not claim to be cognitive, at least not in the inherited sense. Mathematics had already been disconnected from claims of realism; and I was extending that disavowal to a disconnection from claims of a priori truth. Concept art's value consisted in beauty, a beauty which was non-sentimental. Later I would say that its value consisted in "the invention of new mental abilities." Popularity had nothing to do with whether this avenue was worth taking.
Tristan Tzara's recipe for composing a dadaist poem, written before 1920.
(In: The Dada Painters and Poets, ed. Robert Motherwell.)
(In: The Dada Painters and Poets, ed. Robert Motherwell.)
To make a dadaist poem
Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
Dutch mathematician L.E.J. Brouwer in "Consciousness, Philosophy, and Mathematics": "... the fullest constructional beauty is the introspective beauty of mathematics, where instead of elements of playful causal acting, the basic intuition of mathematics is left to free unfolding. This unfolding is not bound to the exterior world, and thereby to finiteness and responsibility; consequently its introspective harmonies can attain any degree of richness and clearness."
I saw an analogy between the syntax which metamathematics arrived at, and the computational character, or derivational process character, of much new music. It was also evident that Young's word pieces concerned the metasyntax of music. [Not using the rules that define music, but twisting the rules.] The original concept art was a genre which used visual displays or process objects or text. It was a genre of syntax, or of derivational process. The notion that the sort of structure which subtended mathematics could have aesthetic value was already established from ancient times for mathematics; and it had been proclaimed for new music.
Concept art was meant to exhibit syntactical structures which broke the framework of objectification. We find that for the first time ever, I used a perceptual illusion as a logical notation. I relativized the existence of a derivation to the perceptual agility of the "knowing subject" or "viewer."
Mathematics had to have been projected onto its logical tree-structure so that this tree-structure could then be manipulated in a blind and cruel way –– à la Tzara and Cage. I have cited Tzara's recipe for making a Dadaist poem. One may pass directly from that to my exposition of "Haphazard System" in Blueprint for a Higher Civilization, pp. 97-99.
Mathematics had to have been projected onto its logical tree-structure so that this tree-structure could then be manipulated in a blind and cruel way –– à la Tzara and Cage. I have cited Tzara's recipe for making a Dadaist poem. One may pass directly from that to my exposition of "Haphazard System" in Blueprint for a Higher Civilization, pp. 97-99.
My positioning of the concept-art venture in the Sixties took some peculiar turns. As I said, as of 1961, I had no hesitation about committing to art. Mathematical cognition had been replaced by the search for uncanny structure, for ideas such that the possibility of thinking them at all was amazing. The defensible value of the enterprise, I thought, was aesthetic. Thus it was that all of mathematics and all of art (mainly music) which had syntactical pretensions were to be collapsed to a new genre of art. It was right to call it art, not "science." Even so, at the end of the concept art essay, I noted that concept art was entirely unsentimental, and I forthrightly acknowledged that that cast doubt on the appropriateness of classifying it as art. (. . .) Then, around 1966, there began a long period in which I revisited concept art; and reworked it discursively. (As investigations in formal language and in models of inconsistent theories –– to put it in the jargon which my work seeks to supplant.)