Thursday, September 13, 2007

On the Proper Care of Monuments

If we're to have societies, then societies have to have their monuments. Monuments are instances for memory, reflection, a bit of ego boosting, and more than a measure of awe to keep said boosted egos in check. The man-made Great Ohio Desert in D.F. Wallace's novel The Broom of the System is a perfect example of the awe-inspiring and ego-checking use of monuments in a coercive state. Even a minimal statist like Milton Friedman saw a role for the state in building and maintaining monuments. Yes, even with those ill-gained tax dollars!

I am somewhat less statist than that. If you ask me, the perfect monument would be a big piece of land in the middle of flat America, three or four of those empty quarter states, stripped of roads and towns and farms and re-populated by massive herds of Bison, roaming, stampeding, reproducing, and left alone to evolve without a bit of further human assistance. A definite instance for reflection, wonder, awe. Or this -- a real, existing example -- the Lightning Field of Walter De Maria, a one-mile-by-one-kilometer grid of lightning rods in the middle of the New Mexican Desert, a monument in which the artist produced not the artwork per se, but rather the frame, the means for making the art work articulate itself.

With musical monuments -- be they the Mozart g minor Quintet or Etenraku or the Blessing Way or Gadhung Mlathi (composed by the Javanese goddess of the South Sea Nyi Ratu Kidul) -- a real joy is that they are virtually indestructible. While they cannot exist without human intervention, no amount of intervention, interpretation, revision or rearrangement whether by individuals or institutions can permanently damage the work, for its ideal form is always out there to be recovered, if usually only in a glimpse or suggestion. Monumental and durable goods they be. Like Byron the Bulb in Gravity's Rainbow, the little lightbulb that would never burn out, these musical works are the ultimate resistors.

1 comment:

sfmike said...

Here's another vote for the depopulation of the already depopulated Great Plains states and giving it back to the bison herds.