By Steve Wolfgang
Footnote Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind.- How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), pp. 68,73-75.
Allan Bloom, currently a professor at the University of Chicago, has had a distinguished academic career, teaching also at Yale, the universities of Paris, Tel Aviv, and Toronto. During the 1960s he was a professor at Cornell resigning in protest over the capitulation of that school’s administration to campus radicals.
His Closing of the American Mind became an unexpected bestseller, indeed, something of a cultural phenomenon, during 1987. While we do not endorse everything in the book, several pages are well worth reflecting upon.
Though students do not have books, they most emphatically do have music. Nothing is more singular about this generation than its addiction to music. This is the age of music and the states of soul that accompany it. To find a rival to this enthusiasm, one would have to go back at least a century to Germany and the passion for Wagner’s operas. They had the religious sense that Wagner was creating the meaning of life and that they were not merely listening to his works but experiencing that means. Today, a very large proportion of young people between the ages of ten and twenty live for music. It is their passion; nothing else excites them as it does; they cannot take seriously anything alien to music. When they are in school and with their families. they are longing to plug themselves back into their music. Nothing surrounding them – school, family, church – has anything to do with their musical world. At best that ordinary life is neutral, but mostly it is an impediment, drained of vital content, even a thing to be rebelled against. Of course, the enthusiasm for Wagner was limited to a small class, could be indulged only rarely and only in a few places, and had to wait on the composer’s slow output. The music of the new votaries, on the other hand, knows neither class nor nation. It is available twenty-four hours a day, everywhere. There is the stereo in the home, in the car; there are concerts; there are music videos, with special channels exclusively devoted to them, on the air nonstop; there are the Walkmans so that no place – not public transportation, not the library – prevents students from communing with the Muse, even while studying.
One needs only ask first-year university students what music they listen to, how much of it and what it means to them, in order to discover that the phenomenon is universal in America, that it begins in adolescence or a bit before and continues through the college years. It is the youth culture and, as I have so often insisted, there is now no other countervailing nourishment for the spirit. Some of this culture’s power comes from the fact that it is so loud. It makes conversation impossible, so that much of friendship must be without the shared speech that Aristotle asserts is the essence of friendship and the only true common ground. With rock, illusions of shared feelings, bodily contact and grunted formulas, which are supposed to contain so much .meaning beyond speech, are the basis of association. None of this contradicts going about the business of life, attending classes and doing the assignment for them. But the meaningful inner life is with the music.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 8, p. 238
April 21, 1988