Neutral Perspectives

On Neutrality

Modern "critical theorists," seek to drain the arts of their significance, pressing hard on the idea that there is no intrinsic value in the artistic gesture--that all arts are equal in value, and that meaning or worth is always and only connected to the music's place in culture. Since meaning is, in their view, entirely created in the mind of the listener, it's impossible and absurd to suggest that Music carries any communicative (denotational or connotational) value.

Once that view is appropriated, it becomes easy to be dismissive of the "Western Canon." If the Music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms once created a bridge between societies over space and time, the bridge is now destroyed by something akin to a "critical theory corps of engineers," falling and disappearing into the river beneath. Once dispatched, the work of art becomes a foil for leveraging all kinds of criticism and rebellion against what used to be considered normative in society. Of course, the targets of this criticism are the ones that were once bulwarks against all manner of amoralities.

Once "Music is Neutral," the gap is opened, and the floodwaters of cultural relativism and individualistic hedonism are free to rush in. No longer is there intrinsic value in the motivic or developmental processes of the past; thus untethered, Music becomes a type of agitprop, useful as a conduit to advance a broad assault on the beliefs and norms of Western Civilization. Music, it seems, is only "neutral" when it seeks to buttress certain out-of-date opinions, but when used to convey corrosive and retrograde ideologies, it becomes a useful weapon that is used most gleefully by the progressives.

Sound familiar? It should, for it's been wielded by the Historical-Critical and Form-Critical crowds in our Seminaries, with predictable, corrosive effects.

The Evidence

Neutrality then, is not neutral. Those with the most to gain from neutrality are the ones who advocate it the most strongly: the catalysts for change. In Theology, the word for neutrality is adiaphora, used to describe externalities that represent matters of opinion indifferent to saving faith. Useful and Scriptural as this is, the notion in the hands of doctrinal progressives becomes a two-edged sword:

  • First, to drain the existing artifacts of the faith of their value ("Music is neutral! Art is neutral! Architecture is neutral!" or even, "Doctrine is neutral?")
  • Next, to replace them with new ones, ("Music/Art/Architecture means something when it's what we prefer!")

The replacement art, in keeping with the politics, will always exist in tension with the prevailing, normative, and existing system. Until, of course, the old system is gradually supplanted by the new system.

Conclusion

Properly considered, the question isn't "Is Music Neutral," but rather, "Are the critics of Music neutral?" By attempting to drain Music of all of its potential to ennoble, educate, or edify its listeners, they in fact reveal their anti-cultural biases. Neutrality is thus not neutral, but in fact can be understood as a rhetorical tool used to disarm its opponents and deactivate their defenses. The end result is a devaluing of the existing symbolic order, and its cynical replacement by parody.

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