Going to be (re-)publishing a piece by @Greg_Thomas soon, introducing the new Library of America edition of cultural critic Albert Murray’s collected essays & memoirs, ahead of a podcast we’re going to record on Murray, who I’m just getting to learn about.
I’m finding a lot to admire in Murray’s aesthetic philosophy. Here’s a sample:
… Underneath all art is the reenactment or the repetition of the basic survival techniques of a given group of people in a given place, time, and circumstance. When they go over that, when they practice it, we call that ritual. You see? From ritual you get a mind-set which helps you to continue. You build up a pattern which adds up to what you’re conscious of, which adds up to your perception of reality. Now, this is so important to people that some cultures have that reenactment, or that repetition, or that rehearsal—it’s like rehearsing the survival technology, the food-getting or life-saving technology. It’s so important that they have it supervised! When you supervise it very carefully it becomes a religion. You see? But they also reenact it by playing around with it—and that is when we are on our way to art. Because play, although it may be supervised too, leaves a lot of space there. It really has tolerance; it really has a little play in the repetition of what you’re doing. Although you have a referee, or judge, or umpire—in certain games—and certain games have rules that are supervised and some have not, there is always room for individual options as to how you would repeat this. And it’s that type of playing around with the options that leads us to art. And it’s out of that particular basic human activity that art comes.
“Art as a survival technology”—as essential—and as a form of play—sounds spot on to me.
More from the same piece here:
Greg and I will be talking about Murray’s overall life, work, and legacy, and we will likely also focus on Murray’s essays “The Omni-Americans” and “The Hero and the Blues,” which you can find in the Library of America edition (and other editions), likely in your local library—if you want to read along and get in on the follow-up!