Wednesday, May 29, 2019

To reach the source you must go against the flow


Earlier this year a post here presented a fallible listing of classical composers with Buddhist tendencies, a listing to which Alex Ross offered several additions. But both of us, inexcusably, overlooked Laurie Anderson; she is a longtime student of the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Mingyur Rinpoche and won a Grammy this year for her collaboration with the Kronos Quartet Landfall. Laurie Anderson is the subject of an excellent new profile in the online Buddhist magazine Tricycle in which she explains "I follow some of [Mingyur Rinpoche's] teaching when I’m writing now, and it’s a new way for me to think about music. So music and meditation are coming closer and closer".

That is Laurie Anderson photographed above at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, and her genre-crossing work encompasses performance, film, music, installation, writing, photography, and sculpture - video sample here. In 1956 the American psychologist Robert M. Lindner wrote an influential book titled Must You Conform? - and Laurie Anderson would doubtless agree with the answer that Robert Lindner provides to his title question:

The answer is a resounding No! No — not only because in the end we are creatures who cannot . . . but no because there is an alternate way of life available to us here and now. It is the way of positive rebellion, the path of creative protest.
More than half a century later Robert Lindner's observation that 'In the crowd, herd, or gang, it is a mass-mind that operates - which is to say, a mind without subtlety, a mind without compassion, a mind, finally, uncivilized' is chillingly relevant to our social media obsessed culture; as is his view that 'It is characteristic of all movements and crusades that the psychopathic element rises to the top'. It is deeply unfashionable to question the wisdom of online crowds. But the driving force of social media is peer approval, and now, sadly, to gain that coveted approval you need a mindset that is without subtlety, a mindset without compassion, a mindset which in the final analysis is uncivilized.

That great 20th century symphonist Carl Nielsen warned against the danger of going around in deedless admiration for the conventional. As Laurie Anderson and a few other brave artists prove, there is an alternate way of life available to us here and now; it is the way of positive rebellion, the path of creative protest. Or as another very wise Buddhist teacher Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo tells us, to reach the source you must go against the flow.

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