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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Musical Being and the Wealth of Nature


Today's news programs noted that an independent Japanese commission, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, issued a Report on the incident that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on March 11, 2011, just after the earthquake and tsunami. It was the largest nuclear disaster since the 1986 incident at Chernobyl. After reading the Report, it's difficult to continue calling this disaster a nuclear "accident." As Haroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, the commission's chair, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, concluded that "What must be admitted, very painfully, is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity." 

No doubt; but the Report overlooks even more fundamental causes. Nuclear disasters are not caused by particularities of Japanese culture, though they may be exacerbated by them. They are embedded in the cultures of modernity, of the so-called developed world. The fundamental causes for this catastrophe are to be found in the reasons for the developed world's reliance on nuclear energy in the first place: One, the assumption that humanity could and should control Nature rather than try to live in harmony with Nature's economy. Two, that human happiness increases as material wealth does. And Three, that happiness is chiefly a technical problem, one that will be solved by continuing economic growth, fueled by increasing quantities of energy.

I remain convinced that what I have written about elsewhere (“Knowing Fieldwork,” in Shadows in the Field, ed. Gregory Barz and Timothy Cooley. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 87-100.) as “being in the world musically” is an antidote to this way of thinking. Very briefly, insofar as sound sacralizes space, our space, and time, our time, we live in harmony with Nature's economy; we do not invent our own. But how to realize that permanently? How to turn those moments into the norm? How, in other words, to realize sustainability through musical being-in-the-world? In this research blog I have usually discussed music and sustainability in terms of cultural policies meant to sustain people making music. But now I am writing about music sustaining people. 

Logocentrism is so ingrained that it is unmarked, the default mode: we are in the world in our heads, thinking one word at a time. How, instead, to re-orient consciousness to sonic-centrism? I don't mean to be taken so literally as to be suggesting that if we spent all our time grooving and flowing and dancing to melodies going through our brains and bodies all would be well. Rather, sonic-centrism as a default mode of awareness invokes not only the harmonies of musical melody but also the harmonies Thoreau heard in Nature's economy: in the wind and rain, the birds and frogs, and in the crickets' earth-song. It leads us to appreciate the wealth of Nature, not the wealth of nations.

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