Is Being Serious Something You Work For, Or A Natural Product of Having Fun?

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s sensual ecstasy.

– from W. H. Auden’s “Lullaby”

Someone asserted the other day that there were bands trying too hard to be serious, and that a band had to just have fun and if it then became serious, well – that was the mark of true artistry.

Now what is funny is how dogmatic this statement is – one must have fun first. And it is true that in Plato’s Laws, one of Socrates’ (I know, the “Athenian Stranger’s”) first concerns is to introduce the Spartan and Cretan lifestyles to the idea that one must be educated in how to handle having fun, not merely in how to endure pain. Furthermore, there really are a lot of bands which try to be “serious” and fall far short of the mark. Bright Eyes and Cursive don’t get many compliments from me because their attempts to be serious end up reinforcing some of the worst aspects of being young.

I’m keeping this topic narrow, it seems, by using the word “bands.” But given that poetry relies on musicality, and that all of us have lyrics we relate to and recite subconsciously, I think the question of “music” as “How is our life determined by our passions?” is not far from here. This is really the question of how we can be serious generally, and whether we want to be serious.

I think in this day and age it is vital to be serious about something just because. The reason for this is that morality and aesthetics are realms which fall apart if one doesn’t have the ability to generate seriousness out of nowhere. A libertarian ethos absolutely drives the idea that in doing what one likes to do only, a greater good can be had. It is never clear that some people might like self-sacrifice enough, though, to keep a civilization going.

I suppose you’re wondering about the quote above. What impresses me is how Venus gives the lovers a reclining slope and a vision – it is all comprehensive, and it does this “gravely.” Romance is so comprehensive it includes a gravity it was meant to dispel. And yes, there is the hermit, experiencing in small discoveries about the everyday a joy about the ordinary. The point is that my interlocutor was only half right. You need to be serious to have fun, too, and the claims involved – articulation of a good, ultimately – are never as arbitrary or as universal as they seem.

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