Tom Wolfe, American Iconoclast

 

Tom Wolfe, American Iconoclast

by Marsha Familaro Enright

Originally published in The New Individualist, Fall, 2006

Tom Wolfe is one of the most original, honest and unfettered contemporary observers of American culture alive today. Originator of the New Journalism in the ‘60’s, Wolfe’s fiction-like forays in reporting have kept him at the leading edge of insight for decades. And he’s hilarious! He skewers pomp, pretension and preening evenhandedly–and his fellow members of the press are often well-roasted. His originality with language is phenomenal, his psychological insight and depth remarkable. Best of all, his entirely first-hand view of the world always shines through.

Just as Ayn Rand closely observed and essentialized American culture during the first half of the twentieth century, Wolfe studied our culture “in the field” during the second half and beyond. He ranged all over the country: geographically, culturally, artistically, and intellectually. His books offer the reader vivid accounts about the full range of the “American carnival,” from the outrageous car culture of Southern California (“The Kandy-Kolored, Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby “) to demolition derbies (“Clean Fun At Riverhead”), to the inner workings of the ultimate in ‘high’ culture snobbery–the New Yorker editorial offices (“Tiny Mummies!”).

From the ‘60’s onward, he seems to be on a mission to discover what makes American culture such a vast array of paradoxes–and in his later works, he eyes philosophy for answers.

Who is this wild man of journalism and fiction? A hugely popular and prolific author, Wolfe is probably best known for his novelesque account of the NASA space program, The Right Stuff (1975), made into a movie of the same name. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia and educated at Washington and Lee (B.A., 1951) and Yale (Ph.D. American Studies, 1957) universities, Wolfe spent more than ten years as a reporter for such institutions as the Springfield Union, The New York Herald-Tribune, Esquire and The Washington Post. In 1960 as Latin Correspondent at the Post, he won the Washington Newspaper Guild foreign news prize for his coverage of Cuba.

Along with Jimmy Breslin, Wolfe became one of the original staff writers of New York magazine, which had started as the Herald’s Sunday supplement. While on staff there, he began writing articles for Esquire magazine, many of which later formed his first book, The Kandy-Kolored, Kool-Aid Streamline Baby, published in 1965. These essays birthed the new, colorful, dramatic, story-telling style of writing which was later dubbed “The New Journalism.”  The methods of this new style changed the face of reporting forever.

If you want a sample of an hilarious piece of journalism about journalism-and insight into Wolfe-read the essay “The New Journalism” in The New Journalism (1975). To begin with, he aptly summarizes his experience in graduate school, which motivated him to become a journalist in order to have exciting real-life experiences:

“I’m not sure I can give you the remotest idea of what graduate school is like. Nobody ever has…Half the people I knew in graduate school were going to write a novel about it…No one ever wrote such a book, as far as I know…the subject always defeated them…Such a novel would be a study of frustration, but a form of frustration so exquisite, so ineffable, nobody could describe it. Try to imagine the worst part of the worst Antonioni movie you ever saw, or reading Mr. Sammler’s Planet at one sitting, or just reading it, or being locked inside a Seaboard Railroad roomette, sixteen miles from Gainesville, Florida, heading north on the Miami-to-New York run with no water and the radiator turning red in an amok psychotic overboil, and George McGovern sitting beside you telling you his philosophy of government. That will give you the general atmosphere.” (The New Journalism, 1975, 16)

He then analyzes what made “The New Journalism” new:  harnessing methods of the novel to infuse stories about real people and events with drama, local color and psychological depth.  This included describing whole scenes of a person’s life-witnessed directly by the journalist-extended dialogue, and shifting points of view. It required the writer to spend considerable time with subjects, questioning them about their thoughts, feelings and motives. “They had to gather all the material the conventional journalist was after-and then keep going. It seemed all-important to be there when dramatic scenes took place, to get the dialogue, the gestures, the facial expressions, the details of the environment. The idea was to give the full objective description, plus something that readers had always had to go to novels and short stories for: namely, the subjective or emotional life of the characters.” (35)

This required that the reporters have “the moxie to talk their way inside of any milieu, even closed societies, and hang on for dear life.” Writers like George Plimpton trained as an amateur with the Detroit Lions football team and turned it into Paper Lion; Hunter Thompson rode with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang before almost being stomped to death by them; Gay Talese chronicled boxing great Joe Louis’ life.  This new style was in contradistinction to the “century-old British tradition in which it was understood that the narrator shall assume a calm, cultivated and, in fact, genteel voice. The idea was that the narrator’s own voice should be like the off-white or putty-colored walls that Syrie Maugham popularized in interior decoration…a ‘neutral background’ against which bits of color would stand out. Understatement was the thing.” (32)

And distinguish himself from understatement he did. Wolfe’s works became populated with wholly original turns of phrase that are so on-the-mark, many have migrated into our vocabulary. Tom Wolfe invented terms like “the Me Decade;” “the Right stuff,” and  “social x-ray,” but according to the biography on his publisher’s website, his personal favorite is a Southern turn of phrase he introduced to the written word–and the national scene-in 1964-“good ‘ol boy.” He also “found a great many pieces of punctuation and typography lying around dormant when I came along-and I must say I had a good time using them. I figured it was time someone violated what Orwell had called ‘the Geneva conventions of the mind’…a protocol that had kept journalism and non-fiction generally (and novels) in such a tedious bind for so long.”

Using these new writing inventions, Wolfe has spent decades describing wildly-changing, status-seeking American fashions in delicious detail, whether it’s taking a limo four blocks to a party or owning a plantation. From his sharp observations he has crafted pithy characterizations like that of renowned symphony conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and his “radical chic” buddies (another phrase he coined) or fictional Charlie Croker of A Man In Full (1998). He’s wondered at the chasm between the people (the “proles”) and the intellectuals and literati, between the glorious productivity, abundance and creativity of American culture and the Intellectuals’ gloomy, apocalyptic evaluation of that self-same culture-all expressed with his usual, interwoven sarcasm.

The reader can find it in an early essay from a book about ‘60’s culture, The Pump House Gang (1968):

“What struck me throughout America and England was that so many people have found such novel ways of …enjoying, extending their egos way out on the best terms available, namely, their own. It is curious how many serious thinkers–and politicians–resist this rather obvious fact. Sheer ego extension–especially if attempted by all those rancid proles and suburban petty burghers–is a perplexing prospect. Even scary one might say…I was impressed by the profound relief with which intellectuals and politicians discovered poverty in America in 1963, courtesy of Michael Harrington’s book The Other American. And, as I say, it was discovered. Eureka! We have found it again!…When the race riots erupted–and when the war in Vietnam grew into a good-sized hell–intellectuals welcomed all that with a ghastly embrace, too. War! Poverty! Insurrection! Alienation! O Four Horsemen, you have not deserted us entirely. The game can go on.”

And he is still wondering about it in his most recent book of essays, Hooking Up, published in 2000. This bookranges from art to neuroscience, and even a Cato Institute seminar is examined. The title essay “What Life Was Like at the Turn of the Second Millennium: An American’s World” opens with:

“By the year 2000, the term ‘working class’ had fallen into disuse in the United States, and ‘proletariat’ was so obsolete it was known only to a few bitter old Marxist academics with wire hair sprouting out of their ears. The average electrician, air-conditioning mechanic, or burglar-alarm repairman lived a life that would have made the Sun King blink. He spent his vacations in Puerto Vallarta, Barbados, or St. Kitts…Our air-conditioning mechanic had probably never heard of Saint-Simon, but he was fulfilling Saint-Simon’s and the other nineteenth century utopian socialists’ dreams of a day when the ordinary workingman would have the political and personal freedom, the free time and the wherewithal to express himself in any way he saw fit and to unleash his full potential…Americans could boast of a freedom as well as a power unparalleled in the history of the world.

“Our typical burglar-alarm repairman didn’t display one erg of chauvinistic swagger, however. He had been numbed by the aforementioned ‘intellectuals,’ who had spent the preceding eighty years being indignant over what a ‘puritanical,’ ‘repressive,’ ‘bigoted,’ ‘capitalistic,’ and ‘fascist’ nation America was beneath its democratic façade.  It made his head hurt. Besides, he was too busy coping with what was known as the ‘sexual revolution.’ If anything, ‘sexual revolution’ was rather a prim term for the lurid carnival actually taking place in the mightiest country on earth in the year 2000…Sexual stimuli bombarded the young so incessantly and intensely they were inflamed with a randy itch long before reaching puberty,” which Wolfe then goes on to describe.

As the reader can see in the foregoing, typical passage, Wolfe does not merely notice blatant contradiction and hypocrisy–he finds them like a homing device finds its target hidden in a dark cultural and intellectual labyrinth and reveals it to the world. Likely this skill, on top of his material success, accounts for the screaming fury of the literati. In “My Three Stooges” Wolfe recounts how his surging fame and success with the novel A Man in Full–which pre-sold 1.2 million copies–motivated the likes of ‘modern’ novelists Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving to denounce him in public as beneath literature. Wolfe chuckled about it on national TV and thanked them for increasing his publicity.

A Man in Full is set in contemporary, dynamically growing Atlanta, teeming with vivid characters and detail about the New South. The bulk of the story revolves around real estate magnate Charles Croker and his attempts to hold onto his empire tooth and nail.  The story reveals many strata of Atlantan society, both white and black. However, the reader can see Wolfe’s concern for our contemporary culture in his sympathetic portrait of Conrad Hensley, a young manwhose upbringing by déclassé middle class hippies leaves him lacking in most of the technical and social skills that make survival and success possible. In this story, Wolfe’s recognition of philosophy’s power is most apparent, through the aid a book of the ancient Greek philosopher Epitectus gives to the self-development of the young man. After an excruciating run of events leads Conrad to one of life’s nadirs, he turns it around by incorporating Epitectus’ principles of integrity and courage into his life. Later, the dramatic plot explicitly turns on issues of philosophy as the young man’s life intersects with Charlie Croker’s.

Wolfe’s fictional characters are not heroes on the grand scale of Victor Hugo, but they can be larger than life, and some like Conrad do achieve real values over multiple obstacles through honesty and fortitude. Wolfe admires and honors ingenuity, courage, honesty, hard work, self-responsibility, and science–and competence and achievement over status. In his 1975 The Right Stuff, his admiration shows for the many engineers and scientists who made the Space Program possible. At the same time, he marvels at the status and honor accorded the Astronauts before they had gone on any missions!

His own personal values are most clearly apparent in the subdued tone of his celebratory essay, “Two Boys Who Went West” in Hooking Up. In it he recounts the history and achievements of Robert Noyce, founder of Intel. Noyce is little-known outside of Tech circles but lionized there, a legend in the semi-conductor industry, “a national treasure” as one writer testified in all sincerity. Noyce forged a new corporate culture, the culture of achievement and single-minded work, the entrepreneurial, independent and self-responsible culture of Silicon Valley, through the principles and practices he instituted as head of his young company. Wolfe traces his ideas and values back to Grinnell, Iowa and its 19th century, Dissenting Protestant, individualist roots. Wolfe respectfully reports that at his death, the unreligious Noyce was celebrated by “swarms of people [who] left [a memorial service] with the mournful feeling that some sort of profound–dared they utter the word ‘spiritual’?–force had gone out of the life of the Silicon Valley.”

Apparently, Wolfe deeply resonates with 19th century Dissident Protestant values. In a Brown University interview some years ago, Wolfe revealed this about himself: “Some years ago at a conference a student in the audience asked me why I write. I never asked myself that question in my life. I started free associating. I thought of the Presbyterian catechism for some reason. The first question is who created heaven and earth? The answer is God. The second question is why did he do it? It’s interesting, the answer is “for his own glory.” So I used that as my answer. It was probably a more honest answer than most.

“To me the great joy of writing is discovering. I started out as a journalist. I still love the adventure of going out and reporting on things I don’t know about.” (Mahdesian interview)

Wolfe comes by his appreciation of modern intellectuals honestly. He drew the ire of the art world with his essays-cum-books on art and architecture, The Painted Word (1975) and From Bauhaus to Our House (1981). In the first, he argues…so to speak…that the fame of modern artists is wholly dependent on the trumpeting of art critics–not on any value or skill of substance might actually possess. When it came out, the art world howled at this characterization and Wolfe–ever the incendiary–fed the fire by appearing on TV in his trademark white Southern Gentleman’s suit, homburg and gloves.

In the second, he perforates the pretensions of Modern Architecture, the sort Ayn Rand describes as the new fashion near the end of The Fountainhead.

“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within they blessed borders today?

“I doubt it seriously. Every child goes to school in a building that looks like a duplicating-machine replacement-parts wholesale distribution warehouse…Every new $900,000 summer house in the north woods of Michigan or on the shore of Long Island has so many pipe railings, ramps, hob-tread metal spiral stairways, sheets of industrial plate glass, banks of tungsten-halogen lamps, and white cylindrical shapes, it looks like an insecticide refinery.” (From Bauhaus To Our House, 1981, 1).

The books maps out how plain white walls and glass and steel boxes became the cynosure of architectural style in the wealthiest country that ever existed. He traces this fashion back to economical worker housing designed by Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe after World War I, and fawning American intellectuals me-too-ing European fashion.

Amid the acerbic observations and witty descriptions, I have seen him searching for an answer to the following questions:  why does the U.S.-the greatest civilization in history-self-flagellate, and why has it descended into hypocrisy and perversion rivaling the Roman Empire? This paradox peoples much of Wolfe’s work.  He sees U.S. culture and events through classic American eyes of common sense, respect for productivity and hard-work, and no-nonsense skewering of hypocrisy.  As a self-made man, he appreciates the good fortune of our freedom and individual expression. And he struggles to find some objective grounds, some reasonable formulation of wholesome values–in other words, a philosophy that supports and realistically grounds the basic American values of common sense, productive creativity, self-respect and the individual pursuit of happiness.

Some feel Wolfe’s approach to events and characters is cynical. I think he strives to present an unvarnished view of American culture, with its warts as well as its gold nuggets. He is a reporter, after all. In his fiction, his characters are not idealized portraits, but neither are they journalistic: his characters are highly stylized examples of human possibilities, extracted from Wolfe’s perspicacious observations. He knows that status is a driving motive among men–he doesn’t like it, because he believes in merit. That’s why he seems to have some admiration for even mixed characters like real estate tycoon Charlie CrokerCharlie has created, he’s produced real wealth. Wolfe lauds him for this and spears him for his craven status seeking. He does not romanticize real people beyond their actual achievements–we see this in The Right Stuff-but he does present real heroes in all their glory, like Bob Noyce and Chuck Yeager (whom Wolfe made famous).

Wolfe shares with Ayn Rand the ability to deeply parody social-climbing antics. He could be describing Kiki Holcombe of The Fountainhead when he scrutinizes the “social x-ray” women of ambitious New York society in his first novel, Bonfire of the Vanities (1975). This book, as his other novels, is replete with detailed accounts of self-aggrandizement and blatant status seeking. In an interview, he declares “My real interest is in the subject of status, which has to do with how people group themselves, rank themselves.” However, unlike Rand, he is not morally affronted by it. As a philosopher, Rand rails against the energy spent social-climbing and presents an alternative-a new, secular ethics and approach to self and others based on achievement and merit, qualities Wolfe clearly admires.

No, Wolfe doesn’t like the status-seeking, but he accurately and incisively reports it–and prods it with his razor wit and clever neologisms. Ever the journalist, Wolfe accepts the constant competition for status as basic to human life, even in such apparently rational groups as scientists and philosophers. I think he can sharpen readers’ eyes to this competition, enabling them to recognize it more often in their own social circles, and in themselves-however rational they may seem. He revels in the creativity and exuberance of American culture, with its open expression of personal values–of ego. He also worries about the descent into decadence and depravity in the past 40 years, and the lack of self-respect characterized by such phenomena as MTV and contemporary fraternity practices. He understands the siren call the current culture has on youth, with the concomitant drowning of personal self as illustrated through the main character in his 2004 novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. He is not a hard and fast traditionalist–how could he be, with his independent views? He seems to be struggling to find some objective grounds, some reasonable formulation of wholesome values. [THIS IS THE POINT WHICH COULD BENEFIT FROM A PERSONAL INTERVIEW, A DISCUSSION OF HIS THOUGHTS ON THESE ISSUES of PHILOSOPHY]

Over the years, I have felt like a detective–finding the clues for Wolfe’s deep love of country in work after work, but never hearing an open admission from him. The clues are there in The Right Stuff, From Bauhaus to Our House, The Painted Word, Hooking Up, and other books. Finally, in an interview this year in the Wall Street Journal, he voices his opinion:

“I also believe in the United States. I think this is the greatest nation that ever existed, still is. It’s really the only really democratic country in the world. Find me one country, just one country in the entire world that would let a foreign people-different culture, different language, and in many cases different color than the majority of the native stock-take over politically an entire metropolitan area in less than one generation. I’m talking about the Cubans in Miami . . .”

“I’m very democratic,” he says after a time. “I think I’m the most democratic writer whom I know personally, though I don’t know all writers of course.” (the precise reporter!)

“I really love this country. I just marvel at how good it is, and obviously it’s the simple principle of freedom. . . . Intellectually this is the system where people tend to experiment more and their experiments are indulged. Whatever we’re doing I think we’ve done it extremely, extremely, extremely well.” Silence. “These are terrible things to be saying if you want to have any standing in the intellectual world.”

Ever the jokester…its one of the things to which some people point, I’m sure, to prove his cynicism. I find it more in the vein of Mark Twain: caustic and always ready to puncture pretensions, even his own. His tone is not deeply serious or ironic in a weighty, European way. He’s led a rebellion against European intellectual domination-at least in journalism. His tone is distinctively American–light-hearted, irreverent and with an intellectual innocence nonetheless–like Mark Twain rather than Dostoevsky. Some might take exception to his style–as many have to Mark Twain-but his trenchant observations communicated through fresh eyes always delight me. I envy all the literary gold a new Wolfe reader will find.

References

 

Mahdesian, Linda. “Tom Wolfe, Zeitgeist Czar.” http://www.brown.edu/Administration/George_Street_Journal/v20/v20n24/wolfe.html

Picador Publishers’ Official Tom Wolfe Website.  2006.  www.tomwolfe.com/bio.html#.

The Kandy-Kolored, Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby 1965

The Pump House Gang 1968

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test 1968

Radical-Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers 1970

The Painted Word 1975

Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine 1976

The Right Stuff 1979

In Our Time 1980

From Bauhaus to Our House 1981

The Purple Decades 1982

Bonfire of the Vanities 1987

A Man In Full 1998

Hooking Up 2000

I Am Charlotte Simmons 2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did Ayn Rand Influence Ken Follett?

Ken Follett’s novels are not only inspiring and well-written, but also reveal thematic and stylistic choices similar to those in Ayn Rand’s novels. Could it be more than a coincidence?

I became hooked on British author Ken Follett through his most famous novel, The Eye of the Needle. It’s the gripping World War II story of a ruthless Nazi spy’s attempt to bring secrets of the British military back to Hitler, combined with a tragic love story and a dynamite heroine.

A wonderfully plotted, suspenseful story, a heroine of immense presence of mind and courage, and characters that act with strength and integrity — what’s not to like? Donald Sutherland starred in the movie version, but don’t miss the book just because you’ve seen the movie. There’s a lot more in the book.

After The Eye of the Needle, I ripped through many of Follett’s other novels, including The Man From St. PetersburgTripleThe Key to Rebecca, and Lie Down With Lions. They were all spy novels, but so much more satisfying than many contemporary authors because of the dramatic originality of the stories and because their characters have a psychological depth and self-awareness often lacking in spy novels and thrillers. Simply put, Follett is a modern master of Romanticism.

I moved on from these spy stories to his historical fiction, including A Dangerous Fortune and A Place Called Freedom. The first dramatized the 19th Century banking world, the second, the enslaved life of 18th Century Scottish miners, one of whom escapes to build his life in the challenges — and freedom — of the New World. Their settings and themes, combined with the unusual level of Romanticism in his novels, began making me suspect that Follett may have been influenced by Ayn Rand.

Then I read a novel of his which was entirely different from the others — Pillars of the Earth. (See my husband John Enright’s 2004review for the Atlasphere.) This thousand-page tome recounts the lives and fortunes of 12th Century English men and women, involved in the century-long building of a cathedral.

My suspicions of an Ayn Rand influence soared! The heroes in this book were the red-haired builder of the cathedral and a woman who becomes a wool merchant. An architect and a businesswoman in Medieval times? And there was the author’s positive attitude towards business and the strong independence of his heroes and heroines.

However, I had nothing definitive — only a hunch due to a combination of factors about Follett’s writing. I set aside my speculations until this year, when I tore through his sequel to Pillars of the Earth, titled World Without End.

Set more than a hundred years later, descendants of Pillars’ hero and heroine are instrumental in remaking their medieval town of Kingsbridge into a Renaissance of architectural and business achievements.

Through his creative genius as an innovative architect, builder, and businessman, the red-haired hero, Merthin, achieves fame and fortune. He breaks through the straightjacket of the guilds and lives a uniquely independent life in a time when the church and superstition ruled most people’s thinking. The heroine, Caris, likewise bucks tradition, pursuing the work of a doctor with a very scientific approach, among many other defiant choices, and transforms the town by creating new markets and business methods. She insists on maintaining her personal independence despite tradition and tremendous social pressure.

Both Merthin and Caris habitually demonstrate the close observation of facts and their rational implications — one among the many values drawing them together. And both are de facto atheists in a time of religion’s dominion.

On top of this, the villains are veritable portraits of Attila and the Witch Doctor. Merthin’s brother Ralph is a brutish, power-mad knight, ruthlessly angling for social advancement. And the Priors of the Kingsbridge town Abbey, fearing reason and change, control others through shunning, persecution, appeals to their moral authority, and Ellsworth Toohey-like manipulation.

In addition to themes and characters that echo Ayn Rand, certain scenes also bear an uncanny relationship to scenes in Atlas Shruggedand The Fountainhead. For example, in one scene, Caris is treating a fellow townsman for the plague: “Dora handed Caris a cup of wine, and Caris held it to Mark’s lips. She found it strange to see a big man helpless. Mark had always seemed invulnerable. It was unnerving, like finding an oak tree that has been there all your life suddenly felled by lightning.” Remember Eddie Willers’s feeling when looking at the oak tree in the opening of Atlas?

However, the last scene of the book really did it to me — it parallels, in several ways, the last scene of The Fountainhead. I’ll refrain from describing it here, for fear of ruining a reader’s enjoyment. I’d love to hear what Atlasphere readers think, once they’ve read World Without End.

So what is Follett’s own backstory? Born in Cardiff, Wales, Follett graduated from University College, London with an Honours B.A. in Philosophy. He first wrote as a journalist in Wales, and later, in London for the Evening News. After a number of less-than-successful novels, he struck gold with The Eye of the Needle.

Brought up in a religious Welsh family, he began questioning his beliefs, which led him to philosophy for answers.

On this subject, he once said, “There is a remote connection between philosophy and fiction. When you study philosophy you deal with questions like: ‘Here we are sitting at a table, but is the table real?’ Now that’s a daft question because of course the table is real. When you study philosophy however, you need to take that sort of thing seriously and you have to have an off-the-wall imagination. It’s the same with fiction which is all about imagining situations that are different from the real world.”

Unfortunately for our purposes, this doesn’t reveal much similarity to Rand’s thinking other than that Follett is a realist. And his political leanings — the Labour Party — don’t indicate much affinity for free markets.

If you get hooked on Follett, you’ll be pleased to find many more novels than the ones I’ve mentioned. And in addition to Eye of the Needle, a number of his books have been produced as movies, such asThe Key to Rebecca and The Third Twin.

I was happy to read that a mini-series of Pillars of the Earth is in the works, produced by one of my favorites, Ridley Scott, who directed “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and produced the mini-series “Rome.”

I emailed Follett through his website, asking whether he might have been influenced by Rand, as I had discovered of novelist James Clavell, of Tai-Pan and Shogun fame. (You can read my report on Clavell here.) But I haven’t heard back from him. If I do, I’ll let Atlasphere readers know. Until then — good reading!

Copyright © 2009 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

http://www.theatlasphere.com/columns/100115-enright-ken-follett.php

James Clavell’s Asian Adventures

“I came here with no friends, an old typewriter, and look what I achieved. It would have been impossible to achieve this in England.”

So said James Clavell, an Australian immigrant to America who learned the fundamentals of the American outlook on life in a horrific Japanese prisoner of war camp. In over four decades as a novelist, screenwriter, poet, playwright, director, and producer, Clavell added one lushly romantic, gripping story after another to his accomplishments. What’s even more surprising in this day and age, his heroes were often businessmen.

An English-educated Aussie, Clavell was born in 1924 as Charles Edmund DuMaresq de Clavelle. He became a captain with the British Royal Artillery in Southeast Asia during World War II. This position landed Clavell at the infamous Changi Japanese prisoner of war camp near Singapore for half of World War II, where he “collected material” for what would become his first novel, King Rat (1962).

Clavell had planned to be a Naval officer, like his ancestors going back at least to John Clavelle who fought at Trafalgar. But a motorcycle accident left him with a limp and out of the navy.  After a stint as a salesman, he wrote a TV pilot that brought him to the U.S. in 1953, and launched a long career in the movie industry. His first screenplay was the 1958 version of The FlyWatusi followed, along with Five Gates to Hell, which Clavell wrote, directed, and produced.

His remarkable range as a writer-director first revealed itself with Sidney Poitier’s 1967 film hit To Sir, With Love (also made into a TV movie in 1974). The Poitier film was nominated for three major awards, including the Directors Guild of America’s Outstanding Directorial Achievement. He penned the screenplay for The Great Escape, a factually based movie of Allied prisoners’ daring plans to get out of a Nazi prisoner of war camp, which starred Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, David McCallum, and Charles Bronson. Clavell’s script was nominated for the Writers Guild of America’s award for Best Written American Drama in 1968.

Clavell finally won an award, a 1981 Emmy, for his TV mini-series Shogun. (I remember being so excited about seeing it that I ran out and bought my first color TV!) A later novel,Noble House, also was made into a mini-series starring Pierce Brosnan and Tia Carrera, along with many notables like Denholm Elliott and John Houseman.

But Clavell remains best known for his work as a novelist, which began during a Hollywood writer’s strike in the early 1960s. Almost twenty years after his release from Changi, he had just started talking about his experience when his wife said, “Why don’t you write a novel about it?” Unsure how to write novels, he seized upon Othello’s resentful, envious Iago as an inspiration, and King Rat’s first line spilled out. “‘I’m going to get that bloody bastard.’ And so, once I started, it came out in a tremendous rush.”

King Rat (1962)

In a 1986 interview, Clavell said that his experience in Changi was “as close as you can get to being dead and still be alive.” King Rat recounts life—so to speak—in this place between life and death:

    Changi was set like a pearl on the eastern tip of Singapore Island, iridescent under the bowl of tropical skies…[C]loser, Changi lost its beauty and became what it was—an obscene forbidding prison…[N]ow, in the cells and in the passageways and in every nook and cranny lived some eight thousand men… These men too were criminals. Their crime was vast. They had lost a war. And they had lived.

As are all his later books, King Rat is excellently plotted and highly suspenseful, its characters sharply and colorfully drawn, the details exact and realistic. What makes it singularly fascinating is Clavell’s picture of how different men faced this gruesome experience.

Clavell vividly depicts the squalid conditions and brutal treatment meted out by the Japanese. Preserving their dignity and refusing to be cowed by their captors are the British officers’ primary motives—in the face of awful enfeeblement from chronic dysentery, malaria, and a host of other ailments. Repeated conflicts between the Allied soldiers and their Japanese keepers, resulting in incomprehensible prisoner punishments, dramatize the clash between Anglo and Japanese values.

Also, through Peter Marlowe, a British flight lieutenant and stand-in for Clavell, the author explores British discomfort with the American entrepreneurial spirit, embodied by the book’s title character, Corporal King:

    They always shared what they could find or steal or make. Max and Dino were a unit. And it was the same throughout the world of Changi. Men ate and trusted in units. Twos, threes, rarely fours. One man could never cover enough ground, or find something and build a fire and cook it and eat it—not by himself….Only by mutual effort did you survive. To withhold from the unit was fatal, for if you were expelled from a unit, the word got around. And it was impossible to survive alone. But the King didn’t have a unit. He was sufficient unto himself.

Marlowe comes from a purely military English family. He knows almost nothing about trade and business; his life has revolved around duty and honor. So he finds “the King” fascinating. He’s not sure what to make of the American’s expert trading with the Korean guards and Chinese suppliers, offering Mount Blanc pens and diamond rings in exchange for the food, clothes, and medicine the prisoners desperately need. Without envy, but with growing wonder, he tries to understand King’s outlook and learn from it.

Is his wheeling and dealing in this “lifeboat” situation taking unfair advantage of the others? Or is King a life-saver, able to motivate others and cleverly acquire what they all need to survive? Is it wrong that he believes in making a profit in the process?

While Marlowe ponders the King’s ethics, he comes to respect the man’s ability to seize opportunities and make things happen while everyone else struggles on the edge of survival. “‘Damned if I know how you do it,’ Peter Marlowe said. ‘You work so fast.’ The King replied: ‘You got something to do and you do it. That’s the American style.’”

For his part, the King recognizes Marlowe’s difference from the first moment. “His face was craggy, and though he was Changi-thin, there was a grace to his movements and a sparkle about him…[The King] listened to the rich laugh and knew it was a rare thing. When this man was laughing, you could see that the laugh came from inside. This was very rare. Priceless.”

By contrast, Lieutenant Robin Grey, provost marshal of Changi, despises Corporal King, the American who somehow manages to be healthy, well-fed, and clothed while everyone around him can barely hang on: “‘I’m going to get that bloody bastard if I die in the attempt.’ Lieutenant Grey was glad that at last he had spoken aloud what had so long been twisting his guts into a knot.”

“Nobody gives me nothing,” King objects. “What I have is mine and I made it.” But Grey dogs the King incessantly, with bilious hatred for his rule-bending and his overflowing vitality—hoping, planning, scheming to catch him breaking this rule or that, so he can throw King in the Japanese jail and see him rot.

Unsurprisingly, Grey hates Marlowe as well. Coming from the lower classes, Grey personifies English class envy and social ambition, mistaking Marlowe’s self-confidence for mere upper class snobbery, yet secretly, jealously wishing to be like him. For his part, Marlowe despises the small-minded, vindictive, and senselessly bureaucratic Grey. “You’re such a goddam snob, Grey, when it comes down to it…[The Americans] think that one man’s as good as another.”

King Rat was made into a 1965 movie starring George Segal as Corporal King and James Fox as Peter Marlowe.

Clavell followed King Rat with his blockbuster Tai Pan (1966), the next in his “Asian Saga.” That series included Shogun (1975), Noble House (1981), Whirlwind (1986), and Gai-Jin(1993). I also found a book called Escape, which appears to be the love story from Whirlwindas a stand-alone novel. Before he died in 1994, Clavell wrote two children’s books, The Children’s Story (1981) and Thrump-o-Moto (1986).

Except for the children’s stories and King Rat, these are all enormous novels, most over 1,000 pages long, and offering heaps of factual detail about the countries and cultures in which they are set. To achieve that level of accuracy, Clavell spent about a year researching each, reading histories and sociological accounts, and living in the settings. Many of his main characters are based on real people. The reader rips through Clavell’s stories, yet comes away educated and interested in knowing more about the cultures he reveals.

“I write short stories, they may appear big in size, but they’re four or five novels in one,” he explained. “In return for picking up one of my books, I’m trying to give [readers] value for their money. The goal of writing any novel is creating the illusion that you are reading reality and you are part of it.”

Tai-Pan (1966)

Tai-Pan follows the adventures of the British merchant Dirk Struan during the establishment of Hong Kong as a British Colony in 1841. By means of a blockade and other, more devious means, envious Chinese rulers had effectively curtailed the vast fortunes that British companies, using swift sailing ships, were amassing in China by trading Indian-raised opium. Inventively, the merchants enlist the British government and military to establish the empty, swampy, pestilent island of Hong Kong as British soil and a free trade port.

    As Struan walked along the main deck [of the 74-gun ship Vengeance], he glanced at the shore and excitement swarmed over him. The war with China had gone as he had planned…the prize—the island—was something he had coveted for twenty years. And now he was going ashore to witness the formality of taking possession, to watch a Chinese island become a jewel in the crown of Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Victoria…Hong Kong contained the greatest harbor on earth. And it was Struan’s stepping-stone into China….

Against the machinations of his life-time rival, Tyler Brock, Struan struggles to develop his business into the greatest trading company in the East. “In a company or army or fleet or nation there is only one such man—he who wields the real power…[Struan] was Tai-Pan of The Noble House.” “Tai-Pan” means “Supreme Leader,” and The Noble House is based on a real firm, Jardine-Matheson Holdings Limited, a multinational company based in Bermuda.

Struan not only navigates the South China Seas but the alien culture and cut-throat trading habits of the Chinese. Through him, his Chinese lover May-May, and their son Gordon Chen, the reader’s understanding of China and its relation to the West grows.

Shogun (1975)

Clavell developed a fascination for the East, especially Japan, through his experience at Changi. Apparently, his family’s military background enabled him to respect the Japanese Samurai outlook and what some consider the ultimate warrior philosophy of Bushido, in which honor and duty reign supreme.

In Shogun, based on the real adventures of British navigator Will Adams, Dutch sailors searching for new trading opportunities and riches find themselves shipwrecked and then held captive in a small village on the main island of Japan. The sailors are squirreled away with low-caste prostitutes, remaining as filthy and vulgar as ever—all except the ship’s pilot, John Blackthorne, or “Anjin-san” as the Japanese call him. He is taken in by the Kasigi Samurai clan, where he begins his education in Japanese culture and values.

From the first, the Japanese are impressed by his moxie. Blackthorne is introduced to Yabu,daimyo or feudal lord of the region. An antagonistic Portuguese priest, Father Sebastio, translates while Blackthorne considers the situation:

    Look, the Jesuit’s very deferential and sweating a lot. I’ll bet the daimyo’s not a Catholic…you’ll get no quarter from him!

    “The daimyo says hurry up and answer his questions” [said the priest].

    “Yes. Of course, I’m sorry. My name’s John Blackthorne. I’m English, Pilot-Major of a Netherlands fleet.”

    “Fleet? What fleet? You’re lying. There’s no fleet. Why is an Englishman pilot of a Dutch ship?”

    Blackthorne decided to gamble. His voice abruptly hardened and it cut through the morning warmth. “Que va! First translate what I said, Spaniard! Now!”

    The priest flushed. “I’m Portuguese. I’ve told you before. Answer the question.”

    “I’m here to talk to the daimyo, not to you. Translate what I said, you motherless offal!” Blackthorne saw the priest redden even more and felt that this had not gone unnoticed by the daimyo. Be cautious, he warned himself. That yellow bastard will carve you into pieces quicker than a school of sharks if you overreach yourself.

    “Tell the lord daimyo!” Blackthorne deliberately bowed low to the platform and felt the chill sweat beginning to pearl as he committed himself irrevocably to his course of action.

Unbeknownst to the Anjin-San, he is caught up in the epic conflict of rival Samurai clans which resulted in the domination of Japan by the Tokugawa Shogunate for centuries. The novel’s Toranaga is a thinly veiled, romanticized version of the real samurai Tokugawa, whose Shogunate remained in control from 1603 to the Meiji Restoration in 1865. As in all Clavell novels except for King Rat, a powerful, beautiful, brilliant love interest deeply figures in the plot. In this case, it is Mariko, a high-born Samurai lady turned Christian who interprets the Anjin-San’s speech while she captures his heart. In addition to valuing her translating skills, Toranaga finds her useful for her deep strategic wisdom, integrity, and bravery as well.

I came across Shogun after having made a brief study of Japan by reading such sociological classics as Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture and Arthur Koestler’s The Lotus and the Robot. Shogun helped me understand far more about Japanese culture and values than anything I’ve read before or since. Not only does Clavell jam-pack his novels with information, he is an unusually clever teacher, as well.

During the first part of the book, I thought the main hero was the Anjin-San. Only about half-way through did I realize that Clavell had educated me about Japanese values through the eyes of the Anjin-San so that I could understand and appreciate Toranaga. For example, in one of the first scenes, Blackthorne encounters the violently bizarre ways of the Japanese when Omi-san, the samurai in charge of the village, interviews him. A Jesuit priest interprets:

    “Wakarimasu ka? Omi said directly to Blackthorne.

    “He says, ‘Do you understand?’”

    “What’s ‘yes’ in Japanese?”

    Father Sebastio said to the samurai, “Wakarimasu.

    Omi disdainfully waved them away. They all bowed low. Except one man who rose deliberately, without bowing.

    With blinding speed the killing sword made a hissing silver arc and the man’s head toppled off his shoulders and a fountain of blood sprayed the earth. The body rippled a few times and was still. Involuntarily, the priest had backed off a pace. No one else in the street moved a muscle. Their heads remained low and motionless. Blackthorne was rigid, in shock.

    Omi put his foot carelessly on the corpse.

    Ikinasai! he said, motioning them away.

    The men in front of him bowed again, to the earth. Then they got up and went away impassively.

By page five hundred, I understood Omi-san’s motives implicitly. When I finally “met” Lord Toranaga, the central hero of the book, I could sympathize with him instead of despising him. Had I been introduced to him in the beginning, I think I would have been revolted by his actions rather than appreciate his integrity to his own code of values.

I was so swept up in the tale, which I often read while commuting to and from Manhattan, that I frequently found myself muttering Japanese words on the Penn Station platform. And I haven’t been alone. In the Sunday New York Times Book Review section, a writer said:

    Shogun is irresistible…I can’t remember when a novel has seized my mind like this one…It’s almost impossible not to continue to read Shogun once having opened it. Yet it is not only something that you read—you live it…possessed by the Englishman Blackthorne, the Japanese lord Toranaga and medieval Japan…People, customs, settings, needs and desires all become so enveloping you forget who and where you are.

Noble House (1981)

While his other novels dramatize the clash between authoritarian cultures and individualist, Anglo-world heroes, Noble House most directly depicts the conflict between individualism and collectivism. The madly raucous markets and remarkable culture of Hong Kong’s unfettered capitalism during the 1960s contrasts sharply with the devious, totalitarian world of the Red Chinese and ruthless Soviet spies. A rush on gold, a wildly swinging, unregulated stock market, and opportunities galore abound for Ian Dunross, the sharp trader-descendant of Dirk Struan (depicted in Tai Pan)—as well as for people at every level of Hong Kong society, from cleaning ladies to jockeys and military officers.

“Dunross juggles international concerns for profit and protects free enterprise from the Soviets and the British Labour Party,” literary analyst Gina MacDonald summarizes. “He supports dependents, friends, and relatives, assures ‘Old Friends’ status with the mainland Chinese, and fulfills obligations assumed by Noble House a century before.”

Not only relatives from previous stories, but even Peter Marlowe and Robin Grey from King Rat return as substantial characters. Clavell also introduces formidable American entrepreneurs Linc Bartlett and gorgeous Casey Tcholok, who figure in Dunross’s struggle against perennial rival Tyler Brock, descendant of the original Noble House nemesis.

Whirlwind (1986)

Of the thirty intricate plotlines in Noble House, one leads to Whirlwind, Clavell’s novel of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Descendants of Dirk Struan are once again at the center of the strife as they desperately work to protect the people and property of their branch of the Noble House, S-G Helicopters, which services the oil fields. Simultaneously, trading descendants of Shogun’s Toranaga strive to gain oil and gas concessions in the Persian Gulf. “Whirlwind” is the code name for S-G’s escape plan, taken from “whirlybird,” English slang for helicopters.

Whirlwind can deeply educate the reader about world events as much today as it did after the Iranian Revolution. However, where Japanese and Chinese readers were astounded at how accurately and positively Clavell portrayed their cultures, Clavell was not able to make the culture, values, and Islamic mind-set of Iran as comprehensible and sympathetic.

Regardless, it is still a worthwhile tale and garnered Clavell a $5 million dollar fee, selling four million copies in the U.S. alone. As in all his novels, Clavell expertly creates a complex, multi-layered plot, combining action, romance, heroism, brutality, tumultuous historical events, and a great descriptive style—all in the great tradition of the nineteenth-century romantic novel.

Gai-Jin (1993)

Clavell brings together elements of Shogun and Tai Pan, as well as King Rat, in his last novel.

Gai-Jin opens in 1862 with the shocking attack on a group of Europeans by zealous ronin—rogue, clanless, displaced Samurai—near the European settlement in Yokohama. The roninoppose the massive social change wrought by Commodore Perry’s opening of Japan to the West in 1854, and fanatically uphold the static, highly structured society of the previous 300 years. They seek to expel the detested “gai-jin”—foreigners.

Malcolm Struan, heir to the Noble House, struggles to keep his leadership while steering his company on a treacherous but exciting voyage through Japanese society. He strives to take advantage of the enormous trade opportunities between Hong Kong, China, Japan, and the West. Ultimately, his fate rests in the hands of a beautiful young French woman, Angelique Richaud.

Amidst terrorism, espionage, romance, and trade, Gai-Jin depicts the Japanese quandary at encountering Western culture. Since the Japanese had long believed themselves descended from the Sun god, and the highest culture on earth, they are shocked to find out that the rough, uncivil, filthy Europeans are their technological superiors. But they don’t waste time.  Many ambitiously learn from the West so they can again dominate—especially the Shogun, Toranaga Yoshi, descendant of the original Toranaga. The reader of Shogun has an advantage here, being intimately familiar with Japanese culture, values, and thinking, while readers of Tai-Pan and King Rat will enjoy the way Clavell interweaves elements and characters from those books into this one.

Clavell in Context

Modern in many respects, James Clavell’s work echoes British adventure classics likeTreasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines, Robinson Crusoe, and Two Years Before the Mast,but with greater depth of character and lavish historical details. He specializes in the clash of cultures, while his individualist heroes learn deeply from their encounters by independently experiencing and judging foreign situations and people.

Business people are heroes of every Clavell novel. For that reason, I wondered for years whether he had been influenced by that famous literary champion of capitalism, Ayn Rand, who romanticized the lives and careers of business people.

Then one day I came across an online auction of books from Rand’s personal library. Inside a copy of his newly published novel Noble House, according to the auction description page, James Clavell had written this inscription to the author of Atlas Shrugged:

“This is for Ayn Rand/ –one of the real, true talents on this earth for which many, many thanks/ James C/ New York / 2 Sept 81.”

Further on the auction page, I found that Clavell’s editor had sent Rand a copy of The Children’s Story, also printed in 1981, with a note on the letterhead of Delacorte Press asking her to read the book and share her response.

So much made sense now!

Clavell’s genius at revealing the Eastern mind—and the similarity of some of his themes to Rand’s—has not gone unnoticed in academe. In 1996, Loyola University professor Gina MacDonald published James Clavell, A Critical Companion as part of Greenwood Publishers’ “Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers” series. Intended as a teacher’s guide for high school and college courses, the book analyzes his novels in multi-leveled literary detail and includes a well-researched biographical section. MacDonald even compares Noble House to Rand’s Anthem and notes that Clavell’s books are not only adventures and romances but novels of ideas as well—through their repeated exposition of clashes between the individual and the collective and the conflict between capitalism and authoritarianism. I found the book to be a valuable resource, and I hope that it is used frequently in schools, which would bring more readers to Clavell.

That is important because far too many contemporary books for young people revolve around dysfunction, personal disaster, and ineptitude—if they have much of a story at all. Wouldn’t projections of life as a thrilling drama, with conflict, struggle, and triumph, offer far better food for their inchoate souls?

Meanwhile, here’s hoping that someone in the movie industry turns Whirlwind or Gai-Jininto a film, helping to re-ignite broader interest in this marvelous author.

http://www.atlassociety.org/cth–1916-James_Clavell.aspx

Hawley’s Heroes and the Romance of Business

Imagine a novel whose mysterious main character you do not meet until page 236. He is reviled by some for his greed and destructiveness, revered by others for his generosity and remarkable creativity. The plot revolves around discovering who he is and what he stands for. Toward the end of the story, he makes a speech about the meaning and glory of business.

No, this isn’t Atlas Shrugged. It’s Cash McCall, published in 1955—two years before Atlas. Post Tags

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Its remarkable author, Cameron Hawley, was a business executive for many years before he published his first novel. Born in 1905 to a frontier family in South Dakota—his grandfather was an Indian scout who wore buffalo skins—Hawley began writing state-wide syndicated columns in high school. He worked his way through the South Dakota State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts as a sports and magazine writer, as well as working in carnivals and tent shows.

After graduation, Hawley was an advertising executive in Minneapolis for a few years before a twenty-four-year stint with the Armstrong Cork Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He lived there on a family farm, “Buttonwood,” known for its Aberdeen-Angus breeding herd. According to an old Cash McCall jacket cover, his wide-ranging interests included “good food, field dogs, saltwater cruising, and duck shooting on Chesapeake Bay.”

At Armstrong, Hawley gained an intensive knowledge of business and industry by working in diverse areas of the company, from product development and testing to marketing. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, he penned numerous short stories and nonfiction pieces in his spare time for top publications, such as the Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, and McCall’s.

After retiring from Armstrong and business in 1951, he published his most famous business novel, Executive Suite, the following year. Over the course of two decades, Hawley published three more: Cash McCall (1955), The Lincoln Lords (1960), and The Hurricane Years (1969, the year he died)—all of them about the drama of business.

Cameron Hawley’s books are realistic page-turners about the romance and drama of business, and were favorite business school texts as recently as 1986. His stories vitally intertwine sharp-eyed detail about executive life with a remarkably vivid descriptive style, whether he’s sculpting the form of a restored seventeenth-century plantation or detailing the social and emotional interplay between characters. His beautifully, intricately drawn characters give his tales depth. He cleverly divides his stories into subplots about their lives, passions, and ambitions, then weaves them back together for the climax. Love and romance are seamlessly blended with business as essential elements in each story.

Executive Suite opens with a gut-wrenching, theme-setting scene that propels the plot into motion. During a trip to New York City in search of a second-in-command, Tredway Corporation’s president, Avery Bullard, dies unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage, leaving five vice presidents and no one in charge. Thereafter, the engaging, suspenseful story depicts the conflicts, the collaborations, and the jostling for power among the vice presidents over two days while exploring the question: What type of person should be president of the company?

Intrigue, blackmail, and plot twists galore keep the reader riveted until the climax in the Tredway Corporation boardroom, where the characters argue over the meaning and purpose of business. Don Walling, the hotheaded young vice president for design and development, enlightens all with his recollections of Avery Bullard, a man who

    was never much concerned about money for its own sake. I remember his saying once that dollars were just a way of keeping score. I don’t think he was too much concerned about personal power, either—just power for power’s sake. I know that’s the easy way to explain the drive that any great man has—the lust for power—but…the thing that kept him going was his terrific pride in himself—the driving urge to do things that no other man on earth could do. He saved the company when everyone else had given up. He built a big corporation in an industry where everyone said that only small companies could succeed. He was only happy when he was doing the impossible…. [H]e never asked for applause and appreciation—or even understanding. He was a lonely man but I don’t think his loneliness ever bothered him very much. He was the man at the top of the tower…that’s what it took to satisfy his pride. . . .  The force behind a great company has to be more than the pride of one man; it has to be the pride of thousands. You can’t make men work for money alone—you starve their souls when you try it, and you can starve a company to death the same way.

Hawley’s second novel, Cash McCall, stirred great public interest when it was published in 1955. Featured in a special presentation of Life magazine, it was also a Literary Guild Selection. In the story, a mysterious figure roams the land, buying up failing enterprises and turning them around to make a fat profit. “[I]s he really the sharp-dealing vulture that rumor makes him? Or is he only exercising the right of free enterprise that we all say is the very foundation of our American way of life?” asks the dust jacket on my 1955 copy. Although it does not have Executive Suite’s breathtaking opening, it’s just as spellbinding a story, with the suspense of its mysterious hero to boot.

Once again, Hawley’s soul-searching characters ride a wave of personal development through exciting action set in the world of business and love. He skillfully blends the business and the personal, the abstract and the particular. For example, here he examines the relation between law and morality:

    “Yes, the practice of law would be much more pleasant these days if there were a few more gentlemen of the Cash McCall stripe—and I use the word gentleman in its true meaning. They’re becoming rare, you know, men who recognize the difference between a thing being morally right and legally right.… [I]t does seem to me that more and more we find the viewpoint that legality is synonymous with morality. You don’t agree?”“No, I do agree. I’m just surprised to hear you make the distinction… I didn’t suppose a member of the legal profession would acknowledge it.”

Although Cash McCall was published before Atlas Shrugged, the parallels are eerie. In addition to its mysterious hero—the force behind important changes in the world and the book’s deeply informed pro-business stance—the novel also has a remarkably similar panoply of good and bad characters.

Hawley’s last two books are not quite as Romantic in the stature of their characters, but are excellent reads, nonetheless.

Published in 1960, The Lincoln Lords follows an out-of-work older executive and his wife who are struggling to maintain the appearance of money and status while desperately searching for a new opportunity. Here Hawley examines the psychology of leadership and its effect on organizations.

He starts by artfully delving into universals about the distressed mentality of a man out of work. Lincoln Lord is a man at loose ends; he hardly knows what to do with himself or how to keep his sense of self together without his job. Lord isn’t a creative dynamo as is the hero in Executive Suite. In fact, some would find him distastefully pandering to social convention. However, during the course of the story, the reader discovers Lord’s special abilities as an organizer and manager, which redeem him when the opportunity arises:

    But there was no need for concern. He had something to say to everyone. And his simplest words seemed a magical incantation. Even those who had already been introduced still stood closely bunched around him, magnetically held, their eyes so firmly fixed upon him that she could stare directly at them without being noticed. This was no new phenomenon, she had seen it happen before; yet it was still difficult to understand why so many people would instantly pledge their loyalty and support to a man about whom they knew nothing except that he had recognized their names and offered some scrap of information about them. Their faces were charged with hope, with expectancy, with the promise of good fortune that everyone always seemed to find in Lincoln Lord’s very presence.

Yet Lord is a realistic man: he knows he’s no creative genius, and even doubts his own value. His talents lie elsewhere:

    As Lincoln Lord practiced it, corporate management had been far more a matter of selection than of creation. He had never been, nor tried to be, a source of imaginative thinking. He could, perhaps, have trained his mind to work more naturally in that direction had he not noticed, as early as his student days at Chesapeake College, that the man of ideas usually had difficulty getting along with his associates. Later he had been warned by observation that a general management executive was rarely capable of fairly judging the work of another man’s idea when it had to be weighed against a brain child of his own. Thus he had come to accept the presidential function as that of a judge and arbiter who solved any given problem by selecting from all of the ideas that flowed up to his desk the one that promised to be the most practical and surely productive. It was a workable system and, applied with the skill that he had developed, a highly effective one. Its employment was, however, dependent upon one prime requirement—there had to be that flow of ideas. Without it, he was a craftsman with nothing to work upon, an arbiter with nothing to decide, a judge with no case before the court.

Hawley shows Lord’s genius at recognizing value in other men and ideas, and integrating them to creative, productive purposes. Knowing how to put great ideas to work is one of the supreme values of the executive, as celebrated by the proclamation of Lord’s African-American cook: “You know what Lizzie Pearl does when that call comes ’bout Big Charley [going back to work]?…‘Glory be to the God Jehovah!’ And what I says to ’em is that they better be singing ‘Glory be to Mr. Lord!’”

The Lincoln Lords also contains the most autobiographical character in Hawley’s corpus, down to his red hair: Brick Mitchell. Mitchell is the idea man, the creative writer who observes the actions and interplay of those around him in exquisite detail, but who needs a Lincoln Lord to rein in and direct his wild imagination.

The Hurricane Years, Hawley’s final novel, opens with a gripping description of a heart attack—from the executive-victim’s point of view. It explores the physical and emotional effects of executive Judd Wilder’s dedication to his high-stress job. Laid flat on his back for weeks by the illness, Wilder is forced to look at who he is and reconsider what is important in his life. Meanwhile, having run away to Paris from her discontent, loneliness, and alienation, Wilder’s wife, Kay, takes an emotional journey to a new life on her way back to the States to care for Judd.

Although the lion’s share of the story transpires while Judd is in the hospital, the action eventually snakes back to where it started, with the drama of business—but with a twist. Kay becomes intimately tied to Judd Wilder’s business world, thereby gaining entrance to his deepest personal self. Once again, Hawley provides an engrossing read, with plenty of drama and character detail.

In all his books, Cameron Hawley frames business as a vital, creative activity that by its nature demands—but does not always get—the best.

In the first pages of Executive Suite, Hawley diagnoses a problem creeping into business in the 1940s and ’50s: the rise of materialism. The reader is allowed to share Avery Bullard’s inner thoughts about Pilcher, a candidate from a competing company whom he’s considering for the recently vacant position of executive vice president:

    Yes, Pilcher was a money-man. They were a type. It was easy to spot them. You could always tell one by that cold fire in his eyes. It was not the hot fire of the man who would never interrupt a dream to calculate the risk, but the cold fire of the man whose mind was geared to the rules of the money game. It was a game that was played with numbers on pieces of paper…. Nothing else mattered. A factory wasn’t a living, breathing organism. It was only a dollar sign…. Their guts didn’t tighten when they heard a big Number Nine bandsaw sink its whining teeth into hard maple…. When they saw a production line they looked with blind eyes, not feeling the counterpoint beat of their hearts or the pulsing flow of hot blood or the trigger-set tenseness of lungs that were poised to miss a breath with every lost beat on the line.

Although materialistic, status-driven characters show up from Hawley’s first novel, they reach new prominence in the last two. Perhaps this was a natural evolution in the themes he explored, but I have to wonder whether something else was at play. Had Hawley noticed a change in the culture, away from the more idealistic view of businesses as engines of greatness, and toward one casting them as mere money machines? Did the New Left’s drumbeat during the sixties wear down businessmen’s self-image so that, by the decade’s end, they too had swallowed the idea that business was nothing but materialistic greed?

Surely, Hawley’s hawk-like eye for social and cultural detail would have noticed such a trend, and a 1952 Time article reveals Hawley’s thoughts about it: “Some of his reviewers, he says, were baffled by Executive Suite: they were so accustomed to caricatured businessmen that they kept looking for the tongue in Hawley’s cheek. Hawley is not discouraged; he is now working on another business novel, and thinks that ‘it will take four novels to break down the feeling that any book about business must necessarily be satire.’” But even theTime article acknowledges the conflict between the “money men” and the entrepreneurial type, ever looking for new frontiers to conquer.

In contrast to the materialists, Hawley emphasizes the importance of the creative individual, spotlighted in the following exchange from Executive Suite. Pilcher, the “money man,” considers taking over Tredway with his boss, Steigel, a septuagenarian who built their company from nothing.

    [Says Pilcher:] “A lot could be done…excellent production facilities but inadequate management. The real trouble, of course, is that Bullard’s running a completely one-man show.”[Replies Steigel:] “My boy, you are a good lawyer—you know the law. Also you are a good financial man—you know stocks and bonds. I know something, too. I know companies. All my life I watch companies. I want to know why they are a success. Always it is the same answer. You hear, always the same answer—always one man. You remember that, Mr. Pilcher. Always when you find a good company it is what you call a one-man show.”

Hawley’s individualism runs deep, typified by Lincoln Lord’s comment, “It’s always the man that counts, not the label you put on him.” And dollars, as Avery Bullard used to say, “were just a way of keeping score.” The thing that kept him going was “his terrific pride in himself…. He was only happy when he was doing the impossible—and he did that only to satisfy his own pride….”

Or consider the passage in The Lincoln Lords where Brick Mitchell discusses entrepreneur Adam Quincy with financier Anderson Phelps:

    “It was 1936…there was the AAA. That was a setup where the government collected processing taxes from food manufacturers and used the money for agricultural relief.”“Yes, I recall that.”

    “Well, all of those Washington schemes were red flags to Mr. Quincy—he hated Roosevelt as if he were the devil himself—and so he fought anything and everything that came along.”

    “A rugged individualist, I take it.”

    “As rugged as they came.”

At one time, I was convinced that Hawley must have been influenced by Rand, perhaps through The Fountainhead. On the hunt for clues, I called his widow, Elaine Hawley, who still lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I asked whether she knew if Mr. Hawley had been a fan of The Fountainhead, and I found out: Not as far as she knew, and she didn’t even remember seeing the book around!

Yet the parallels are intriguing: the speeches lauding businesses as great creative endeavors; the lionizing of the “great man” of business by the good characters; the envy and sniping toward him by the evil ones; the ideological and psychological content of specific scenes. Hawley even has a character named “Kira” in The Lincoln Lords. Is it the logic of Hawley’s and Rand’s shared ideas, or is it something more?

Hawley was a master at exquisite description, whether of a physical setting, or a character’s inner state, or the way one character observes another. “Maggie Lord noticed that the blue sky of the morning had lost its pristine polish, scummed to grayness by a cirrus film,” he writes in a typical passage. Likewise, his great ear for stylized dialogue with a realistic tone conveyed so much about the first half of the twentieth century. Watch him capture the starry-eyed admiration people had in that day and age for remarkable businessmen: “Sure, honey, that’s old Bullard himself up there right now. They say he never goes home. Some nights he works right through. You know what? The other day I saw him getting out of his car. I swear to God I was so close to him I coulda reached out and touched him!”

What a difference from today!

Moreover, Hawley peoples his stories with an array of interesting characters. In Executive Suite, they range from Bullard himself to his “best friend,” the Italian immigrant who operates the executive elevator at Tredway. Luigi bursts with pride at his job and, the consummate Latin, cries at Bullard’s funeral. Erica Martin, Bullard’s executive secretary, illustrates the curious position of the highly intelligent woman of the time, embodying the changing views of women and work.

His main characters are remarkably purposeful, honest, and responsible, carefully considering the right thing to do, and often commenting on inappropriate behavior—like Steigel, who rebukes Pilcher for considering a shady stock scheme with the words, “There are some ways it don’t seem right to make money.” And women like Maggie Lord and Mary Walling stand not behind but beside the executives, sharing in their struggles and their triumphs; they are major forces in every story.

Hawley deeply grasped and conveyed the special abilities of the great, creative entrepreneur. Consider a passage in which a college dean, expert in seventeenth-century history, speaks of a food baron who decided to restore his property to the plantation it once was:

    What had so impressed him about Adam Quincy was that in two short years the old man had made himself, by driving application and an extraordinarily intense concentration of interest, a first class authority on seventeenth century life, so well informed that he could rarely if ever be bested in an argument.

He draws portraits of great businessmen as more than mere money-grubbers—from his pen they emerge as remarkable, many-sided, capable geniuses whom no one completely understands, but many love:

    “Don’t worry about it, my dear,” Julia said. “You’ll never understand him completely. Don’t try. You’ll be happier if you don’t. He’ll be happier, too. Not understanding will make you very lonely sometimes, Mary—when he shuts you away behind a closed door—when you think he’s forgotten you—but then the door will open and he’ll come back and you’ll know how fortunate you were to have been his wife.”

Hawley’s novels so speak to the reality as well as the romance of business that they often have been used in business school courses, even as they have appealed to a wide public.

And they still can make an impact. A few years ago, I gave Cash McCall as a gift to a couple hosting me on a trip to Atlanta. Little did I know what its effect could be. The book so vividly reinforced the value and effectiveness of character in business, it inspired my hosts to seek out good businesses ruined by unethical practices that they could buy and turn around.

Since publication, Executive Suite has been translated into fourteen languages. My 1986 copy was published as part of the Dell Publishing “Delta-Diamond Library Gems of American Fiction with Enduring Appeal.” Executive Suite was made into a 1954 movie as well, with a huge cast of notables: William Holden, June Allyson, Walter Pidgeon, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Nina Foch, and Dean Jagger star; Robert Wise directed and John Houseman produced this MGM classic, which recently aired on American Movie Classics. It is also available on video. Holden is great as the firebrand Don Walling, and the script sticks closely to the story and to Hawley’s actual words. Warner Brothers made Cash McCall into a movie in 1960, also now available on video. Produced by Henry Blanke and directed by Joseph Pevney, it stars James Garner and Natalie Wood, and among its other stars includes Dean Jagger once again and Edward G. Marshall.

Unfortunately, all of Hawley’s books are currently out of print, although available inexpensively through used-book sources. Perhaps republishing them is an opportunity waiting to happen?

Cameron Hawley made the life-and-death drama of business palpable. Sharing the fears, frustrations, and achievements of executives and factory workers alike, readers come away from his works experiencing the importance and romance of business. Having reread many selections from his books for this article, I am bitten anew by the Hawley bug and plan to immerse myself in his novels again.

Copyright © 2006 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

http://www.objectivistcenter.org/cth–1836-hawleys_heroes.aspx

Old-Style Heroism in ‘Have Gun, Will Travel’

Can’t find anything good on television today? Step into the world of an honest-to-goodness cowboy hero, where the outlaws get caught and good always triumphs over evil.

Imagine a gunfighter with a strategic intelligence akin to General MacArthur, the ability to quote Pliny and Aristotle knowledgeably, the sensitivity of a poet, the physical skill of a Samurai, and inviolable integrity and honor.

This is what you get in Paladin, the hero of Have Gun, Will Travel, a 1950s television series set in the time period following the Civil War.

When working as a gunslinger, Paladin always dresses in black from head to toe — and he’s a mighty cool customer. He uses his gun sparingly, instead preferring to reason his way out of the problems and danger he chooses to face for a living. He’s also admirably rakish, ever complimenting the ladies in a courteous manner bordering on cheekiness.

Paladin spends his leisure time playing chess, smoking cigars and accompanying beautiful damsels to the opera from his base of operations, the luxurious Hotel Carlton in San Francisco. Hey Boy, the Chinese porter of the hotel (then known as a “coolie”) and friend of Paladin, often brings him a set of newspapers from which Paladin gleans information and ideas for his work as a hired gunslinger — at the rate of $1,000 per day. Imagine what a fortune that was in those days! It is equivalent to over $105,000 in today’s dollars.

Luckily for us, the first season (1957) of this early black and white TV Western was recently released on DVD. Creators Sam Rolfe and Herb Meadow wanted to create something unconventional with this series, so they used a number of new writers who would later go on to be luminaries of television and film.

Gene Roddenberry, creator and writer of the original Star Trekseries, wrote 23 episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel, garnering a Writer’s Guild award for one of them. Irving Wallace, famed for his book The Agony and the Ecstasy, about Michelangelo, as well as The Man, about the first African-American president, also wrote for the show, as did Sam Peckinpah of The Wild Bunch. And they packed a wallop of a story into one half hour.

There are 39 episodes in the DVD set — it was a long season!

Show of Force, a typical story, opens with Paladin reading a newspaper article about two ranchers, Martin and Vasquez, who are fighting over a piece of land. This prompts him to take out his “business” cards, bearing his trademark of a white knight from the game of chess (a ‘paladin’ from Arthurian legend) and the imprimatur:

Have Gun Will Travel
Wire Paladin San Francisco

He sends a card to each of the ranchers. Next, we see him driving a wagonload of antique rifles he’s won in a poker game to Rancher Martin’s. What ensues is a fascinating negotiation between Paladin, Martin and then Rancher Vasquez, who ends up buying the rifles for what he thinks they are worth — after he uses them to fight Martin.

Paladin exquisitely controls the violence between these two men with his chess-like reasoning and rock-solid moral certainty. The ending is unexpected — and just, as always.

The theme of No Visitors offers an interesting perspective on religiously-motivated violence, and one that is particularly poignant in the present day. Paladin seeks help for a woman and sick infant he finds in the wilderness. A religious fanatic has whipped the nearby town into a frenzy, claiming that God told him the mother and child have typhoid. The townspeople will not let them into the town for a medical examination, nor for care by a doctor. With a combination of courage and reason, Paladin protects the woman and infant, as well as the female doctor treating them (played by June Lockhart).

In Hey Boy’s Revenge, Paladin displays his deep individualism. He discovers that Hey Boy has gotten himself imprisoned while trying to investigate his brother’s death in a railroad camp. Knowing that the slight, unassuming Hey Boy will get himself killed trying to avenge the murder, Paladin stands in for his friend and uncovers terrible corruption as a consequence.

Paladin’s character, played by Richard Boone, carries the lion’s share of the show. (Interestingly, Boone was a descendent of the legendary Kentuckian Daniel Boone.) With a big-nosed, pock-marked face, he reminds the viewer more of Cyrano than Sir Lancelot, but he has the presence to play either.

Towards the middle of the first season, an extra scene featuring the Ballad of Paladin was added to the end of every show. As Paladin rides away through the countryside, Johnny Western sings a memorable melody:

“Have gun, will travel reads the card of a man
A knight without armor in a savage land.”

Written by Western, Boone and Rolfe, the ballad was a hit in its own right — and I can see why. After every show, I end up whistling it for the rest of the day!

Deservedly, the show was a hit from its first year, ranking in the top five shows for four years running. The DVD set is available through Amazon and other venues, and the quality of the picture and sound are excellent. With five more seasons in the library, I’m hoping they release the rest on DVD soon. If so, there’s a lot of enjoyment to look forward to!

http://www.theatlasphere.com/columns/041108-enright-havegunwilltravel.php

CON MOLTO SENTIMENTO: On the Evolutionary Biology and Neuropsychology of Music

Music is an art without an apparent object – there are no scenes to look at, no

sculptured marbles to touch, no stories to follow – and yet it can cause some of the most

passionate and intense feelings possible. How does this happen – how can sounds from

resonant bodies produce emotion (1) in man?

Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man’s emotions directly…Music communicates emotions, which one grasps, but does not actually feel; what one feels is a suggestion, a kind of distant, dissociated, depersonalized emotion — until and unless it unites with one’s own sense of life. But since the music’s emotional content is not communicated conceptually or evoked existentially, one does feel it in some peculiar, subterranean way…How can sounds reach man’s emotions directly, in a manner that seems to by-pass his intellect? What does a certain combination of sounds do to man’s consciousness to make him identify it as gay or sad?…The nature of musical perception has not been discovered because the key to the secret of music is physiological — it lies in the nature of the process by which man perceives sounds –and the answer would require the joint effort of a physiologist, a psychologist and a philosopher (an esthetician). (Rand 1971, 52-56)

Further, what is the possible biological function and evolutionary origin of this

process by which sound elicits feeling? As Ray Jackendorff says “there is no obvious

ecological pressure for the species to have a musical faculty, as there is for vision and

language” (1987, 211). In other words, there is no immediate and obvious biological

function for music, as there is for vision or language. One researcher in the psychology of

music aptly summarized the problem as follows:

Musical messages seem to convey no biologically relevant information, as do speech, animal utterances and environmental sounds – yet people from all cultures do react to musical messages. What in human evolution could have led to this? Is there, or has there been, a survival value for the human race in music? (Roederer 1984, 351).

One might object to this characterization with the question “But you are comparing

apples and oranges when you compare music to vision and language. Instead, you should

be comparing hearing to vision, and music to painting; you should be asking: What is the

biological function of art?”

I first wondered about the biological function and evolutionary origin of music over

twenty years ago, while I was reading Ayn Rand’s article on esthetics,

“Art and Cognition.” In that article, Rand gives an answer to

the question “What is the biological function of art?” in

general, but is only able to suggest an hypothesis about

music’s biological function. The problem lies, as I

mentioned at the start of this article, with the fact that

music does not, apparently, involve the perception of

entities. In the following, I shall attempt a fuller answer and thereby shed some light on

the question of how sounds from resonant bodies produce emotions in man. My attempt

is made possible by recent scientific research into the nature of the brain.

Unlike many twentieth century theorists, Rand’s esthetics is integrated with her

complex and persuasive philosophy of reason, reality and

man’s nature and I think her esthetics deserves special

attention as part of my examination of the nature of music.

I will examine some of the historical theories of musical

meaning, then the more recent scientific investigations into

the nature of music, including some of the current theories

of music’s biological function. I shall review some theories

of the nature of emotion and the relation of music to

emotion. I shall then offer my theory of the biological

origin of music. Subsequently, I shall consider Rand’s

hypothesis about the nature of music, in light of the

research evidence. Lastly, I shall suggest some possible

research which might confirm or disconfirm my theory.

I have gathered evidence from several areas of the

research literature in search of an answer to the question of

music’s evolutionary origin and biological function. I

believe this evidence indicates that music evolved out of the

sonority and prosody (2) of vocal communication and that

musical elaboration of those elements has a special

biological communication function. Prosody evidently

facilitates linguistic syntax – that is, the sound of language helps us understand the

meaning of what’s said (Shapiro and Nagel 1995).

Furthermore, some aspects of one’s pitch (3) perceptions in

music are evidently influenced by one’s native language and

dialect (Deutsch 1992).

More neuropsychological knowledge is needed to prove my

thesis – but I leave the reader to turning over the evidence

I have assembled, along with his own knowledge of music, in

considering the question: Why does man make music?

Brief History on the Theories of Music’s Nature

From the ancient world to the nineteenth century, men

theorized about music based on their experience of it, and

only a little scientific knowledge about the physics of

music which was first examined by the Pythagoreans. Two key

ideas have been repeated down through the ages:

1. Music is a form of communication, a kind of

language; in particular, the language of feeling.

2. Music can form or inform one’s feeling or

disposition.

The Ancient Greek “idea of music as essentially one with

the spoken word has reappeared in diverse forms throughout

the history of music” (Grout 1973,7). The Greeks “were

familiar with the idea that music can alter the disposition

of those who hear it. They acknowledge its power to soothe,

to console, to distract, to cheer, to excite, to inflame, to

madden” (West 1992, 31). Aristotle believed that “music has

a power of forming the character, and should therefore be

introduced into the education of the young” (Politics 1340b,

10-15). In one way or another, music touched everyone in

Greek civilization (West 1992).

The Greeks seemed to implicitly acknowledge music’s

connection to language in their refusal to create or accept

purely instrumental music. The early Middle-Age Europeans

did likewise, but eventually divorced music from voice, so

that by Hegel’s time, instrumental, wordless music was

considered a superior form (Bowie 1990, 183)

A connection of music to language was mentioned

frequently in late nineteenth century examinations of music’s

meaning. There are many, including Schopenhauer, Hegel, and

Tolstoy, who subscribed to the idea that music is “another

language,” the language of feeling.

Hegel relates music to “primitive” expressions, such as bird-song or wordless cries. Schleiermacher suggests the ambiguous status of music in relation to natural sound and to speech: “For neither the expression of a momentary sensation by a…speechless natural sound, nor speaking which approaches song are music, but only the transition to it” (Bowie 1990, 183).

Langer (1957) points out that music fails to qualify as

a language because it does not have fixed denotation.

And Nietzsche, in an 1871 fragment, took issue with the view

that music represents feeling:

What we call feelings are…already penetrated and saturated with conscious and unconscious representations and thus not directly the object of music, let alone able to produce music out of themselves (1980, 364, quoted in Bowie 1990, 230-31).

Feelings, Nietzsche claims, are actually only symbols of music, which has a prior ontological status. This opposes the commonplace in some Romantic thinking that music is the language, in the sense of the “representation”, the substitute, for feeling…Nietzsche’s view makes some sense if one ponders the fact that music can lead to the genesis of feelings which one had never had before hearing the music. (Bowie 1990, 231).

The modern scientific investigation of music began with

Hermann von Helmholtz’s study of the physics and

psychological effects of the tones and keys of music (1954

[1885]). Helmholtz argues that music does not use all types

of sound, only those “due to a rapid periodic motion of the

sonorous body; the sensation of a noise to non-periodic

motions.” (Helmholtz 1863, 9). Most researchers do not

question what sounds make music, but write with the

assumption that they are referring to sounds caused by

periodic vibrations (Aiello, Molfese, Sloboda, Stiller,

Lange, Schopenhauer, Trehub, Zatorre, etc.). “Tonal

stimulation is a constant factor of all musical stimulus”

(Meyer 1994, 13). The neurophysiological musical research

often revolves around contrasting responses of subjects to

periodic (tonal) versus nonperiodic (noise) sounds. Warren,

Obusek, and Farmer (1969) found the interesting fact that

subjects could not accurately perceive the temporal order of

four nonspeech, nonmusical sounds.

John Sloboda (1985) has examined various contemporary

scientific theories of musical meaning, among them the idea

that music mimics environmental sounds. The mimickry theory

is intriguing, but it seems to have a problem sufficiently

explaining the depth and range of meaning in music. Indeed,

music can aptly imitate some natural sounds, as did Saint-

Saens, in his “Carnival of the Animals.” But, even in music

considered to be as programmatic as Berlioz’ “Symphonie

Fantastique,” we cannot find environmental sounds of which

the music would be an imitation. To this point, Helmholtz

noted that

“In music one does not aim at representation of nature; rather, tones and tone sensations exist just for their own purpose and function independently of their relationship to any environmental object” (1863, 370).

Other theorists suggest that music has its effects by

expressing tension and its resolution (Schenker 1935;

Bernstein 1976). Tension and resolution are certainly a

large part of the musical experience, but they name only very

general qualities of it and do not seem to address the vast,

varied, and subtle ways music can make us feel.

Manfred Clynes sees music as the embodiment of the forms of emotion, “emotionally

expressive dynamic forms which we have called essentic forms”

(1986, 169). Clynes (1974, 1986) theory of music seems to parallel, for sound,

what Ekman proposed for facial expression. Ekman (1977) found that there is a

systematic relation between emotion and facial expression, and suggested that

this is a result of inborn “affect programmes” (automatically

triggered sequences of emotion), an idea also accepted by

by Tomkins (1962) and Izard (1971). Clynes thinks the essentic forms are biologically

determined expressions of emotion, experienced the same way

across cultures, which idea seems similar to “inborn affect

programmes”.

Essentic forms are specific spatio-temporal forms biologically programmed into the central nervous system for the expressive communication and generation of emotional qualities (1986, 169).

Clynes seems to be using the word “form” metaphorically. It

usually refers to the three-dimensional, spatial aspects of

things. He seems to be saying that the physiological nature,

intensity, and timing of music-evoked emotions have great

similarity among individuals. Just as, typically, one’s pulse raises, one’s muscles tighten

and one’s breath seems to become more ragged when one is angry, so there are typical

bodily changes due to the feelings which music evokes. This typicality is illustrated

and represented by the shape of the graph produced by

subjects’ fingers during experiments with Clynes’ sentograph.

The graph’s shape thereby represents the “form” of the

emotion. He has interesting data showing that the same music

will evoke similar motor responses in people of vastly

different cultures. His sentograph, which measures motor

response, attaches to the subject’s finger and records, on a

graph, subtle movements of the digit upon exposure to music.

Clynes found remarkable similarity among individual’s

responses to a given composer and between the responses of

different individuals to the same composer’s music, as

represented by the forms on the recording graphs. De Vries’

research confirms Clynes’ hypothesis that emotional responses

are similar among subjects and showed that responses to music

were “not affected by a subject’s familiarity with or

evaluation of a piece” (De Vries 1991, 46).

In a view which seems consonant with Clynes’,

Jackendorff points out that dance is closely related to

music, and that

going beyond crude rhythmic correspondences, we have undeniable and detailed intuitions concerning whether the character of dance movements suit or fail to suit the music. Such intuitions are patently not the result of deliberate training…This suggests that…a cognitive structure can be placed into close correspondence with musical structure…[which] might encode dance movements…[which can be] provisionally called body representation -essentially a body-specific encoding of the internal sense of the states of the muscles, limbs, and joints. Such a structure, in addition to representing the position of the body, would represent the dynamic forces present within the body, such as whether a position is being held in a state of relaxation or in a state of balanced tension….There is every reason to believe that such a representation is independently necessary for everyday tasks. …It would likely be involved as well in correspondences between emotional and muscular states -for instance, one carries oneself differently in states of joy, anger, depression, elation, or fear. (1987, 238-9)

Consonant with this view, Hevner (1936) found that

individuals show general agreement about the emotional

content of pieces of music and that there is broad agreement

among members of a culture about the musical mood of a piece,

even among children as young as three years of age (Kastner

and Crowder 1990). And Stiller notes that

a number of important musical universals have been identified: Melodies worldwide are made mostly of major seconds; all musics employ dynamic accents, and notes of varying lengths; and all display extensive use of variation and repetition…the universality of music suggests that there may be a biological basis for its existence. (1987, 13)

Research confirms the everyday experience that music

causes emotional states which can seriously affect our

actions. Konecni (1982) found that subjects who had been

insulted by confederates working for the experimenter were

quite aggressive about shocking those confederates. But

subjects who had merely been exposed to loud, complex music

were almost as aggressive about shocking confederates as the

insulted subjects had been! In another experiment subjects

were able to shape their moods by their musical choices, and

thereby optimize their moods. Depending on the way they felt

when they came to the experimental session (anxious or angry

or happy), and how they wanted to feel afterwards, they could

pick music that changed the way they felt entirely – once

again supporting the idea that the sounds of music have a

direct effect on emotions.

In many respects, mood is a better concept than

emotion to describe the results of music. Giomo says “This

affective meaning, labelled ‘mood’, is of an individual and

nameless nature, not truly describable using emotion labels”

(Giomo 1993, 143). Sloboda points out that “the ability to

judge mood is logically and empirically separable from the

ability to feel emotion in response to music. It is quite

possible to judge a piece of music to represent extreme

grief, yet be totally unmoved by it” (1991, 111). DeVries

(1991) suggested that there are two steps in reacting to

music: one in which music directly activates “programmes”

which trigger emotions and a second in which a person allows

themselves to experience the emotion or suppresses it,

depending on the congruity of the emotion with, among other

things, their personality and cultural background.

In searching for an evolutionary origin to music,

Konecni, as does Roederer (1984), posits that music helps to

synchronize the emotional states necessary for collective

action, such as the excitement needed for the hunt or battle.

Many primitive tribes seem to use music in this way (as do

college bands during football games). And, indeed, a few

other species, such as birds and cetaceans, have music-

like behaviors (4), wherein they produce sounds of periodic

vibrations and which are intimately tied to intra-species

communication and collective action. Stiller claims that

“Music helps to insure…cooperation — indeed, must

play an important role in that regard, or there would have

been no need to evolve such a unique form of emotional

communication” (1987, 14). He quotes Alan Lomax to the

effect that music organizes the mood, the feelings, the

general attitude of a group of people. This seems to echo

the Ancient Greek view that music teaches men how to feel

like warriors or like lovers.

Granted,

…there may be a certain cultural advantage in having some rudimentary form of music to help synchronize collective rhythmic activity or to serve some ceremonial aspect of social life, no particular reason is evident for the efflorescence of musical complexity that appears in so many cultures (Jackendorff 1987, 214).

The socio-biological theory of musical meaning may

explain some of the psychological roots of music’s evolutionary origins but what

determines the kinds of sounds which can cause the experience

of emotion, i.e. the neurological roots? And why do we have so many kinds of music

which we listen to for its own sake?

The Neuropsychological Data on Language and Music

Why should certain kinds of sounds be able to directly

evoke feeling? By what means, what neuropsychological

processes?

As have so many in the history of music theory, Roederer

(1984) wonders whether the answer lies in the unique human

capacity for language. Human infants have high motivation to

acquire language, as evidenced by the assiduous way they

attend to, imitate, and practice language. Language

activities are very pleasurable; if they were not, human

infants would not be motivated to perform language-related

activities as much as they do. On this evidence, I venture

to say that humans have built-in developmental pleasure/pain

processes for producing and listening to language. Language

acquisition is a cognitive activity that is highly motivated

and important to survival. Are the emotions aroused for

language acquisition the evolutionary link between sound and

emotion? That is, are humans moved by sound as a result of a biological need to be

interested in acquiring language?

Experiments show that there are strong similarities in the way in which people perceive structure in music and in language…[but] overall, the syntax of music has much more latitude than that of language. Thus, in the syntaxes of music and language, we must remember that music is far more flexible and ambiguous than language (Aiello 1994, 46-9).

Furthermore, neuropsychological evidence seems to be a

odds with the proposal that language is the basis of music.

The areas of the brain which primarily process speech are,

apparently, mostly different from those which process music

(5). Investigations into the brain areas which process

speech and music have turned up the interesting finding that,

in most infants, the left hemisphere responds more to speech

sounds and the right to musical tones, as indicated by a type

of EEG called auditory evoked potentials, (Molfese 1977).

Measures of how much attention a neonate paid to left or

right ear stimuli (as indicated by “high amplitude non-

nutritive sucking”) indicated that most infants responded

more to language sounds presented to their right ears (left

hemispheres) and to musical sounds presented to their left

ears (right hemispheres) (Entus 1977; Glanville, Best, and

Levenson 1977), although Vargha-Khadem and Corbellis (1979)

were not able to replicate Entus’ findings. Best, Hoffman,

and Glanville (1982) found a right ear advantage for speech

in infants older than two months during tasks in which

infants had to remember and discriminate phonetic sounds and

musical timbres. Infants younger than two months showed an

ear advantage only for musical notes, and that advantage was

for the left ear. In older children and adult non-musicians,

damage to the left hemisphere usually impairs language

functions but tends to spare musical abilities, including

singing. Damage to the right hemisphere, particularly the

right temporal lobe, tends to leave language functions

intact, but impairs musical abilities and the production and

comprehension of language tone and of emotion expressed

through language or other sounds (Joanette, Goulet, and

Hannequin 1990).

Zatorre (1979) found a left ear advantage for the

discrimination of melodies versus speech in a dichotic (6)

listening task with both musicians and nonmusicians. He

found cerebral-blood-flow evidence that right temporal lobe

neurons are particularly important in melodic and pitch

discriminations (Zatorre, Evans, and Meyer 1994). Tramo and

Bharucha (1991), following the work of Gordon (1970), found

that the right hemisphere seems to process the perception of

harmonics (tested by the detection of complex relationships

among simultaneous musical sounds). Damage to the right

temporal lobe impairs the ability to recognize timbre (7),

and time cues within tones that determine the recognition of

timbre (Samson and Zatorre 1993). These authors suggest that

“the same acoustical cues involved in perception of musical

timbre may also serve as linguistic cues under certain

circumstances” (Ibid., 239). There are now indications that

timbre and phonetic information are processed through some

common stage beyond peripheral acoustic processing. Research

is underway to determine whether voice identification also

proceeds through this same timbre-phoneme nonperipheral stage

(Pitt 1995).

In a critical review, Zatorre (1984) notes that right-

sided damage can produce deficits in tasks that process

patterns of pitch and timbre differences. Adults with

partial or complete excisions of the right temporal lobe were

found to be significantly impaired in the perception of pitch

(Zatorre 1988). Kester et. al (1991) found that musical

processing was most affected by right temporal lobectomy. In

a review of the literature on the infant’s perception of tone

sequences, or melodies, Trehub (1990) found that human

infants do not use local pitch strategies characteristic of

nonhuman species, that is, they do not depend on the

recognition of particular, or absolute pitches, to identify

tone sequences. Rather, like human adults, they use global

and relational means to encode and retain contours of

melodies, with little attention to absolute pitch. (Although,

interestingly, Kessen, Leving and Wendrich (1979) found that

infants paid very close attention to experimenters’ singing

and could imitate pitch quite well.) In other words, human

infants have the ability to recognize exact pitches, but the

exact key in which a melody is played makes little difference

for human recognition of melody, while animals depend on the

particular pitch in which their “song” is sung to recognize

it. This seems to imply that even human infants are

extracting the abstract pattern of the sounds, rather than

using the sounds as signs, specific perceptual markers, of

events.

In reviewing the research on infants’ perception of

music, Trehub (1987) suggests that infants have the skills

for analyzing complex auditory stimuli. These skills may

correspond to musical universals, as indicated by infants’

preference for major triadic chord structures.

The evidence indicates that human infants have the

ability to recognize and process music in a fairly complex

way, at a very early age. Furthermore, music processing in

most infants and adults seems to occur primarily in the right

hemisphere (8).

And infants, like adults, appear to find music

interesting: they tend to pay attention to it, they like to

engage in imitations of adult pitches and, they learn to sing

as soon as they learn to speak (Cook 1994).

The Neuropsychological Data on Emotions

How does the data on the neuropsychological processes

involved in music relate to the data on the

neuropsychological processes involved in emotions? It is

well-established that for most people, right hemisphere

damage causes difficulties with the communication and

comprehension of emotion (Bear 1983; Ross 1984). Apparently,

the right hemisphere mediates the processing of many types of

emotionally-laden information: visual, facial, gestural,

bodily, and auditory.

The evidence suggests that the right hemisphere has a

special relationship with the emotional functions of the

human mind, specifically in being able to process and project

emotional meaning through perceptual information (Kolb and

Whishaw 1990). For most people, the right hemisphere

performs integrative visual functions, such as grasping

visual gestalts and comprehending visual and architectural

wholes; the inability to recognize faces is sometimes the

consequence of right temporal lobe damage. (Kolb and

Whishaw, 1990) Right hemisphere damage can often lead to the

inability to be aware of whole areas of space in relation to

oneself, called perceptual neglect. (See A. Luria’s The Man

With A Shattered World for an agonizing description of what

the world seems like when one’s brain cannot perform these

visual and kinesthetic integrations.) Neglect of half of

perceived space, called hemi-neglect, is a frequent result of

extensive right parietal damage. The right hemisphere is

fundamentally involved in comprehending the connotative

meanings of language, metaphors and nonliteral implications

of stories; and the right hemisphere seems to be involved in

the comprehension of meaning commmunicated through sound,

especially voice. Oliver Sacks discusses patients with

“tonal agnosia,”

For such patients, typically, the expressive qualities of voices disappear – their tone, their timbre, their feeling, their entire character – while words (and grammatical constructions) are perfectly understood. Such tonal agnosias (or ‘aprosodias’) are associated with disorders of the right temporal lobe, whereas aphasias go with disorders of the left temporal lobe (1987, 83).

He also describes aphasics (9) who are not able to grasp the

denotative meaning of words and yet are able to follow many

conversations by the emotional tone of the speakers.

With the most sensitive patients, it was only with [grossly artificial mechanical speech from a computerised voice synthesizer] that one could be wholly sure of their aphasia (Ibid., 80-1).

The patients would use all kinds of extraverbal clues to

understand what another was saying to them. He claimed that

a roomful of them laughed uproariously over a speech given by

Ronald Reagan because of the patent insincerity of it.

Rate, amplitude, pitch, inflection, timbre, melody, and

stress contours of the voice are means by which emotion is

communicated (in nonhuman as well as human species), and the

right hemisphere is superior in the interpretation of these

features of voice (Joseph 1988). Samson and Zatorre (1993)

found similar cortical areas responding to pitch and timbre

in humans and animals. In dichotic listening tasks, Zurif

and Mendelsohn (1972) found a right ear advantage for

correctly matching meaningless, syntactically organized

sentences with meaningful ones by the way the sentence was

emotionally intoned. The subjects could apparently match

such nonsense sentences as: “Dey ovya ta ransch?” with “How

do you do?” by the intonation the speaker gave the sentence.

Heilman, Scholes, and Watson (1975) found that subjects with

right temporal-parietal lesions tended to be impaired at

judging the mood of a speaker. Heilman et. al (1984) also

compared subjects with right temporal lobe-damage to both

normals and aphasics (4) in discriminating the emotional

content of speech. He presented all three types of subjects

with sentences wherein the verbal content of the speakers was

filtered out and only the emotional tone was left, and found

those with temporal lobe damage to be impaired in their

emotional discriminations. In a similar study, Tompkins and

Flowers (1985) found that the tonal memory scores (how well

the subjects could remember specific tones) for right

braindamaged subjects were lower than those of other

subjects, implying that right braindamage leads to a problem

with the perceptual encoding of sound, put not necessarily

with the comprehension of emotional meaning per se.

The human voice conveys varied, complex, and subtle

meaning through timbre, pitch, stress contour, tempo, and so

forth and thereby communicates emotion.

What is clear is that the rhythmic and the musical are not contingent additions to language….The “musical” aspect of language emphasizes the way that all communication has an irreducibly particular aspect which cannot be substracted (Bowie 1990, 174).

Best, Hoffman, and Glanville found that the ability to

process timbre appears in neonates and very young infants,

apparently before the ability to process phonetic stimuli

1982).

Through the “music” in voice, we comprehend the feelings

of others and we communicate ours to them. This is an

important ability for the well-being of the human infant, who

has not yet developed other human tools for communicating its

needs and comprehending the world around it – a world in

which the actions and feelings of its caretakers are of

immense importance to its survival. Emotion is conveyed

through language in at least two ways: through the

specifically verbal content of what is said, and through the

“musical” elements in voice, which are processed by the right

hemisphere. One of the characteristic features of

traditional poetry is the dense combination of the meaning of

words with the way they sound, which, when done well, results

in emotionally moving artworks (Enright 1989). Mothers

throughout the world use nursery rhymes, a type of poetry, to

amuse and soothe infants and young children, that is, to

arouse emotions they find desirable in the children. “Music

can articulate the ‘unsayable’, which is not representable by

concepts or verbal language” (Bowie, 1990, 184). “Men have not found the words for it

nor the deed nor the thought, but they have found the music” (Rand 1943, 544) .

Was nature being functionally logical and parsimonious

to combine, in the right hemisphere, those functions which

communicate emotion with those that comprehend emotion?

As social animals, humans have many ways of

communicating and comprehending emotions: facial expression,

gesture, body language, and voice tone. I propose that

music’s biopsychological origins lie in the ability to

recognize and respond directly to the feelings of another

through tone of voice, an important ability for infant and

adult survival. (The tone of voice of an angry and menacing

person has a very different implication than that of a sweet

and kind person.)

If inflection and nuance enhance the effect of spoken language, in music they create the meaning of the notes. Unlike words, notes and rests do not point to ideas beyond themselves; their meaning lies precisely in the quality of the sounds and silences, so that the exact renderings of the notes, the nuances, the inflection, the intensity and energy with which notes are performed become their musical meaning. (J. M. Lewers, quoted in Aiello 1994, 55)

Furthermore, I propose that the sound literally triggers

those physiological processes which cause the corresponding

emotion “action programmes,” “essentic forms,” or whatever

one wishes to call these processes. This would explain the

uniquely automatic quality in our response to music.

I am proposing that the biopsychological basis of the

ability of sound to cause emotions in man originates in man’s

ability to emotionally respond to the sounds of another’s

voice. Theoretically, this ability lies in the potential for

certain kinds of sounds to set off a series of neurological

processes resulting in emotions, which events are similar to

those occurring during the usual production of emotions.

As so many in the history of musical theory have conjectured,

music does result from language – but not language’s abstract,

denotative qualities.

However, I should posit that it is not the ontogeny of

language per se that caused the development of music in

humans. Many nonhuman animals communicate emotion and

subsequently direct and orchestrate actions of their species

through voice tone, and there is considerable evidence that

humans do likewise, which argues that this ability arose

before the emergence of language.

Returning to my earlier

discussion of motivation in the infant acquisition of

language, it seems more likely that the pleasures and

emotions communicated through voice (which motivate the

acquisition of language) are another biological application

of the ability of voice tone to emotionally affect us, rather

than an initial cause of emotion in voice. Human’s were

already set to be affected by voice tone when we acquired the

ability to speak. Pleasure associated with vocalizing likely

developed into pleasure in language acquisition.

However, music, especially modern Western music, has

gone far beyond the kinds of auditory perceptions and

responses involved in simple tone of voice alone. The

ability to emotionally recognize and respond to tone of voice

was developed early on in the evolution of Homo sapiens, as

evidenced by the same ability in our closest animal

relatives, the great apes. The history of music seems to

show that humans greatly expanded on the use of voice tone

through their ability to abstract. It appears that men

created instruments, learned how to distill and extract the

essence of tones and their relationships, rearranged and

expanded the range, timbre, and rhythm of sounds used both by

voice and by instruments, and thereby created a new, artistic

means of expressing a huge range of emotions.

The evidence found by Clynes and others indicates that

there is a special pattern of sound for each emotion or mood,

which pattern humans are able to recognize in various voices,

both human and instrumental. Helmholtz noted that the major

keys are

well suited for all frames of mind which are completely formed and clearly understood, for strong resolve, and for soft and gentle or even for sorrowing feelings, when the sorrow has passed into the condition of dreamy and yielding regret. But it is quite unsuited for indistinct, obscure, unformed frames of mind, or for the expressing of the dismal, the dreary, the enigmatic, the mysterious, the rude…[and it is] precisely for these …[that] we require the minor mode (1954 [1885], 302)

The implication of the evidence is that humans have learned

how to abstract the sound pattern evoking, for example

triumph, and then re-present this pattern in its

essential form in a musical composition, giving the listener

an experience of the emotion of triumph rarely possible in

life. Through abstraction, the emotion-provoking sounds have

been rendered essential and rearranged into new patterns and

combinations, thereby enabling humans to have an emotion-

evoking artistic experience far greater than that possible

from the sounds of the spoken voice alone. Many theories of

music, to some extent, recognize that music makers take the

fundamental qualities of music and rearrange them to invent

new ways of feeling – see any number of essays in Philip

Alperson’s book What is Music?

In relation to this theory, it is noteworthy that only

the sounds of periodic vibrations can be integrated so as to

evoke emotion because the voice produces periodic vibrations

in its normal operation. (Despite the best efforts of modern

musical theorists, all else is experienced as meaningless

noise.) In the history of music theory, thinkers have placed

most of their emphasis on the relations and perceptions of

harmonies (Grout 1973; Lang 1941). My proposal for the

biological basis of music concerns a system generally without

harmony – the human voice (there are some harmonic overtones

in any voice or instrument). How do these factors relate to

one another? Historically, music began as plainsong without

accompaniment and as simple melodies.

The fact that music could achieve simultaneity, that it could have vertical as well as horizontal events, was a revolutionary discovery….Now music had a new kind of interest, the accidental or contrived vertical combination of two or more pitches” (Aiello 1994, 44)

Although polyphony (10) was created some time during the

Middle Ages, apparently the conscious use of harmonic chords

was developed even later.

Helmholtz mentions that

A favourite assertion that “melody is resolved harmony,” on which musicians do not hesitate to form musical systems without staying to inquire how harmonies had either never been heard, or were, after hearing, repudiated. According to our explanation, at least, the same physical peculiarities in the composition of musical tones, which determined consonances for tones struck simultaneously, would also determine melodic relations for tones struck in sucession. The former then would not be the reason for the latter, as the above phrase suggests, but both would have a common cause in the natural formation of musical tones (1954 [1885], 289).

In other words, harmony and melody complement each other,

using the same mathematical relationships of tones and their

perception. Harmony does this simultaneously, melody does

this over time. However, harmony is not an equal partner in the creation of music,

because we can make music without harmony and because harmony does not make

music on its own: music requires a sequence of sounds and silences through

time. Harmony developed as man abstracted musical

qualities in sound, rearranged them, and used them

simultaneously. It is likely that theoreticians have focused

on harmony in their analysis of music because complex

harmonies are a major part of modern western music and

because melodies are more difficult to analyze due to the the

element of time. Given the historical development of music,

I believe the emphasis on harmony is an artifact of human

analytical ability. Moreover, an harmonic chord on its own

is not music – it is always necessary to have a sequence of

tones to have music.

Beyond Neuropsychology to Music as Art

I have posited a biological/evolutionary origin to music, but I have not, as yet,

proposed a survival function for it. Before I do that, I would like to address the wider

issue of the biological function of art per se. In her article “Art and Cognition,” Rand

(1971) presented her theory on the cognitive foundations of art.

This theory is of particular interest to me, not only because

it is founded on and well-integrated with her revolutionary

philosophy of Objectivism, but because it is specifically

based on man’s cognitive and motivational nature, on what she

called his “psycho-epistemological needs” (11), and thereby posits gives an answer to the

question of art’s biological roots. Her hypothesis in no way addresses or accounts for my

original question, What is the evolutionary basis of the ability to respond to sound? With

her hypothesis, the question remains unanswered. But her theory

is worth addressing because she asked and attempted to answer

many of the fundamental questions about music’s nature.

Rand argued that art is a means of making

conceptual yet concrete the information of the senses, which,

thereby, makes that information more meaningful to us.

The visual arts do not deal with the sensory field of awareness as such, but with the sensory field as perceived by a conceptual consciousness.

The sensory-perceptual awareness of an adult does not consist of mere sense data (as it did in his infancy), but of automatized integrations that combine sense data with a vast context of conceptual knowledge. The visual arts refine and direct the sensory elements of these integrations. By means of selectivity, of emphasis and omission, these arts lead man’s sight to the conceptual context intended by the artist. They teach man to see more precisely and to find deeper meaning in the field of vision. (Rand 1971, 47)

Painting makes conceptual the sense of sight, sculpture the

sense of sight and touch, dance the sense of body motion, or

kinesthesia, and music the sense of hearing.

But Rand argued that music does not follow exactly the

same psycho-epistemological process as the other arts.

According to Rand, the art of music embodies man’s sense of

life by abstracting how man uses his mind.

The other arts create a physical object,…and the psycho-epistemological process goes from the perception of the object to the conceptual grasp of its meaning, to an appraisal in terms of one’s basic values, to a consequent emotion. The pattern is: from perception – to conceptual understanding – to appraisal – to emotion.

The pattern of the process involved in music is: from perception – to emotion – to appraisal – to conceptual understanding.

Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man’s emotions directly (Rand 1971, 50)

In other words, upon listening to music, it can cause us to

experience feelings which we subsequently appraise. Whether

we like or dislike the feelings caused by the music (or have

some complex reaction to it), helps determine what kinds of

music we individually favor. An interesting facet of the

musical experience is the fact that many unrelated images

tend to come to mind when we listen to music, imagery which

seems to correspond to the emotions. It is as if our minds

find it illogical to have feelings with no existential

objects to evoke them, so our minds provide images of an

appropriate nature. This process seems reminiscent of others, such as the way in which

we “see” faces in myriad visual images, or think we hear voices in the sound of the wind.

The common thread between them is the mind’s automatic attempt to make sense of the

world, both external and internal.

According to Rand, how might sound evoke these emotions?

If man experiences an emotion without existential object, its only other possible object is the state or actions of his own consciousness. What is the mental action involved in the perception of music? (I am not referring to the emotional reaction, which is the consequence, but to the process of perception.)…The automatic processes of sensory integration are completed in his infancy and closed to an adult.

The single exception is in the field of sounds produced by periodic vibrations, i.e., music…musical tones heard in a certain kind of succession produce a different result -the human ear and brain integrate them into a new cognitive experience, into what may be called an auditory entity; a melody. The integration is a physiological process; it is performed unconsciously and automatically. Man is aware of the process only by means of its results.

Helmholtz has demonstrated that the essence of musical perception is mathematical; the consonance or dissonance of harmonies depends on the ratios of the frequencies of their tones…[There is] the possibility that the same principles apply to the process of hearing and integrating a succession of musical tones, i.e., a melody — and that the psycho-epistemological meaning of a given composition lies in the kind of work it demands of a listener’s ear and brain (Rand 1971, 57-8)

Music gives man’s consciousness the same experience as the other arts: a concretization of his sense of life. But the abstraction being concretized is primarily epistemological, rather than metaphysical; the abstraction is man’s consciousness, i.e., his method of cognitive functioning, which he experiences in the concrete form of hearing a specific piece of music. A man’s acceptance or rejection of that music depends on whether it calls upon or clashes with, confirms or contradicts, his mind’s way of working. The metaphysical aspect of the experience is the sense of a world which he is able to grasp, to which his mind’s working is appropriate….A man who has an active mind…will feel a mixture of boredom and resentment when he hears a series of random bits with which his mind can do nothing. He will feel anger, revulsion and rebellion against the process of hearing jumbled musical sounds; he will experience it as an attempt to destroy the integrating capacity of his mind.” (Rand 1971, 58) 1971)

In other words, she proposed that the arrangement of sounds

in music causes one’s brain to perform a sensory/perceptual

integration similar to those performed during the solution of

an existential problem, and that one emotionally reacts to

the kind of cognitive work which the music makes one perform

through the integration.

In line with the assumptions of musical research, she

notes that only sounds caused by periodic vibrations can be

integrated by the human brain. We can analyze the sounds of

music as follows: simultaneous sounds into harmonies,

successions of sounds into melodies, or what Rand called

“auditory entities” and percussions into rhythms.

According to Rand’s hypothesis, musical sounds are

physiologically integrated by the brain and our emotions are

in response to the type of integration performed. She

proposed that the musical integration parallels perceptual

integration in nonmusical cognitive activities, and that we

respond emotionally to the type of integrating work music

causes us to perform. Her hypothesis assumes no direct

physiological induction of emotion, but proposes that the

emotion is a response to the kind of cognitive work caused by

the integration of the sounds.

Is this view consonant with the scientific facts?

Rand’s hypothesis supposes that a perceptual integration

results in emotions such as joy, delight, triumph, which are

normally generated in humans by a complex conceptual

cognitive activity. I am not aware of any other purely

perceptual integrations in other sense modalities which

result in such emotions (although there may be some visual

stimuli, such as a beautiful sunset or graceful human

proportions, for which we have in-built pleasurable

responses). In this respect, sound seems to be unique.

Idiot-savants and some individuals with IQ’s in the

teens, respond fully to music, as well as

A man whom childhood meningitis had left mentally retarded as well as behaviorally and emotionally crippled, but who…was so familiar with… all the Bach cantatas, as well as a staggering amount of other music)…evincing a full understanding and appreciation of these highly intellectual scores. Clearly, whatever had happened to the rest of his brain, his musical intelligence remained a separate – and unimpaired – function (Stiller 1987, 13).

Under Rand’s theory, is this possible? Such cognitively

impaired individuals would not normally perform many complex

conceptual mental integrations, nor experience the feelings

accompanying those integrations. One might infer that these

mental cripples, unable to self-generate cognitive activities

which would allow them the pleasures of deep feelings, are

enabled the life-giving experience of such feelings through

music (hence, some of them completely devote themselves to

music). That is, their cognitions are not complex enought to produce many profound and

pleasurable feelings on their own, but they are able to pleasurably shape their emotional

world with music. Presumably, if their perceptual abilities are

intact, their brains could still perform the integrations

necessary under Rand’s hypothesis. But how could their

psycho-epistemological sense of life respond to the

activities, in that they are not capable of much in the way

of conceptual activity?

However, consider the following:

If a given process of musical integration taking place in a man’s brain resembles the cognitive processes that produce and/or accompany a certain emotional state, he will recognize it, in effect, physiologically, then intellectually. Whether he will accept that particular emotional state, and experience it fully, depends on his sense-of-life evaluation of its significance.” (Rand 1971, 61)

Here, she seemed to say that the processing and integrating

of the sounds are very similar to the physiological processes

involved in the existential evocations of emotions. In other

words, her statement seems to imply that she thinks the music

physiologically induces the emotion, which is subsequently

evaluated and accepted or rejected.

It seems to me that Rand was not perfectly clear as to

the exact nature of music’s production of emotions. On the

one hand, she seemed to say that the emotions are a reaction

to the kind of cognitive work the music causes us to perform.

On the other hand, she seemed to say that the music

physiologically induces the emotion.

Parsimony inclines me to take this analysis one step

further and propose that musical sounds induce the

neurological processes that cause the emotions; then we react

to the feeling of those emotions. Instead of proposing, like

Rand, that the essence of music is epistemological – we react

to the kind of cognitive work music causes – I would like to

maintain that the essence is metaphysical, like the other

arts – we react to the way the music makes us feel. That

is, by neurologically inducing emotions, music shapes our

feelings about the world. If painting is the concretization

of sight, music is the concretization of feeling.

Rand recognizes this to some extent, “How can sounds

reach man’s emotions directly in a manner that seems to by-

pass his intellect?” (1971, 54) This question seems to imply

that she thinks the musical sensory integration affects

feelings directly.

It is relevant to the issue that there are direct

sensory projections from the ear to the amygdala, a nuclei of

cells at the base of the temporal lobe (where so much music

processing seems to occur). The amygdala is part of the

limbic system, considered essential to the production and

processing of emotion. Although part of the temporal lobe,

the amygdala is not considered to be part of the cortical

sensory analysis systems that process the objective

properties of an experience. Instead the amygdala is

believed to process our feeling or subjective sense of an

experience (Kolb and Whishaw 1990) – that is, how we feel

about an experience, such as the warm cozy feelings we might

get at the smell of turkey and apple pie. It seems possible

that the sounds of music could be directly processed by the

amygdala, resulting directly in emotion, without going

through the usual “objective-properties” processing of the

other cortical areas. This might be how they “reach man’s

emotions directly in a manner that seems to by-pass his

intellect?” (Rand 1971,)

However, we might find a resolution to the seeming

duality of Rand’s musical hypothesis by further reflecting on

music’s nature. I believe the key lies in the complexity of

music. There are large elements of cognitive understanding

and processing involved in more complex music, e.g., there is

a definite process involved in learning to listen to

classical music, or any kind for that matter.

Musicians are much more sensitive to and analytical

about music, and, interestingly, apparently use different

areas of their brains than do nonmusicians when processing

music. Musicians do quite a bit of processing in the left

hemisphere, in areas that apparently process in a

logical/analytical manner. Some music triggers some emotion

in almost everyone, although I think that perhaps mood, as

suggested by Giomo, would be a better term to describe much

of the psychophysical state that music induces. We can

listen to music, know what emotion it represents, but not

want or like that emotion. In this way, Rand seems right

that music causes our minds to go through the cognitive steps

which result in various emotions. However, in line with the

arguments made by many, not everyone can follow the cognitive

steps necessary in listening to all music: there is a certain

amount of learning involved in the appreciation of music and

it seems to be related, for example, to learning the forms,

context, and style of the music of a culture. Beyond that,

there is learning involved in absorbing and responding to

music of different genres: jazz, blues, celtic folk, african

folk, classical. One gets to understand the ways and the

patterns of each genre such that one’s mind can better follow

the musical thoughts and respond to them with feeling

(Aiello 1994).

Music can take on a cognitive life entirely its own,

apart from and different from the kinds of thoughts and

feelings resulting from life or the other arts. As the

Greeks thought, it can teach us new things to think and feel.

Certainly, the kind of utterly intense emotion felt through

exalted music is rare, if possible at all, through other

events of life. Listening to contemporary music such as the

Drovers (Celtic style), I realized that it made me feel all

kinds of wonderful and unusual bodily feelings, which had no

regular emotional names, although they were similar to other

emotions. This might explain why we like to listen to the

same piece of music over and over. “Wittengenstein’s

paradox: the puzzle is that when we are familiar with a piece

of music, there can be no more surprises. Hence, if

‘expectancy violation’ is aesthetically important, a piece

would lose this quality as it becomes familiar”

(Bharucha 1994, 215). We do not particularly like to think

about the same things over and over, but we generally like to

feel certain ways over and over. We listen to the same piece

over and over because we enjoy the mood, the frame of mind,

into which it puts us. Of what else does the end of life consist, but good experience, in

whatever form one can find it? Thinking is the means by which we maintain and

advance life, but feeling happy is an end in itself.

To resolve Rand’s duality: the basis of music is the

neurological induction of mood through sound (made

possible, in my view, by our ability to respond to the

emotional meaning of voice); however, humans have taken that

basic ability and elaborated it greatly, abstracting and

rearranging sound in many, many different ways in all the

different kinds of music. Responding to more complex music

requires more elaborate, specifically musical understanding

of the sounds and their interrelationships. This

understanding requires learning on the part of the listener

and complex cognitive work – to which the listener responds

emotionally.

Hence, there are two emotional levels on which we

respond to music which correspond to the two aspects of

Rand’s hypothesis: the basic neurological level and the more

complex cognitive level.

Future Research

My hypothesis on the evolutionary basis of music in our

ability to respond to emotion in tone of voice would need a

vast array of experiments to be proved, including further

inquiry into the neurological structures which process voice

tone and music. Presumably, if the hypothesis is true, a

significant overlap would be found in the the areas that

process voice tone and the areas that process music.

Particular care would be needed to discover which neocortical

structures are involved in these functions, including an

examination of such structures as the associative areas

including the temporal lobe, and the limbic structures. And

subcortical areas such as the hypothalamus and brain stem,

presumed to be involved in emotional processing

(Siminov 1986), would need to be examined as well.

A technique such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

(12) might be useful in such an inquiry. Experiments

indicating that this overlap exists in young infants would

show that this was an inborn, and not a learned ability.

Care would need to be taken in arranging several experimental

conditions for comparison. Techniques such as the one

described earlier in this essay, wherein the verbal content

was filtered out of sentences, would be useful. Comparisons

of the response to (1) voice with no verbal content or music,

(2) music with no voice, (3) voice with music, with and

without verbal content and (4) nonemotionally meaningful

sounds made without voice would be important.

Also, it might be found that voice with no music, voice

with music, and music with no voice are each processed in a

different set of areas. Alternatively, it is possible that

no subcortical emotional effects would be found from voice or

music. Or, perhaps, the processing of the voice and/or the

music would be found to be spread over both hemispheres of

the brain in a way which did not become evident in the evoked

potentials. Some of the brain damage studies found that

right hemisphere damage did not universally cause amusia or

failure to comprehend or express emotional tone, and that

some subjects recovered their abilities to express or grasp

emotion through language. Furthermore, it is difficult to

know how varying individual brain organization might express

itself in the processing of these tasks.

Interesting and observable differences might be found

across languages or language groups. The relation, if any,

of a language to it’s folk music would be fascinating (13).

Here I’d like to recall Jackendorff’s comments. He

remarked on the ability of music to make us feel like moving,

and that there are specific ways we seem to feel like moving

to specific kinds of music.

Ultimately, if we learn enough to specify exactly the relationships between the

elements of music and what feelings are evoked, we will be able to decipher music as

“the language of feeling.” I look forward to the research which will resolve these

questions on the biopsychology of music.

Again and Again

Music defies.

Rachmaninoff’s sighs, Haydn’s Surprise, Joplin’s glad cries — Make poetry pale.

Words fail.

–John Enright NOTES

1. “An emotion is the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relationship of some aspect of reality to himself.” (Branden 1966, 64). This definition is echoed in Carroll Izard’s work Human Emotions (1977) “A complete definition of emotion must take into account all… of these aspects or components: (a) the experience or conscious feeling of emotion, (b) the processes that occur in the brain and nervous system, and (c) the observable expressive patterns of emotion, particularly those on the face…scientists do not agree on precisely how an emotion comes about. Some maintain that emotion is a joint function of a physiologically arousing situation and the person’s evaluation or appraisal of the situation” (1977, 4).

2. “Prosody” is pitch, change of pitch, and duration of intonations and rests in speech.

3. “Pitch – 23. Acoustics. the apparent predominant frequenc sounded by an acoustical source.” (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, New York: Random House Publishing Co., 1968)

4. The activites are “music-like” because they employ sequences of sounds made by periodic vibrations. However, because of the cognitive levels of the animals involved, the “songs” are not abstracted, arrayed and integrated into an artwork and thus are not music. It is even likely that the animals experience their “songs” as integrated perceptual experiences, which communicate valuable information to them, or trigger a series of valuable actions in them. Because our physiology is so different from that of birds and cetaceans, we may not experience the “songs” as perceptually integrated units, but the respective animals might. Regardless of whether the “songs” are perceptually integrated or not to the birds, dolphins or whales involved, the “songs” are still not artworks, because they are not conceptually organized (Nottebohm 1989). Likewise, animals usually seem indifferent to human music. There are at least two reasons for this: their physiologies are different, thus they do not hear and perceptually integrate sound the same way humans do; and they do not have the power to abstract patterns from percepts the way humans do. Trehub (1987) found that, unlike animals, even human infants process music by relational means and do not rely on absolute pitch the way animals do.

5. In brain research, investigators have found evidence for the same general types of brain processes in the same areas for 95% of the subjects. I am reporting the kinds of functional asymmetries which have been discovered for those 95%. Thus, when I note that “language functions are in the left hemisphere and musical tone recognition in the right,” I am referring to this 95% of the population.

6. In a dichotic listening task, the subject is presented with two different stimuli to his different ears, simultaneously. Whichever stimuli the subject tends to notice indicates that the ear to which it was presented has an advantage for that kind of stimuli.

7. “Timbre – 1. Acoustics, Phonet. the characteristic quality of a sound, independent of pitch and loudness but dependent on the relative strengths of the components of different fequencies, determined by resonance. 2. Music. the characteristic quality of sound produced by a particular instrument or voice; one color.” (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, New York: Random House Publishing Co., 1968)

8. There is evidence that musicians in particular do what appears to be more logico-analytical processing of music in the left hemisphere (Bever and Chiarello 1974). Messerli, Pegna, and Sordet (1995) found musicians superior in identifying melody with their right ear. Schlaug and Steinmetz found that professional musicians, especially those who have perfect pitch, have far larger planum temporales on their left side (Nowak 1995).

9. Aphasia is a condition in which a person has difficulty in producing and/or comprehending language due to neurological conditions.

10. Polyphony is a type of music where multiple voices sing independent melodies. Often, the melodies selected do harmonize beautifully, but polyphony is not considered harmonic in the ususal sense, because it does not use harmonic chords in its composition, but relies on the incidental harmonization of the tones of the multiple melodies into chords.

11. “Psycho-epistemology is the study of man’s cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious.” (Rand 1971, 20)

12. Positron Emission Tomography is a technique which measures the rate of glucose metabolism in neurological structures during tasks. The brain uses a tremendous amount of glucose whenever it works. It is inferred that brain structures using the most glucose during a given task are the ones performing the neurological processes necessary for that task.

13. My thanks to Mr. Peter Saint-Andre for pointing out these possibilities.

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