As a general rule, I have little patience for philosophy. I don’t have much interest in thinking about something based on abstraction. I remember sitting in a philosophy class in university, and the discussion being sidelined by a student who refused to talk about whether something was “true,” because she couldn’t accept that there is an objective truth. At one point, another student leaned in next to her, and told her that if she’d taken a prerequisite course — on the very concept of “truth” in philosophy — she’d already be prepared to put aside that question.
I left. The course, I mean. And I didn’t take any more philosophy again until law school, when I took one of the greatest classes of my life: we looked at the basic, underlying assumptions upon which we base the law, and how they are often in conflict, not only with cultural diversity but with the fundamental nature of human beings.
(I remember a lot of the other students didn’t like that class much — it wasn’t what they were expecting. I was one of the few, I think in the… say, 15-person seminar — maybe less, we lost people along the way — to look at that teacher and be like, “I’m right there with ya, buddy…”)
What does this have to do with Bowie. Well, not much, and a lot. I have, probably since January 15 or so, been planning to save this performance of Heathen for the last post on this blog. But today it goes up, because today it’s in my brain. What else is in my brain? This notion of mine, of dismissing out of hand discussion of philosophy or philosophical ideas.
I read something on a website recently that talked about the “…complex relationship between ourselves and our memories.” That idea, of having a relationship with memories — that they are apart from ourselves — kind of got to me. Because I am very aware of the role of memory in my own life. So, this idea is not, for me, an abstraction. It’s connected to my experience.
This is perhaps what art does better than philosophy: gives us the freedom to draw our own relevance from an idea, a piece of work. It’s not about the logical route through abstract ideas to come a conclusion that applies to the whole; it’s about our own perception of what the piece of art means to us.
(But, what do I know. I know nothing about philosophy and very little about art. Like I say, I left.)
I remember seeing an interview where Bowie said he is using Heathen here less in the religious sense than in the idea of challenging… social norms? authority? My memory of this is sketchy, so I really shouldn’t attempt to quote. I love this performance because it’s sparse and rich at the same time. I love this song because it acknowledges the limitations of words and the potential of sound. It is, in a word, brilliant.
(This particular clip — perhaps I’m the only one who would notice — snips out part of the lengthy instrumental intro. There’s still a substantial amount left, however, and enough not to ruin the extraordinary balance of sound and lyric in this song).