Avant-Garde & Chinese Philosophy are Intertwined Concepts

***In the fall of 2014 I took a Chinese Philosophy course at Converse College with Dr.Delapp. On April 14, 2015, I engaged in a conversation about Avant-Garde music with Dr. Siegwart Reichwald, who is currently the conductor of the Converse College Symphony Orchestra and the professor of music history. Both experiences (for reasons that you will read) are now connected to my brain. Thank you, Converse College for a liberal arts education!! ***

Avant-Garde’s endless need for the new and unexpected is NOT in disagreement with Classical Chinese Philosophy’s need for tradition and ritual. Both concepts have everything to do with each other.

Tradition (Li) for Classical Chinese Philosophy is what makes a community, unites a community, and what fortifies a distinct set of values. Tradition is the entirety of human interaction with others from the way we talk, eat, dress, etc. Tradition in Chinese Philosophy, explains that the past is rich in human experience and full of wisdom. The sage kings are the epitome of human perfection, and they should be emulated. For Chinese Philosophy to live a human life a person has to live life with tradition. 

In contrast, the Avant-Garde movement breaks away from anything traditional. It asks for the constant renewal of the new and pushes limits. The point is to always showcase the unexpected. My favorite Avant-Garde piece is John Cage’s “4’33.””

Here is a video if you want to experience it for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY7UK-6aaNA

In “4’33″” the audience, the environment the piece is “performed,” and the conductors ARE THE MUSIC.Further, each person experiences the piece differently according to their position in the room, the noises they might make like coughing or deep breathing. No instruments are played. The section embraces avant-garde to it’s fullest capacity.

Back to Chinese Philosophy, in the Analects there is a core concept that human beings through tradition can express their humanness(ren). Even though, tradition is necessary to communicate ren — I argue ren changes with the person. Each person is a whole microcosmic perspective of the universe. No one person will have the same experience as a human being and therefore even if a person continues with tradition as their expression of self — then their experience and their expression of the tradition will be unique in contrast to others. If each traditional expression from one human being to the next is unique, then Avant-Garde is in us and our every day, when we understand tradition like the one embraced in Chinese Philosophy.

-l.l.Morales, Philosophy Major, Converse College


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