Robert Peters replies to me:
>>There were lots of paeans to liberty in democratic societies at the
>>time. It was something in the air in both Europe and North America. The
>>difference is that none of them were written by composers of Beethoven's
>>caliber. In fact, there's a lot of celebratory talk in the US right now
>>about "liberty and freedom," much of it from the people doing their best
>>to limit it. Thus, talking about Beethoven's *motives* (he "felt the
>>need") seems to me a bit curious.
>I cant see it. If an American composer composes an Ode to Freedom right
>now it is because of his or her *motives*, that is that he or she lives
>in a society where freedom is limited.
How about an American composer who wrote an ode to freedom just after
the American Revolution? That happened. Several times.
>>>Like a Kafka without neuroses and a nicer father would
>>>have written pretty different stories.
>>I've got a wonderful father, and I used to write Kafka-esque stuff,
>>mostly because I admired Kafka and wanted to see if I could make something
>>like that. I couldn't, but I doubt it was the accident of my particular
>>father. It was probably because I wasn't as good a writer.
>No, it was because it was just a kind of hobby - not an existential need
>like it was for Kafka.
This makes no sense at all. The only thing this argument does is
congratulate the person who makes it. You can't ask Bach, for example,
about his existential need because he's dead and he wrote nothing about
his motives. I could have the greatest need in the world to write
something wonderful and still come up way short. It seems to me the
norm, rather than the exception. After all, a genius at the level we're
talking about is fairly rare. Has more to do with *talent* rather than
need. More people *need* to do it than have the talent or craft for it.
There are lots of people with bad fathers who are neurotic who aren't
Kafka. So you've got to do without motive in deciding about the aesthetic
worth of a piece. Otherwise, you merely reason in circles -- to wit,
"this piece is good because the artist had an existential need and because
the piece is good, the artist must have had an existential need." And
in the meantime, what of value does this tell us about the lucky work
itself? Practically nothing. Samuel Johnson once wrote something to
the effect that only a fool never wrote for money -- an existential need
of sorts, I suppose.