Play Jazz

Improvise the Carnival of Delight.

Santiago, Chile, 2011

Hey Adbusters,

Jazz improvisation is a fine paradigm for a future society of carnival. The conclusion to Terry Eagleton’s short exploration, The Meaning of Life, tells us how:

“A jazz group which is improvising obviously differs from a symphony orchestra, since to a large extent each member is free to express herself as she likes. But she does so with a receptive sensitivity to the self-expressive performance of the other musicians. The complex harmony that they fashion comes not from playing from a collective score, but from the free musical expression of each member acting as the basis for the free expression of the others. As each player grows more musically eloquent, the others draw inspiration from this and are spurred to greater heights. There is no conflict here between freedom and the good of the whole, yet the image is the reverse of totalitarian. Though each performer contributes to the greater good of the whole, she does so not by some grim-lipped self sacrifice but simply by expressing herself. There is self-realization but only through the loss of self in the music as a whole. There is achievement but it is not a question of self-aggrandizing success.”

“Instead, the achievement — the music itself — acts as a medium of relationship among the performers. There is pleasure to be reaped from this artistry and, since there is a free fulfillment or realization of powers, there is also happiness in the sense of flourishing. Because the flourishing is reciprocal, we can even speak of, remotely and analogically, a kind of love. One could do worse, surely, than propose such a situation as the meaning of life — both in the sense that it is what makes life meaningful, and — more controversially — in the sense that when we act in this way, we realize our nature at its finest.”

“The goal would be to construct this kind of community on a wider scale, which is a problem of politics. It is, to be sure, a utopian aspiration, but it is none the worse for that. The point of such aspirations is to indicate a direction, however lamentably we are bound to fall short of the goal. What we need is a form of life that’s completely pointless, just as the jazz performance is pointless. Rather than serve some utilitarian purpose or earnest metaphysical end, it is a delight in itself. It needs no justification beyond its own existence.”

So yes, let’s continue to play what’s not there, to create our own carnival of delight.

All love,

Richard Hayward, Cornwall, UK