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Utopian music and the problem of luxury (1).

MUCH UTOPIAN THOUGHT grapples with the nature and/or necessity of discipline. Utopias of both the right and the left stress the need for discipline for the sake of cohesion, while anarchistic utopias reject outright the idea of discipline as the preserve of illegitimate authority. Discipline and its obverses, luxury and disobedience, are political issues of classical origin, constitutive of a long aesthetic discourse with serious implications for utopian design and imagination. Utopian discipline has usually been thought of in terms of the organization of people in a visualized space. Here I wish to consider the nature and legacy of discipline, and its obverse, luxury, in temporal aesthetic terms, in music. Susan J. Smith writes that "art matters for the study of society because artworks are cultural productions, which ... are inextricably bound into politics and economy" (502). Our attempts to illustrate this point have hitherto been almost exclusively visual; music, she laments, has yet to be considered properly in the geography of cultural politics. As much as the visual arts, music is linked to power, argues Smith: "Talk of harmony in sound paralleled the visual discourse of order" (507). Equally, Robert Walser writes of noisiness being "always relative to whatever articulates order in a discourse or a culture" (197). If music can provide a soundtrack to utopian discipline, then a lack of discipline has its sonic emblem in noise.

I intend here to delineate the implications of music and noise for utopian design, with particular reference to issues of discipline and luxury. "Luxury" is a fraught term, which in our own day is rarely used without the word "goods" implied or appended. In the longer view, however, luxury is a complex and dialectically fascinating concept. At various times, and in various contexts, luxury could refer to greed and sloth; it could signify general excess; or it could denote the violation of hierarchy, wherein people do not know their "right" place in society. Luxury, in Plato, in More, and in a great many utopian constructs, is necessarily absent. With the intensification of capitalism in the eighteenth century, luxury became a critical political and aesthetic concept invoked against the extravagance and excess of the newly powerful merchant and trading classes. It is only present in societies as are, societies which depend upon consumption, conspicuous and otherwise, as a propulsive economic force. When luxury disappears, so does the engine of jealousy and exploitation. As a strong moral concept, luxury is a critical euphemism for the twin evils of money and private property, generally absent from the ideal society (Jameson 36).

The relationships among music, luxury, and utopia are delineated in three stages: I will look at the broader theoretical issues which surround these relationships, in particular the unlikely common ground between Plato and Adorno on asceticism in music. Then I will focus on the discourse of luxury in eighteenth-century Britain, where luxury was invoked with renewed force as a neo-classical warning against the dangers of imperial and capitalist excess, I will examine the ways in which musical criticism overlapped with the discourse of luxury and allowed for gradations of noise and music which would accord to levels of sociability. Music "proper" was a socializing element in civil society; martial music was meant to instill social passions such as those which would embolden soldiers. Outright "noise," however, provided a soundtrack to dissocial, irrational, hierarchy-breaking riot, reflected in the exemplary fictional cacophony of Tobias Smollett's The Expedite of Humphry Clinker (1771). Luxury and noise were mutually euphemistic in Smollett, and while the meaning of luxury has changed, the moral associations of "noise" retain their implications for the utopian thought-complex.

1. Music, Utopia, and Utopianism

Theodor Adorno believed that "under no conditions is music to be understood as a 'spiritual' phenomenon, abstract and far-removed from actual social conditions" ("On the Social Situation of Music" 130). For Ernst Bloch also, music can reflect the material tensions of society but with transformative energies which prefigure and anticipate change. Its vaguely mimetic and revolutionary aspects combined, music reflects the contusions of the here and now, but also designs the not-here, the not-now, and the not-yet of the utopian. In Adorno and Bloch music may not be a "spiritual" phenomenon, but it has, when it is to the good, a quasi-mystical quality which can transcend administered and ideologically complicit culture. "Only in Beethoven," for Bloch, "does the self advance further toward the discovery of that certain ground that perhaps extends all the way into the final God" (65). Music's ideally--it is, as Walter Pater famously asserted in The School of Giorgione, the art to whose condition all others "constantly aspire" (86)--is often figured in terms of God or the absolute. This figuration also appears in Adorno's "Music and Language: A Fragment," wherein a distinction is made between music and discursive (or intentional) language. Intentional language mediates the absolute, but the absolute always escapes, just as language can never quite capture the whatness of any abstraction. Music, on the other hand, "finds the absolute immediately, but at the moment of discovery it becomes obscured, just as too powerful a light dazzles the eyes, preventing them from seeing things which are perfectly visible" (4). Adorno's treatment of music is in this metaphorical respect close to Plato's allegory of the cave in Book VII of The Republic. In the cave, the shadows on the wall provide an analogy for discursive language. A hypothetical figure emerges from the cave to be blinded by the sun's beams. In both Plato and Adorno, there are equivalent aesthetic gradations towards the good; but the good--or the absolute--can be blinding to a limited conceptual realm. With Plato, the incomprehensibility of a "higher" music to those in the lower realm is consistent with the administration of particular modes of music to a stratified utopia. The utopian production and re-production of ideal citizens requires aesthetic regimes. The republic, then, has a theoretical soundtrack, in which music is necessarily disciplined and censored so as to sustain the utopian temperament.

In the third part of the third book of Plato's Republic, Glaucon and Socrates, having discussed the content and form of poetry in the good society, move on to discuss the best rules for the music which would, in song, accompany that poetry. The Lydian mode is seen as mournful, and hence at odds with the style of poetry agreed upon. It can, in its Mixed and Extreme variants, be rejected, because "even women, if they are respectable, have no use for them, let alone men" (99). The musical modes best suited to relaxing and drinking are "the Ionian and certain Lydian modes, commonly described as 'languid'" (100). These modes are of no use for training soldiers; and so they too must be rejected. Only the Dorian and Phrygian remain. Understood to instill courage and self-control, these are the modes that will
   represent appropriately the voice and accent of a
   brave man on military service or any dangerous
   undertaking, who faces misfortune, be it injury or
   death, or any other calamity, with the same steadfast
   endurance. And I want another mode to represent
   him in the voluntary non violent occupations of
   peacetime: for instance, persuading someone to
   grant a request, praying to God or instructing or
   admonishing his neighbour, or again submitting
   himself to the requests or instruction or persuasion
   of others and acting as he decides, and in all
   showing no conceit, but moderation and common
   sense and willingness to accept the outcome. Give
   me these two modes, one stern, one pleasant, which
   will best represent sound courage and moderation in
   good fortune or in bad. (100)

The republic's music would not, then, require instruments with many strings or a "wide harmonic range" (100). Apollo's lyre is to be preferred to Marsyas' flute, though the shepherd in the country, "might have some sort of pipe" (101). To enforce this preference is to purge the state "of the luxury from which we said it suffered" (101). But the purge must be extended to the field of rhythm. "Elaborate and varied combinations" are to be discarded in favour of rhythms which "suit a life of courage and discipline" (101). They agree to consult Damon the musician regarding which rhythmic forms might be the opposite of those which "express meanness, insolence, madness, and other evil characteristics" (101). Damon, though tending to specializing mystification with his talk of dactyls, iambics and trochees, is at least qualified to give an informed answer on the subject. But even without his expertise, they can figure out by themselves that beauty and ugliness are functions of rhythm, but rhythm and music are determined in the first instance by the words which are appropriate to the good society. In poetry, music, and in rhythm, "ugliness of form and bad rhythm and disharmony are akin to poor quality expression and character, and their opposites are akin to and represent good character and discipline" (103).

In The Laws, which designs Plato's more rigorously disciplinarian utopia of Magnesia, the role of music in socialization is again central. Music which is undisciplined in form may be considered pleasurable, but it must be disciplined into straighter form for the good of society:
   Take someone who has right from childhood till the
   age of maturity and discretion grown familiar with a
   controlled and restrained style of music. Play him
   some of the other sort, and how he'll loathe it!
   'What vulgar stuff!' he'll say. Yet, if he's been
   brought up to enjoy the strong appeal of popular
   music, it's the disciplined kind he'll call frigid and
   repellent. So as I said just now, on the score of
   pleasure or the lack of it, neither type is superior or
   inferior to the other. The difference is simply this:
   the one musical environment is invariably a good
   influence, the other a bad. (290)

On musical terms, Adorno seems to argue against Plato's utopian credentials:
   Plato's Republic is not the utopia it is called by the
   official history of philosophy. It disciplines its
   citizens in terms of its existence and will to exist
   even in music, where the distinction made between
   soft and strong modes was by Plato's time little
   more than a residue of the mustiest superstition.
   The Platonic irony reveals itself mischievously in
   jeering at the flute-player Marysas, flayed by the
   sober-sided Apollo. Plato's ethical musical
   programme bears the character of an Attic purge in
   Spartan style. ("On the Fetish Character in Music
   and the Regression in Listening" 31)

Adorno clearly struggles with the disciplinarian component in Plato: not with its plausibility, but with the Republic's very design as an ideal society. That said, Adorno sees the utopianism, if not the utopia, in Plato's thought. He therefore keeps the Spartan aesthetic in play as a means of resisting an administered diet of musical inanity. Plato's utopianism is, in this sense, retrieved dialectically in opposition to consumerism:
   The concept of the ascetic is itself dialectical in
   music. If asceticism once struck down the claims of
   the aesthetic in a reactionary way, it has today
   become the sign of an advanced art; not, to be sure,
   by an archaicizing parsimony of means in which
   deficiency and poverty are manifested, but by the
   strict exclusion of all culinary delights which seeks
   to be consumed immediately for their own sake, as
   if in art the sensory were not the bearer of
   something intellectual which only shows itself in the
   whole rather than in isolated topical moments. Art
   records negatively just that possibility of happiness
   which the only partially positive anticipation of
   happiness ruinously confronts today. (33)

Ultimately, Adorno sees a place for musical Spartanism: as a form of resistance to the false happiness and false consciousness propagated in, and by, popular music.

Adorno is generally and understandably considered to be an elitist in music, particularly in his dismissive attitude towards jazz and popular forms; his elitism has been excused, however, in considering the object of his critique to be, not necessarily the noise of popular music, but "a decline in the variety and quality of noises that are listened to" (Barry 170). If the key negative term in Platonic utopia is "luxury," central in ethical notions of social order prior to the enlightenment, Adorno's negativity is directed towards the endemic blandness of mass production in which luxury is more "neutrally" applied to the consumption of cultural goods. Here, I examine "luxury" and asceticism as conceptual continuities between Plato and Adorno by taking in the modifications of eighteenth-century musical and social thought, where the vocabulary of musical criticism overlaps most explicitly with discourses of luxury.

II. Music, Luxury, and Utopia: Eighteenth-Century Contexts

Luxury, as John Sekora has shown in his excellent study is, historically speaking, a complex term. According to whatever definition is used, however, the study of luxury in the eighteenth century is generally one which links aesthetic and literary discourses to a social background of emerging capitalism and expanding empire. Bequeathed from a long classical and neo-classical tradition, the discourse of luxury dictated that societies would sustain themselves only through frugal self-sufficiency, sturdy morality, and standards of physical vigor. Such qualities were threatened by capitalism and imperialist excess. To maintain an empire, more mercenary armies were needed, resulting in the decline of indigenous military culture, while imperialist capitalism brought in more luxury commodities which would distract citizens from their duties to society, hierarchy, and community. The eighteenth century saw the intensification of the first capitalist agricultural revolution and the first phase of British imperialist trade, which is why the idea of luxury figures so prominently in British and Irish writing at this time, from Swift through to Gibbon, Goldsmith, and Smollett. "Luxury" retained its Platonic implications for music through the eighteenth century: society was threatened on one side by the languorous enjoyments of soft, sensuous music, and on the other by a dissonance which, it was feared, would engender dissidence. Properly composed, music was to be affecting without being disruptive or languorous; it was the soundtrack which produced and reproduced order.

In the Critique of Judgment (1790), Immanuel Kant speculated that the vector of musical effect went from sensations to indeterminate ideas, whereas painting, more instructively, went from determinate ideas to sensations. Music, therefore, was a lower, more trivial art form "because it merely plays with sensations." The subtraction of referentiality in music could be taken as a means of dissociating music from society altogether. Kant himself was utterly indifferent to music and thought it a potential nuisance which did "violence to the freedom of others who are not of the musical company" (174). Kant hints at the trope of noise pollution when he compares the effect of music to an environmental odor, such as that emanating from a perfumed handkerchief. The amoral, non-referential quality of music did, therefore, have contagious social possibilities. In spite of himself, Kant demonstrates the potential social impact of music.

Music, in the general run of things, has been considered as separate from social and political concerns; and musicological criticisms have come to situate themselves outside of the social. Edward Said, for one, has cautioned against such easy separation; in Musical Elaborations (1991), he proposes that music's autonomy from the social sphere is a relatively recent development, which is subtly to suggest that this idea of autonomy might itself require historicizing:
   because music's autonomy from the social world has
   been taken for granted for at least half a century,
   and because the technical requirements imposed by
   musical analysis are so separate and severe, there is a
   putative, or ascribed, fullness to self sufficient
   musicological work that is now much less justified
   than ever before. (xvi)

To place this separation in a longer historical current, Said suggests that "during the period from the seventeenth century on, music for the most part plays a role in what Antonio Gramsci has called the conquest of civil society" (xx). Music was domesticated before it was rarefied and specialized out of social existence. Supplementary to this point is Theodor Adorno's diagnosis, paraphrased by Said, that, after Beethoven's death in 1827, "music veered off from the social realm into the aesthetic almost completely" (12).

In his often obscure, often suggestive Noise: The Political Economy Music (1977), French economist Jacques Attali anticipates Said and counters the disassociation of music and society: "The simultaneity, of economic and musical evolution is everywhere present," writes Attali, who includes, critically, those disruptive sounds which are not generally considered musical: "The noises of a society are in advance of its images and material conflicts" (10, 11). Music's order "simulates the social order, and its dissonances express marginalities. The code of music simulates the accepted rules of society" (29). In his foreword Fredric Jameson adumbrates the dialectical totality which is the object of Attali's book. Economics, writes Jameson, "is generally considered to be a science of the base or infrastructure, whereas music traditionally counts among the most rarefied, abstract, and specialized of all superstructural activities" (vii-viii). Attah, in his critique of their mutual interaction, posits, like Bloch, the transformative potential of music and noise. In addition, Attali's greater sympathy towards popular music and the noise of mass culture is illustrative of a positive, future-bearing utopianism at variance with Adorno's "bleak bias toward the retrospective" (xi). Attali offers, for Jameson, "a new model of the relations between culture and society that valorizes production in the present at the same time that it invigorates an enfeebled utopian thought" (xiv).

Attali's writing can be considered in the context of Jameson's broader historicist imperative, "in the context," that is, "of a general revival of history, and of a renewed appetite for historiography" (vii). For Attali, accordingly, the eighteenth is the century in which music "became an element of social status, a recollection of the hierarchical code whose formation it encoded" (50). (2) Hence luxury, as a category in aesthetic and social discourses of eighteenth-century Britain, is a euphemism for sedition and transgression. "As an intellectual construct," writes John Sekora, "it is similar to the Great Chain of Being" (2); luxury, in such a chain, is not knowing one's "place":
   For the many, reckless and bewildered, the proper
   role is submission to the will of the virtuous
   guardians. It is luxury and a violation of order for a
   bondsman to seek freedom, a woman to rule a
   household, or a mechanic to govern an estate. It is
   luxury to seek that for which one has neither
   capacity nor understanding. Freedom belongs to the
   truly rational. All the rest is luxury. (31)

As a chastening concept, "luxury" bespeaks national decay--England's repetition of the errors of the Roman empire. It appeals to a variety of social groupings at odds with a venal modernity: "Jacobites, Tories, political 'outs' of many varieties; Catholics and Puritans; monarchists, primitivists, and classicists; philosophers, moralists, and ecclesiastics; pessimists and malcontents; those who had rank and fortune and those who had rank and fortune to lose" (89). In a broader alignment, other eighteenth-century aesthetic texts supplement Jacques Attali's view and assist in the extrapolation of a broader confluence of discourses, variously involved with systems of social order, utopian and otherwise.

In Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), communal protest is perpetuated amidst the aesthetic effect of loud sounds:
   The noise of vast cataracts, ragtag storms, thunder,
   or artillery, awakes a great and awful sensation in the
   mind, though we can observe no nicety or artifice in
   those sorts of music. The shouting of multitudes has
   a similar effect; and by the sole strength of the
   sound, so amazes and confounds the imagination,
   that in this staggering, and hurry of the mind, the
   best established tempers can scarcely forbear being
   borne down, and joining in the common cry, and
   common resolution of the croud. (1: 250)

One of Burke's editors, J. T. Boulton, is of the opinion that this passage refers to the "Black Dog" riots, which took place in Dublin on May 21, 1747, while Burke and Oliver Goldsmith were both students at Trinity College Dublin. Two were killed in the riot, and the college authorities publicly admonished Goldsmith for his leading part. Goldsmith's own treatment of the effects of noise in his natural history compendium (1774) closely' echoes Burke's depiction of the process of identification in, and with, the "mob":
   All countries are pleased with music; and if they,
   have not skill enough to produce harmony, at least
   they seem willing to substitute noise. Without all
   question, noise alone is sufficient to operate
   powerfully on the spirits; and, if the mind be already
   predisposed to joy, I have seldom found noise fail
   of encreasing it into rapture. The mind feels a kind
   of distracted pleasure in such powerful sounds,
   braces up every nerve, and riots in the excess. (2:

Joy, rapture, riot, excess: Goldsmith's choice of words is indicative of the connection between sound and society. "Luxury" comes from the Latin noun "luxuria," which translates, according to W. W. Skeat's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (1910), as "riot, excess, extravagance" (qtd. in Sekora 28).

Goldsmith's vocabulary bespeaks a pervasive connection between sound-aesthetics and anger, which together have implications for group--or "mob"--behaviour. Scot James Beattie proposed in 1762 that % quick succession of noisy notes, like those we hear from a drum, seems to have some relation to hurry and impetuosity of passion" (143). The words associated with response to noise are generally pejorative, suggesting as they do arbitrary, rancorous, and uneducated enthusiasm, in his Observations of the Present Slate of Music and Musicians (1762), for instance, John Potter writes of the psychology of musical appreciation and the mental qualities which are conducive to the "correct" reception of music:
   Upon a diligent and impartial enquiry of ourselves,
   we shall find, that a mind rightly qualified for the
   study of the sublime science of music, should be
   capable of taking the representations and images of
   things set before it by the variety of sounds, in as
   lively, distinct, and exact a manner, as a mirrour of
   fine glass reflects the objects presented to it, simply
   as they are, without any alteration. On the contrary,
   a mind not qualified, does either magnify or
   diminish the figures of things; or possibly, multiplies
   or lessens their number or variety; confounds their
   natural order, or inverts their situation: destroys the
   contexture or harmony, or falsifies the proportions;
   parts that are connected, it divides; and connects
   those which in reality have no natural agreement in
   music. (17-18)

Potter's categorical certainty regarding the psychological responses of listeners and minds less qualified than his own is itself somewhat arbitrary. It would be reasonable to presume that he is simply distinguishing between the musically apt and the tone deaf. Natural musical appreciation, however, is for Potter a function of social position:
   Among mankind, there are different degrees of
   capacity. From the greatest, we may count
   downwards thro' the lower orders, till we descend to
   minds almost wholly destitute of apprehension, and
   which are incapable of discerning the beauties in
   musical composition. (20)

Other eighteenth-century aestheticians discussed music in formal terms, but their formalist discussions also partook of Platonic notions of musical effect. Daniel Webb's Observations on the Correspondence between Poetry and Music (1769) make an implicit distinction between music "proper" and sounds which "agitate the nerves with violence," noises whereby "the spirits are hurried into the movements of anger, courage, indignation, and the like" (9). Webb's distinction is echoed by Henry Home, Lord Kames: "It must be premised that no disagreeable combination of sounds is entitled to the name of music: for all music is resolvable into melody and harmony which imply agreeableness in their very conception" (1: 137). To this exclusion, Kames enters a footnote that horrifying sounds might be judiciously used in an opera "to accompany the representation of a dissocial or disagreeable passion." But such sounds "cannot be dignified with the name of music" (1: 138n). Music proper, in Kames' very limited scheme, involves (and inculcates) harmony, and non-musical effects in music are a danger to social cohesion.

There is, for Kames, the potential in music "to promote luxury and effeminacy; of which we have instances without number, especially in vocal music" (1: 53). The utopian dimension in Kames' thought arises in his quotation of Polybius' description of the people of Cynaetha, an Arcadian tribe:
   As the Arcadians have always been celebrated for
   their piety, humanity, and hospitality, we are
   naturally led to enquire, how it has happened that
   the Cynactheans are distinguished from the other
   Arcadians, by savage manners, wickedness and
   cruelty. I can attribute this difference to no other
   cause, but a total neglect among the people of
   Cynaetha, of an institution established among the
   ancient Arcadians with a nice regard to their
   manners and their climate: I mean the discipline and
   exercise of that genuine and perfect music, which is
   useful in every state, but necessary to the Arcadians;
   whose manners, originally rigid and austere, made it
   of the greatest importance to incorporate this art
   into the very essence of their government. (qtd. in
   Kames, 1: 54-55)

In Arcadia, claimed Polybius, all children were taught to perform hymns and songs of praise in honour of Gods and heroes. Equally, all military manoeuvres were inculcated by music. In deviating from this regime, the Cynaetheans became savage and uncouth. Such a consideration, says Polybius,
   ought to engage the Arcadians never to relax in any
   degree their musical discipline; and it ought to open
   the eyes of the Cynaetheans, and make them
   sensible of what importance it would be to restore
   music to their city, and every discipline that may
   soften their manners; for otherwise they can never
   hope to subdue their brutal ferocity. (qtd. in 1: 55)

Not always militarist, music in Arcadia was occasionally % necessary alleviation of manual labour and a harsh climate" (Ferguson 22). By turns disciplining and recreational, music in a classical utopia such as that of the Arcadians contrasts, for Kames, with the Francophilic luxuriousness of the court of Charles II, where another of the fine arts, drama, has produced a malign influence over political culture. Contemporary comedies of manners have, throughout the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries, engendered licentious and "effeminate" excess. Equally, the view that luxury and effeminacy should accord in particular to vocal forms of music seems to be borne out for Kames in the contemporary vogue for French and Italian opera. (3)

Kames was influenced by Charles Avison, for whom passions "of a social Kind"--"Courage and Contempt of Death" (22)--are excited by the martial sounds of drums or trumpets. There are three levels of passion, then, which accord to three levels of (un)sociability. For Kames, music "proper" excites no passions. For Avison, certain types of martial sound--perhaps Beattie's middlingly "noisy notes"--excite "social passions." Horrifying sounds or outright noise--bereft of any discernible "notes"--accompany dissocial passions. Music "proper," then, is the preserve of civil society, unperturbed by passion; martial sound generates the social passion of the military; and noise accompanies and excites the "mob" and its dissocial passions. The first two types are equivalent to Plato's allowable forms, and are conducive to the Spartan-influenced asceticism of his utopian Republic. The third is luxury.

Tobias Smollett's Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) is for John Sekora a central text in Britain's self-analysis regarding luxury. It is not surprising, given Sekora's cross-section of the disaffected, that Smollett was a Scottish Tory inclined to disparage newer money. From the Critical Review through to Humphry Clinker, luxury was generally presented by Smollett as an English problem caused by excessive commercialism; the Scots were comparatively impervious. Humphry Clinker is itself a noisy book, in which the main character Matthew Bramble, the subject and object of the author's satire, repeatedly aligns sonic and social dissonance. Just as Sekora makes Humphry Clinker a central text in respect of luxury, so is it also a key text in relation to noise, yielding several instructive examples of the connections between these two discourses. Bramble's critique of the degeneration of Bath and London identifies as symptomatic bad architecture, slipshod construction, crowded houses, high prices and extravagance, and noise. His disdain for noise and luxury together takes on various sexist and xenophobic forms:
   Two negroes, belonging to a Creole gentleman, who
   lodged in the same house, taking their station at a
   window in the stair-case, about ten feet from our
   dining room door, began to practise upon the
   French-horn; and being in the very first rudiments
   of execution, produced such discordant sounds, as
   might have discomposed the organs of an ass.... In
   the mean time they continued their noise, and even
   endeavoured to make it more disagreeable; laughing
   between whiles, at the thoughts of being able to
   torment their betters with impunity. (31)

Bramble laments that luxury is the cause of all current societal ills. Explicitly linked to the new capitalism and imperialism, the real problem with luxury is that it permeates all classes and generates a broad culture of insubordination:
   All these absurdities arise from the general tide of
   luxury, which hath over-spread the nation, and
   swept away all, even the very dregs of the people.
   Every upstart of fortune, harnessed in the trappings
   of the mode, presents himself at bath, as in the very
   focus of observation--Clerks and factors from the
   East Indies, loaded with the spoil of plundered
   provinces; planters, negro drivers, and hucksters,
   from our American plantations, enriched they know
   not how; agents, commissaries, and contractors,
   who have fattened, in two successive wars, on the
   blood of the nation; usurers, brokers, and jobbers of
   every kind; men of low birth, and no breeding, have
   found themselves suddenly translated into a state of
   affluence, unknown to former ages; and no wonder
   that their brains should be intoxicated with pride,
   vanity, and presumption. Knowing no other
   criterion of greatness, but the ostentation of wealth,
   they discharge their affluence without taste or
   conduct, through every channel of the most absurd
   extravagance; and all of them hurry to Bath, because
   here, without any further qualification, they can
   mingle with the princes and nobles of the land.
   Even the wives and daughters of low tradesmen,
   who, like shovel nosed sharks, prey upon the
   blubber of those uncouth whales of fortune, are
   infected with the same rage of displaying their
   importance; and the slightest indisposition serves
   them for a pretext to insist upon being conveyed to
   Bath, where they may hobble country-dances and
   cotillons among lordlings, 'squires, counsellors, and
   clergy. (36-37)

Bramble complains that "the portentous frenzy" of luxury and inflation is so widespread that "the very rabble and refuse of mankind are infected" (57). His tirade permeates the entire book, and everywhere his disdain is imbued with an aversion to the sounds which accompany luxury:
   In short, there is no distinction or subordination
   left The different departments of life are jumbled
   together--the hod-carrier, the low mechanic, the
   tapster, the publican, the shop-keeper, the
   pettifogger, the citizen, and courtier, all tread upon
   the kibes of one another: actuated by the demons of
   profligacy and licentiousness, they are seen every
   where, rambling, riding, rolling, rushing, justling,
   mixing, bouncing, cracking, and crashing in one vile
   ferment of stupidity and corruption--All is tumult
   and hurry.... The diversions of the times are not ill
   suited to the genius of this incongruous monster,
   called the public. Give it noise, confusion, glare, and
   glitter; it has no idea of elegance and propriety. (88)

Bramble's attitude can be contrasted with that of his nephew Jery, who derives mirth and merriment from the sound of the throng: "This is what my uncle reprobates, as a monstrous jumble of heterogeneous principles; a vile mob of noise and impertinence, without decency or subordination. But this chaos is to me a source of infinite amusement" (49). Smollett's book is itself polyphonous and noisy; this is its very nature as an epistolary, dialogic novel, in which the authorial tone alternates between the fascistically facetious and the mirthfully liberal. The novel's trajectory gradually reveals northern Britain as a utopian scene. At a remove from the noise of urbanized England, Scotland embodies pastoral possibility: its inhabitants still possess some of that calm vigour which is both a buffer against luxury and a sign of luxury's absence.


Earlier in the century, Smollett's countryman David Hume implicitly addressed, in his essay "Of Refinement in the Arts," the relationship of luxury to utopia. The elimination of the vices attendant on luxury was incompatible with human nature as he saw it, which is to suggest that it was, in a pejorative sense, utopian. The elimination of vicious luxury requires "a miraculous transformation of mankind" (287); for Hume, writes Christine Rees, there were "clearly defined limits of utopian engineering" (69). Admitting a degree of luxury in society in order that social and economic development can proceed, Hume moved beyond the moral discourse that pits luxury against austerity, arguing instead for an ethically neutral acceptance of luxury as a stimulant to economic growth. A concomitant shift occurs from the ascetic, austere, military virtues towards the gentler virtues of "industry, knowledge, and humanity" (278). This shift is the beginning of that transition according to which luxury is transferred from a Platonic, moral sphere into a more specialized economic argot. This process has continued into the twentieth century, in which luxury comes anemically to denote "high income elasticity of demand" (Berry 9).

The moral gravity of the term is historically and geographically determined. In our contemporary division of intellectual labour, luxury is the fetishizing of reified goods, those "culinary delights" to be consumed for consumption's sake. In musical and in social terms, these are the objects of Adorno's critique of an ill-disciplined regression of listening. Such a conclusion might help to explain Adorno's famously churlish attitude to popular music, an attitude not unlike Bramble's disdain for the noises of Bath. Luxury, in music and in society, is a thought-complex with a long history. Elitism in Plato and Adorno co-exists dialectically with a utopianist disdain for, respectively, luxury and capitalism, but sits less comfortably, and less dialectically, with the transformative and revolutionary implications of insubordination and noise.


(1) I am grateful to the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences for their support in the development of this paper.

(2) Though often suggestive, Attali's style is in places rather obscure; for example: "the ritual status of music has been modified by the network it subtends. It has become a simulacrum of the solitary spectacle of the sacrifice. The spectator has become an accomplice to individualized murder" (36). Noise has been criticized as a work "that made a noise wholly out of proportion to its merit" (Nattiez 47). In her afterword to Attali, however, Susan McClary explains that "The subject of Attali's book is noise, and his method is likewise noise.... It is, therefore, quite conceivable that those trained in music will perceive the book's content also as noise--that is, as nonsense--and dismiss it out of hand" (149).

(3) In this prejudice, Kames echoes John Potter, who celebrates English music as an optimal union of the vernacular with German and Italian styles; but of the French he writes: "Their taste is intolerable, a strict sameness runs thro' the whole; delicacy they have none, nor do they seem to be sensible of the powers of harmony. Indeed it seems admirably well suited to please the gloomy dispositions of those whose minds are enslav'd with bigotry, superstition and priestly power; and therefore never has, nor it is hop'd never will be admir'd by a great and free people" (42).

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Date:Mar 22, 2005
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