Saturday, September 09, 2006

John Coltrane and Philosophy

You may have seen a whole score of books in recent years attempting to relate philosophy to popular culture: The Simpsons and Philosophy, The Sopranos and Philosophy, etc. Since I have never watched a single episode of either program (and will not), these books fail to draw me into their orbit. These kind of books strike me as somewhat pathetic on one level (pandering); but the idea has some merit: take a widely known and easily recognized item in culture and philosophize about it. I believe there is a title (or will be) called Bob Dylan and Philosophy, which I assume could delve deeper than ruminations cartoon characters or Mafia figures. Perhaps...

This brings me to my theme and scheme: John Coltrane and Philosophy, a book I would like to edit. The thought welled up within me while reading an unrelated essay in Harpers. Jazz is better conceived as an expression of folk culture than pop culture; its roots are deeper, its respect for tradition is better, and its ties to objective standards are stronger. The appreciation of jazz--like philosophy--requires more effort than the "use" (in C.S. Lewis's phrase) of pop culture. Coltrane was a deeply serious musician and thinker, although he wrote next to nothing and granted few interviews. He was a man of few words.

I can think of at least one chapter to write in this proposed volume--"The Worldview of 'A Love Supreme'"--but I blank on other contributors. What philosophers can write philosophically about John Coltrane? There must be some out there. If so, please let me know, since I'd like to pursue this project. Finding a publisher should be another hurdle, I know.

(Another idea I have is Kenny G and the Decline of Western Civilization.)


Travis McGowen said...


Maybe another chapter could be "Elvin Jones and Ethics" or maybe "Blue Train and What is Beauty"?

Timo_the_Osprey said...

Dear Dr. Gruthuis,

Some warning, please, when you're going to drop a humor bomb like that Kenny G comment. I almost hurt myself falling out of the chair!


Timo_the_Osprey said...

Aargh. My apologies. That is, of course, "Dear Dr. Groothuis..."

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Actually, I learned quite a bit about philosophy from the Simpson's book. The editors goal was to try to get more people interested in philosophy, which might be appropriately called "pandering." But I say, "Who cares?"

(I would like to edit The Office and Philosophy and write a chapter on the character of Dwight.)


Jonathan Erdman said...

Let me know when I can pre-order this book!

This is a fascinating concept and would be a fantastic contribution to literature. I think that it would interest both philosophers and musicians alike. In fact, it would probably be good to have some philosophically minded musicians to contribute.

Personally I have always been fascinated by the structured/unstructured nature of Coltrane's music. Coltrane works within a system and structure, but in much of his works he seems as though he is pushing the boundaries and seeking to break out. I noticed this quite especially as I was listening to the first few minutes of "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." Then there is the discussion of his avant-garde period...

I'm drawn to the aspect of Coltrane that seems to leave his music unresolved: A tension between the music as a whole and the expression of the individual.