China – Guardian of Western Civ

David Goldman compares “transgressors” Milo Yiannopoulos and Yuja Wang. Milo’s transgressiveness is his essence; Wang, a thirty-year-old Chinese pianist, plays the Western repertoire, her transgressiveness evident in her habit of performing in micro-dresses and revealing evening gowns. (Goldman wrote this just before Milo’s public humiliation.)

Despite her Asian roots and her flouting of concert convention, Wang has penetrated and grasped Western music as few Western musicians have or can:

Ms. Wang is much more than a digital gymnast, though. She came to Beethoven with none of the preconceptions that clog up the interpretations of Western musicians. We Westerners want the Beautiful to also be the Good. We want our Great Artists also to be exemplary human beings. That is an insuperable obstacle to proper performance of the late Beethoven, who was a nasty piece of work. . . . There is something cold and impish about Ms. Wang, an affinity for the Mephistophelian side of Beethoven. It is uplifting and frightening at the same time. Beethoven’s nasty humor is a thousand times more frightening than, say, the tubby bombast of a Richard Wagner. It is the heartless joke of a composer who could uplift you if he felt like doing so, but would rather tease and confuse you for his own amusement.

I hasten to add that I understood none of this until Yuja Wang showed it to me. Never have I been so humbled as a Westerner, trained in the great tradition by teachers whose own training goes back via Heinrich Schenker to the immortal Johannes Brahms. I disliked the Hammerklavier Sonata, thinking it a compositional failure on the order of the Great Fugue. I found out that the problem was that I had never heard it performed properly, and it was musically too difficult for me to work it out from the score. A 30-year-old Chinese woman is teaching Beethoven to the West, if it wants to hear. Compared to that, leapfrogging the West in mathematics and physics would be minor accomplishments. Yuja Wang has penetrated to the inner sanctum of the Western soul, including its nasty side, and understood us better than we understand ourselves. China well might overwhelm the West, not by brute force and mass production and discipline, but spiritually and intellectually. If China wanted to lull the West into complacency in preparation for world conquest, it could do no better than to perpetuate the myth that the Chinese are bright, disciplined and hard-working, but characteristically uncreative, clever at stealing the intellectual property of others but unable to invent anything new on their own. If you believe this, you have no idea what is about to hit you. On average, Chinese may be less inclined to innovate than Americans—the culture is inherently more conformist—but that says nothing about their capacity to innovate.

Then the punch line: “East Asia values discipline, concentration, long years of practice and utter mastery; with an exceptional head start and rare talent, Yuja Wang has earned the imperial right to conjure up Beethoven as a kindred spirit and transgress in his giant footsteps. The West values offhandedness, improvisation, luck and self-made celebrity, the qualities that make Milos Yiannopoulos a figure of admiration for the Right and an object of obloquy for the Left. In whose hands are the great accomplishments of the West more secure?”

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