Friday, December 21, 2012

The Role of Social Media in the World's Revolutions: the Italian Renaissance

When describing social media sites, many compare them to supersized versions of older social settings; a French salon, a town hall meeting, a Greek forum. Seen in this light humanists seem like a natural fit with social media, and Robert Greenberg's witty and enthusiastic lecture in his course for The Teaching Company (How to Listen to and Understand Great Music) tells the tale of how Renaissance humanists got together to usher in a whole new age in Western civilization. Beat that, Anonymous!

The story takes us back to 16th-century Italy, to a celebrated social club called the Florentine Camerata. These guys (yes, they were guys) devoted themselves to reimagining Western music so that it could attain the same potency of effect that classical writers ascribed to Greek drama. They were neurohumanists in that they wanted to create art that would "change the face of nature and the hearts of men" – that is, interact with the thoughts and feelings of the listener at the deepest possible level.  

This harkening back to classical techniques in order to attain a profound, almost magical level of aesthetic effect is what the Renaissance was all about. Ironically, the Camerata's success helped to end the Renaissance itself. Its finest hour was the premiere of Jacopo Peri's Euridice, a drama set to continuous music and first performed for the wedding of one of the Medicis (talk about high-powered humanists!). Euridice is now remembered as the first opera, and marks the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque era in music. As every good humanist knows, there is always another revolution waiting in the wings.

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