Mark Turner — “Lathe of Heaven”

This concept song on a jazz album, discussed by Mark Judge, sounds intriguing:

Recently jazz saxophonist Mark Turner released The Lathe of Heaven, an album which takes its title from a novel of the same name by science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin. The book describes the life of a man, George Orr, whose dreams actually become reality. He is encouraged by his psychiatrist, Dr. Haber, to start improving the world. Yet Haber’s utopian dreams end up making things worse. Le Guin has called The Lathe of Heaven “a Taoist novel” rather than a utopian or dystopian one. But many reviewers see in the book a Hayekian warning about liberal social engineers. It’s telling that no matter what good conditions are conjured by George Orr’s dreams, it’s never enough for Dr. Haber. He simply can’t be happy.

This is an intriguing confluence of artistic projects — an acclaimed jazz musician produces an album based on a noted science fiction novel with anti-utopian overtones. Yet because conservatives, unlike liberals, don’t have a decades-old infrastructure to publicize such a work — never mind a bright cultural mind to engage with it — The Lathe of Heaven will most likely go unnoticed by the conservative media. And the same conservatives who ignore it are the ones who next week will be bemoaning the fact that the left “owns the culture.”

If the left does own popular culture, it’s because they worked hard for it, employing the conservative values of perseverance and creativity. There is a chasm that separates the infrastructure that the left has erected over the last 50 years to celebrate and interpret popular culture and the tiny space that establishment conservatism allocates to popular culture. It is for this reason, more than any claim that American popular culture is irredeemably decadent and leftist, that the right seems lost in the world of movies, music, and bestsellers. Every month, if not every week, important works of popular culture go unnoticed by the right. These are often things that speak to people’s souls — films that wrestle with questions of honor, novels, like Le Guin’s about the meaning of sex and politics, music that explores the limits of self-sacrificial love.

One thought on “Mark Turner — “Lathe of Heaven”

  1. carleolson

    It’s on my list of “must get soon” CDs. Back in 1992 or 1993, I was walking outside of Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon with a friend, and we passed a lady–very ordinary looking in every respect. “That’s Ursula Le Guin.” I knew the name, but had to look up info later to fill in the blanks. Sure enough, it was her.



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