Henry Flynt’s Weird Philosophy

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I first became a fan of Henry Flynt when I heard his incredible zonked hillbilly fiddle jams. Since I grew up in North Georgia as the son of an avid old time fiddle player, these distorted longform country-Americana-cum-raga freakouts hit some sort of deep mysterious sweet spot for me. It was only later that I learned discovered the online trove (henryflynt.org) of his oddball philosophical writings.

There’s more here than anyone could ever digest, but I’ve been making a go of it. In “The Meaning Of My Avant-Garde Hillbilly and Blues Music,” he talks about the value of ethnic musics over and above “serious culture” (this coming from a guy who, with Tony Conrad and Jack Smith, organized picket lines in opposition to Lincoln Center, MOMA, and Karlheinz Stockhausen).

For a white Southerner, this meant hillbilly music, although he doesn’t claim that the music somehow came naturally to him:

I had to learn the music of my native region of the U.S. as an assumed identity. I never had significant social contact with the people who created the musical language I use. The only ‘hillbillies’ and ‘rednecks’ I fraternized with were my relatives, who would not appreciate those labels, and were not musical.

In his 1962 essay “My New Concept of General Acognitive Culture,” he declares that (in addition to Serious Culture) the practice of mathematics “should be repudiated” — except that it might still be kept around because of its “entertainment, recreational value.” You can see him doing just that in another essay, where he proves that 1=2.

Perhaps the most under-acknowledged piece of writing here is the 1963 essay where, long before Lippard or LeWitt, he coins the term Concept Art: “an art of which the material is “concepts,” as the material of for ex. music is sound.” On this tip, I have a crackpot theory that conceptual art is properly understand as a development emerging from the practice of music composition rather than from, say, painting or sculpture. But that’s another blog post for another day.


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