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Yet provided that such objects pose no immediate physical threat, they can also produce delight. Therefore, even though we cannot grasp the vastness of the Milky Way or the power of Niagara Falls through imagination and understanding, we can grasp such things through reason, which can supply us, for example, with mathematical measurements that can comprehend their vastness and power math being a rational system that exists independently of the perceptible world. In this way, according to Kant, we can exult in the realization of the superiority of our reason even to such awe-inspiring objects, and this This is in fact the exact point of the lines: such a stairway could never be built; indeed, the very idea that it could be reflects the unrealistic materialism of the superficial lady the song describes.

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Yet the very impossibility of such a stairway existing is precisely what gives the image its sublimity. The sublime Kantian qualities of indefinability and limitlessness are sustained after the acoustic section of the song ends and Page introduces a new, twelve-string electric guitar part, accompanied by Jones on electric piano. The harmonically rich and complex chords that Page and Jones play are clearly inspired, evoking images of flight and vastness another Burkean sublime quality.

It is one of those rare musical moments that induces goose bumps, even after hearing the song hundreds of times. Soon afterwards, the music comes to a dramatic pause, and the band commences a bridge section that marks another sublime high point of the song. Page drenches the guitar in tape echo, giving his playing even greater drama and depth. Moments later, the solo climaxes in one of the most awe-inspiring moments in the history of rock The effect is sublime in the Burkean sense of overwhelming power, while the lyrics partake of the Kantian and Longinean sublime as well.

The paradox epitomizes the Kantian sublime. But the music of a few artists stood out, and Led Zeppelin was one of them. I could almost always recognize a track by them, and it was usually worth listening to. Some singers and groups are better than others at offering listeners richer, more enjoyable experiences. While some musicians break new ground, others, though enjoyable enough to hear, are derivative. Other groups kind of blend into one another and are hard to tell apart.

Who but their keenest fans can tell the difference between Journey and Foreigner, or between Styx and Boston? But what accounts for the differences between a great, genrebusting band like Led Zeppelin and their followers?

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Granted, creativity in music, or in any of the arts, is mysterious, but there must be something that sets Led Zeppelin apart from so many other hard rock and heavy metal acts. What could it be? In this he was like Zeppelin or any other band covering material written by other people. At the beginning of the dialogue when he and Socrates meet, Ion has just come from a competition for rhapsodes where he has won first prize. Ion was successful and renowned in his day, just as Led Zeppelin was in theirs, and like the members of Led Zeppelin, Ion could sound a bit full of himself.

Socrates habitually infuriated Athenian citizens by asking them pointed questions and showing them to be ignorant or confused about those very things which they thought they knew best. Without being too obvious about it, Socrates does the same thing with Ion. Perhaps, like Led Zeppelin, Ion would have done well to swear off giving interviews! If Ion really was knowledgeable or skilled then he could speak intelligently about any poet, not just Homer, since other poets address the same themes as Homer.

Nor does he really know much about the different subjects Homer discusses, such as chariot driving, leading armies into battle, medicine or divination. After all, he won first prize in the competition.

At the end of the dialogue Ion is left both confused and flattered. While being associated with the gods sounds like something good, it also implies that poets and rhapsodes themselves have very little to offer.

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The British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was a huge fan of the dialogue and even translated it into English, smoothing out the Socratic irony in a number of key passages. These same romantic conceptions have had an influence on some Led Zeppelin fans. When we examine a work of art—imagine a painting—we understand that it is a painting and not the thing depicted.

No one mistakes a painting of a horse for an actual horse, or a black and white graphic of an exploding zeppelin for a real one. But to make a graphic of a zeppelin look like or be acceptable as a zeppelin to an audience, the artist must follow certain rules or conventions.

These rules are relative and vary across artistic and cultural traditions. Something similar happens when we listen to music. All of this raises further questions: where do these rules come from and why do they change from time to time? Certain individuals have an inborn talent or natural gift for making art. Although immersed in an artistic tradition and capable of following all the rules of that tradition, these special individuals can make art that seems new and different.

They can make art that is original. In effect, they break or ignore the rules of the current artistic scene and create new rules that other artists will follow in the future. Later artists who come after the genius may be technically very proficient; but they will be followers rather than leaders.

[Read Book] Led Zeppelin and Philosophy: All Will Be Revealed (Popular Culture and Philosophy)

They lack that spark of genius that would allow them to make new rules themselves. For Kant, artistic genius is rare and fundamentally mysterious. Nor can he teach anyone else how to be original. We might say that the genius has a more productive imagination than others do, or that his imagination works in a different way. But these are just ways of restating the problem.

What makes the genius different from other talented yet unoriginal artists? We can only wonder. In the first, the creative artist is inspired by external forces. He or she is merely a medium or conduit through which the muses or the gods communicate, and makes very little contribution to the process. In the second, the creative artist deserves all the credit. He has a mysterious gift that elevates his work above that of other artists, who are competent but must be content to follow rules.

These competent but uncreative artists are like musicians in some cover bands. First, both are intensely individualistic. They also write as if these individuals could work in isolation. The great rhapsode is picked out by the gods and inspired by them. The only social context the rhapsode needs is an audience to appreciate his performances. But his real talent only becomes apparent when he can transcend those conventions, and perhaps also transcend the surrounding social context.


Tradition—and by implication the people who embody those traditions—must be overcome if genius is to shine forth. This is one of the major sources for the stereotype of the great artist as a solitary genius, doomed to be misunderstood by those around him. However, thinking of creative artists in this way leaves us perplexed when it comes to groups such as Led Zeppelin. How could four solitary geniuses work together? Second, both accounts of creativity are predominantly mental or psychological.

It is not his physical mastery of technique that makes him a great artist. Many artists have mastered technique but genius is rare. Finally, both Plato and Kant present creativity and originality in art as fundamentally mysterious, not to say inexplicable. Empirical research into the phenomenon of creativity seems to be a waste of time. Studying how creative artists actually work would apparently leave us none the wiser. If Plato and Kant are correct, there is no point in trying to figure out what made Zeppelin great. It Really Makes Me Wonder These two accounts of creativity—Platonic inspiration and Kantian artistic genius—have been hugely influential and still affect the way we talk about art and music today.

Both also fit very well the Romantic conception of the artist as a solitary, misunderstood loner. For certain kinds of musicians —especially singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell—these traditional models might have a place. But for thinking about the artistic and musical achievements of rock bands or other kinds of artistic ensembles, they fall flat.

In fact, thinking about creativity in terms of these two accounts can seriously obscure what is musically and artistically significant about the work of creative ensembles. There are at least two other things any decent theory of creativity would have to cover. Second, theorists need to take seriously the idea that creativity is a social and not simply individualistic phenomenon. Some creative works are best seen as emerging from the cooperation and conflict of a number of actors, rather than as the work of solitary geniuses.

Props—including body parts such as fingers as well as external props like notebooks, calculators, and computers—have long served as aids to cognition and memory. Children who were told not to move their hands or gesture while solving math problems did worse on the problems than children who were encouraged to gesture. Researchers disagree as to what role the gestures play, but it seems clear that they have a cognitive function.

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In other words, the gestures are doing some of the mental work that we previously assumed was confined to the brain. It might even illuminate the compulsion to play air guitar when no one is around —especially when no one is around! A lot of ideas that are now generally accepted as true sounded bizarre when they were introduced. According to the Parity Principle, if I work out a long division problem on paper rather than in my mind, the pen and paper constitute part of my cognitive process and part of my mind. Before the invention of musical notation, the only way to preserve a musical work was to preserve it in human memory.

If everyone who knew a particular tune died the tune would be lost forever. But if the tune is written down it will be accessible as long as there are people who know how to interpret the notation.