Monday, June 02, 2014


"Not funk but funk conquered is what is worthy of admiration and makes life worth having been lived." (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, p. 38.)

I used to think that the meaning of the word "funk" was similar to that of "the blues". That is, I thought that the musical style was named after a particular mood that the music was to help you deal with. After all, "funk" like "blues" has long meant "depression, ill-humor", "low spirits". Now, granted, there is something about a traditional blues number that more directly reflects the sadness it is about than a corresponding funk number, which seems altogether happier. But isn't this, I thought, precisely because the music is not supposed to express sadness but transform it into something else. Not so much reflect it, perhaps, as deflect it—send it off in a new and more useful direction. Funk, then, may just have been more emotionally successful, somehow shedding its etymology altogether, the Mothership reaching escape velocity, as it were. Indeed, the phrase "funk conquered" today reminds us more of George Clinton than Ludwig Wittgenstein, right? Similarly, early blues music was not intended, I imagined, to dwell morosely on the feeling but to banish it.

In the end, however, it turns out I was wrong. The word "funky" today leverages an older meaning of the word, namely, "musty", i.e., a thick odor, to indicate something "earthy, strong, deeply felt." ("My breath is earthy strong," says the dead mistress from the "Unquiet Grave".) To make something funky, today, is not to sink into a mire of despair. It's a question of putting "some stank on it".

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