Reflections on the White Album

The title the White Album comes from an album by the Beatles (1968) which is better known as the album The Beatles; it is also a title of a reflective essay by Joan Didion.

There is something intriguing about the White Album that fascinates me. It is considered one of the hallmarks of the Beatles, one of the most best-selling albums of all time, but it is marred with various controversies – it served as the fore marker for the separation of the Beatles, where you can see the deviations of their artistic vision (demonstrated through unequal layering of tracks and the conflicts they had during production). The album’s songs were written through extensive meditation, without the influence of any drugs, and I think that there is something about sobriety then – perhaps, something about realising the quality of one’s own voice (which counts as individualism? in relation to others) that caused them to separate in the end. With the Beatles as one of the more prominent symbols of the counterculture of the 1960s (which saw the rise of the modern hippie, as well as Bohemianism), maybe we could say that their breakup was inevitable. However, even though the counterculture fell apart, fragments of it remain in society today (whether we call it strands of individualism, inventions of ‘art’ cinema, or the likes of these).

I think that the reflective essay by Joan Didion captures this mood quite well (taken in excerpts).

We tell ourselves stories to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be ‘interesting’ to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest’s clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens.

We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

Her essay captures the mood of the 1960s, with all the turbulence, uncertainty and explosion of information that we experience too today, but she ends indicating that perhaps there is a way out of this paranoia and uncertainty. Perhaps there is.

Or at least we do for a while. I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling.

During those five years I appeared, on a face of it, a competent enough member of some community or another, a signer of contracts and Air Travel cards, a citizen…

I often try to look for dimensions to the Cartesian plane, establish endogeneity between cause and consequence, stand in strong moral relativist positions, but this is a paradox in itself – to believe in Cartesian frameworks is to limit dimensions to thinking, to establish endogeneity is to think in terms of causes and consequences and standing in strong moral relativist positions makes it difficult without a moral compass (and I’ve attempted to turn to philosophy to, but ended up with more questions).

Que sera, sera.

I have more to learn.

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