Readers dismayed by the appearance of a review essay on hipsters, hippies, and rock music in the pages of Modern Intellectual History should take a deep breath (you may inhale) and consider the following passage from John Dewey's 1934 Art as Experience:
Any idea that ignores the necessary role of intelligence in production of works of art is based upon identification of thinking with use of one special kind of material, verbal signs and words. To think effectively in terms of relations of qualities is as severe a demand upon thought as to think in terms of symbols, verbal and mathematical. Indeed, since words are equally manipulated in mechanical ways, the production of a work of genuine art probably demands more intelligence than does most of the so-called thinking that goes on among those who pride themselves on being “intellectuals.”
It's impossible to know what Dewey would have thought had he lived beyond his ninety-two years and confronted the rock music and counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. Would he have found “intelligence” at work in “acid rock” or hippie culture? Or would he have reacted as rock critic Greil Marcus did in the famous opening line of his review of Bob Dylan's 1970 Self Portrait album: “What is this shit?” I’d like to think he’d have given the music a listen, if not at the Fillmore then perhaps on his home stereo. After all, Dewey had this to say about music: “Music, having sound as its medium, thus necessarily expresses in a concentrated way the shocks and instabilities, the conflicts and resolutions, that are the dramatic changes enacted upon the more enduring background of nature and human life.” If any music expressed the shocks, instabilities, and conflicts of its day—and did so “in a concentrated way”—it was rock ’n’ roll. In fact, sonic culture had a privileged place in Dewey's aesthetics as an expression of the emotional life of individuals and communities. “Generically speaking, what is seen stirs emotion indirectly, through interpretation and allied idea. Sound agitates directly, as a commotion of the organism itself.” A philosopher who refused to sever sensory experience from cognition might well have considered whether somewhere in the commotion of rock culture there was also thinking. The question for historians committed to that proposition today is how and where to locate thinking in all the feedback.