Then I found his latest newmusicbox post asking whither the avant garde. I put my two cents into a comment box and got a viciously blistering response from one of the other posters – a fellow who has viciously blistered me before.
It all got me thinking about my relationship with the avant garde, of which I was a proud member in my student days. I remembered an undergraduate class I took on Greek mythology with Professor George Evica, who I later found out was under close watch by the FBI for his outspoken radicalism. (Of course, that was back in the days when outspoken radicalism was something I expected from college professors.)
Evica described for us two complementary approaches to leadership, which he called masculine and feminine. The masculine approach was to head off into the wilderness and challenge everyone to follow. In this model, the ultimate praise is recognition for originality, acclaim for doing things first.
The other approach was to lead from the center, to lead by making as many connections as possible. This approach, which he called feminine, prized relevance over originality.
This was quite a while ago, back in the early heyday of feminist theory. I don’t feel comfortable with labeling these complementary models as masculine and feminine now, because it seems like there is a short step between those labels and derogatory statements about people not being masculine or feminine enough.
But the idea of these two kinds of leadership still intrigues me.
The notion of the avant garde falls clearly in the first category: the front troops that boldly venture into the unknown.
It strikes me that our current president falls rather neatly into the second category: someone who wants to lead by forging connections.
To be honest, the image of a bunch of Neanderthals racing off in different directions saying, “ME FIRST, ME FIRST” has stuck with me. I think, over time, I felt less and less comfortable with that approach to leadership, and more and more inclined to search for connections.
Most leaders use some kind of combination of these two approaches. The truth is, both kinds of leadership are necessary for a healthy society. We don’t get anywhere without those people who are driven to try the untried.
And, of course, we aren’t a society if we have no center.