Sunday, March 24, 2013

Is Taylor Swift our greatest living poet-philosopher?

Date: March 24th, 2013 6:31 PM
Author: phi beta cappuccino (
extra like the olive oil)

Consider her latest album, Red. In it, she discourses on the five traditional branches of philosophy: metaphysics ("Everything Has Changed"), epistemology ("I Knew You Were Trouble"), logic ("Begin Again"), aesthetics ("Sad Beautiful Tragic"), and ethics ("We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"). But she invigilates these categories ruthlessly in her opus on the futility of human action ("I Almost Do"), her paean to faith against reason ("State of Grace"), and her enigmatic Socratic dialogue on Western decline ("The Last Time", featuring Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol).

Just as Bob Dylan used his nasal whine to focus our moral attention on the everyday details of life, like race riots and police shootings, Taylor Swift uses her flinty, almost Canadian voice to assure us that her songs are trite morality plays, artifice based in part on a true story. Without either the utopian simplicity of The Eagles or the deceptive audacity of REO Speedwagon, she needs the mask of biographical incident to disguise the disturbing implications of her radical skepticism. Does she believe the world floats on the back of a turtle? Who knows? We'll have to wait for the Playboy interview.

Taylor Swift's artificiality is not unique in pop music. She plays America's fag hag, just as Justin Beiber plays an eternally molested child, right down to his milksop Christianity, and Nicki Minaj confirms every stereotype about transgendered prostitutes from Queens. These archetypes give us a means of confronting the confusion and despair of post-industrial life. We have strangled the last king with the entrails of the last priest, but we still want authority and we still want absolution. Enter Taylor Swift, herself innocent yet confessional, forgiving every deviance yet relentlessly preserving them for the record in surprisingly catchy tunes. She is both Socrates and Diotima, Dante's Beatrice and Milton's Uriel.

So, to answer the question which motivates this poast: is Taylor Swift our greatest living poet-philosopher? No, that's probably Michael Sandel.