Friday, February 24, 2006

Addendum to my last entry...

I made a mistake in my last entry; rather than checking in the book to see whether the Beethoven was played, I just assumed it. So perhaps Marian's clear thoughts are a little strange. Or they attest to the power of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Just had to acknowledge that mistake.

Lucidity, Irrationality, and Live Music

Hannah and Marian's different reactions to the music in The Unicorn's Chapter Sixteen came as no surprise; it is not coincidental that Hannah had her breakdown in the presence of so much music, nor that Marian thought so deeply and incisively while Beethoven floated through the air. It is as if the music somehow enabled their divergent emotional reactions, simultaneously clearing the way for Marian's lucid musings and unleashing Hannah's pain. This scene suggests some of art's wide-ranging impact, and since we are in a blog - as Scott neatly put it "the World Series of opinionage" - I want to share some of my experiences with music, because I think they underline what happened in The Unicorn.

Live music changes me. I always regret not bringing a journal to live performances because I have these moments of incredible lucidity. Somehow, it unclutters my thought so that it flows through series of epiphanies. I don't always have such bursts of clarity at a performance - twice I became exceedingly irrational at a live performance; once I had a sort of panic attack, while another time I became euphoric, giddy. These reactions, however, certainly don't accompany "good" or "bad" music. I have felt the clarity at everything from my sister's middle school choir concerts to the opera. This is interesting, too, because, per Hume, I have very little "taste." I am the first to admit that my knowledge of and attachment to music is limited. So perhaps this emphasizes that there is value in experiencing art outside of taste. The clarity *is* an odd experience - neither the aesthetic rapture nor the intellectual engagement that are typical, I think, of art.

So I guess what I am left with at the end of this entry is a question for which I have no answers. What is this effect? Why does live music unclog (or trigger) us? I might think that it has something to do with the energy of a *real* performance. Listening to an album doesn't ever cause me to react so strongly - at risk of sounding new-agey, perhaps you are sharing the performers' energy at a live show - there is a sensible human connection absent on cd. Why this might elucidate my thinking or trigger my emotion, though, I can't say.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A poem, a rant, a conclusion.

A slight detour from formal discussion on aesthetics and the like, but when Emily came in and showed us slides on Monday, there was one that featured part of a Henry Dumas poem that shook me up for the rest of class. Not usually affected by poetry, but for some reason this one haunted me a bit, so I felt it appropriate to share the whole thing, of which we were only given the second through fifth lines:

Ulwaca ulooooooo!
Oh these cold white hands
they broke us like limbs from trees
and carved Europe upon our African masks and made puppets
Bring out the Pygmy juju
Let us, like little black spears, bore our way.

Damn. Now that that's out of the way...I definitely took to heart the other day's discussion of art that only becomes art when politicized, or of how politics change art's meaning (this was Jason, I think?). I gush about Camus all the time, but I distinctly remember the first time I fell in love with The Fall, because I read his pessimistic words on human selfishness and loved how well he grasped the human mind. I didn't feel any more hopeful about humanity or myself after reading that book, but I loved that he acknowledged ideas I'd kept to myself for years and thought true. It really felt relieving to know that someone else felt so strongly about how people think and gave me a reason to consider his reasoning as solid understanding. One of the things he/his main character had discussed was that humans pretend to condemn selfishness although we all understand in our minds that selfishness allows us to bring ourselves pleasure and happiness, and I appreciated his acknowledgement of that hypocrisy between action and thought. But then! It was brought to my attention that Camus was a Libertarian (this, of course, came after an unrelated incident where a Republican acquaintance tried convincing me that all people were selfish but that liberals hypocritically masked it by prioritizing others while in the spotlight). Once I considered the author behind the writing, and the possibility of politics playing more of a role in The Fall than psychology or emotion...the book was slightly ruined for me. Not because I'm firmly against Libertarian ideas, but because I'd grown attached to the book for the emotional connection that I (or anyone, regardless of affiliation) could make with it, and politicizing the work narrowed the audience that was meant to appreciate it.

I have no idea if any of that specifically applies to what you said in class, Jason. I don't care, I just had to get that out. But the point is that I hate the combination of art and politics as much as I hate analyzing music for its lyrics. Form is highly underappreciated these days.

A Beautiful Book

I own this book. It discusses aethetic proficency in desseminating statistical information. It is by and far the most beautiful art book I've ever seen.

On the importance of "good taste"

Since our discussion of Kant and Hume last Friday I have been fixated on the concept of "taste" as a means of societal betterment. Since the blog is essentially the World Series of personal opinonage, I think I'll take the opportunity to lay out some mundane, day-t0-day things that I find tasteful and distasteful; then I may be able to make a generalization about them or draw a conceptul line separating the different groups.

Some things that I (personally) find distasteful, though by no means expressly evil or wrong:

- lack of punctuality
- eating while standing up
- particularly informal and/or misspelled emails
- addressing strangers (such as when asking the time or for directions) using "hey" as your sole salutation
- asking a friend what a book they're reading is "about" before asking who it's by
- fast food

Some things that I find tasteful, though not necessarily virtuous or universally correct:

- good penmanship
- gift giving
- clean kitchens
- politeness to strangers and shopkeepers/ food-service employees
- good editions of paperbacks
- letter-writing (occasionally) in leiu of email or phone calls
- an interest in asking questions about things; also, understanding things that you don't really need to understand, simply because the workings of things are interesting, i.e. how a clock works or the rules of hockey (neither of which I understand)
- picture frames

Hmmm... before crafting this list I thought it would be much more... well, something. Anyhow, I think that if everyone considered "good taste," or for that matter any articulated aesthetic sensability something worth working toward, we couldn't help but be in a better place as a large group of people. As it is now, however, I get the impression that we're supposed to avoid concious decisions about how we speak, act, or dress on the grounds that they're contrivances and don't represent "who we really are."

Take, for example, a suburban 15-year old who comes across a Misfits record and, after some consideration, decides that, for whatever reason, the punk-rock ethos is preferable to his current way of looking at things and adopts the appropriate dress and reading material in a concious attempt to become a part of a movement to which he is otherwise unrelated. His actions would likely be labeled as pretension or artifice on the grounds that they were carefully and cerebrally considered beforehand. Conversely, the teen whose justification for wearing the same clothes, buying the same records, etc... was something like "I dunno, I just like it" would be seen as somehow more genuine.

The difference is that the first teen made an aesthetic decision, one that was a matter of taste (the punk-rock style appealed to his tastes in some way that his former style did not) , whereas the second teen has made no such decision, coming to his conclusions rather by some sort of cultural osmosis, but one that we would probably deem more sincere.

It seems to me that the concious cultivation of taste and aesthetic sensibily (in whatever form they take for you) would yeild a better, more interesting society. Our current "take what you've got and stick with it" approach appears limiting. People would probably enjoy more things if they were dedicated to approaching and understanding them as matters of good taste.