just saving a couple things I've written
by, Mar-25-2012 at 19:31 (1057 Views)
Regarding excellence of taste - as far as I can see, there are two separate things we need to distinguish: awareness, and preference. Let's use literature because it's easier for me to illustrate the difference.
I do not enjoy 1984, Brave New World, or Fahrenheit 451 very much because too many details are meaningless, too much of the dialogue is unnatural, no symbolism is extensively developed, the moral of the story is too obvious, there is not much intertextuality, and the wordplay is not clever. They all have a lot of insight into the modern world and effectively call attention to extremely important problems, but those aspects of the novels are not so important to me. A different person with a similar awareness of literary devices could enjoy them enormously, simply by having different preferences. For example, I'd guess that Isaac Asimov was at least as well aware as I am of the flaws of The Mists of Avalon, and that I'm roughly as familiar with its virtues as he was, but he enjoyed it and I didn't, because that work's particular set of virtues pushed his buttons and not mine, while its particular set of flaws pushed mine and not his.
As an example in the other direction, The Lord of the Flies has a number of problems that I recognize - constant violations of the laws of nature - but I like it very much because it is loaded with extensively developed symbolism - even allegory! - constant allusions to Paradise Lost, relatively few insignificant details, and the moral of the story is easily missed unless you read fairly carefully. Readers who demand physical plausibility and moral clarity will not enjoy it as much as I do, even if they have exactly the same awareness.
So there are four really good, maybe even great works of literature. If someone is about as aware of such things as I am, we can disagree about the novels, enjoy them differentially, and have very rewarding conversations about them. I mention those four because I have had such conversations with people whose insight into literature is at least as penetrating as mine: we generally see the same stuff, but we feel differently about it. We have different tastes, but no one's tastes are superior or inferior. Great conversations, the world moves along swimmingly.
I can imagine a reader with a strong dislike of vulgar humor and moral ambiguity, who really loves stories about reasonable characters who overcome their emotions and behave rationally, or stories where an unambiguously good character defeats an unambiguously bad character; a reader indifferent to symbolism and puns, who doesn't enjoy comparing and contrasting scenes or characters to each other, or puzzling out political/religious implications of a story, or analyzing scenes from minor characters' points of view. Such a reader could understand Shakespeare as well as I do, and yet not enjoy his most famous works. I haven't met such a person yet, but I can imagine one. Her awareness could be equal to or greater than mine, but we'd have very different tastes.
But I've often talked to people who read Catcher in the Rye without being aware of, say, the fact that Holden losing the foils in the subway probably signifies something, or who like Chronicle of a Death Foretold without being aware that the fallibility of memory is a major theme. It's not that they don't like the kind of thing that Salinger or Garcia Marquez are doing in the books; they're just unaware of them. They have a right to their opinion, and I won't try to convert them, but I'm not going to seek them out for conversations about literature, because I see that they don't have a lot to offer. (Of course if I somehow met my younger self, I wouldn't talk to him about literature either, unless he were in a mood to listen relatively quietly.) Even when they like the books, I suppose it's good that they got some pleasure, but clearly I enjoyed them at a deeper level.
When someone reads, unaware of the kinds of things I've been discussing, we could be critical of that person's reading ability, whether they agree with me or not - though it wouldn't be polite conversation, and I wouldn't expect people to like me if I made a point of doing so. So there can be greater and lesser insights into works of art, but matters of taste are a different issue.
It would be bad enough to publicly flaunt my awareness of literary devices and language, visibly "turning my nose up" at people who for whatever reason haven't been able to educate themselves about such things; it would be even worse to pretend that my particular, arbitrary preferences are inherently superior to anyone who disagrees with me about the merits of a work.
In other words: having greater insight into a work of art is admirable, and though it is undeniable that some people don't have as much insight as others, it's not good conversation and anyone who makes a habit of pointing out their superior insight (even if they actually do have it) should expect to make enemies rather than friends. And insulting someone merely for having different tastes is even worse.
All this translates fairly straightforwardly into the realm of music. I'm not aware that the drummer hasn't played a measure exactly the same way all night, someone else is: he undeniably has insight that I don't. Two people both aware of that, one who thinks it's amazing and another who thinks it's excessive showboating: different preferences. Neither of them are wrong.
Unless they start insulting each other over it: then both of them are wrong.
Fortunately, that's uncommon in my experience. Like probably many people on this site, I'm blessed to have a fair number of friends who are professional musicians, composers, scholars, or work in the music industry. They all know far, far more than I do about music. They sometimes tell me about something that they think (usually correctly) that I haven't heard in the music, but they've never insulted me (and I certainly haven't insulted them) for liking something they didn't, or not liking something that they did.
I'm trying to think of the last time that happened to me in real life (as opposed to the internet). Not as good-natured teasing, but as actual personal condemnation for different musical tastes. I really can't remember any specific instance, but I'm sure it must have happened sometimes in early high school. The grunge rock guys, the rap guys, the country music guys, the top-40 guys - someone must have said something sometime about the Christian rock I was into back then. By my third or fourth year, I remember when I first got into Yanni, and a few of my friends were visibly skeptical, but none of them took an insulting tone about it, and at least one converted.
But for some reason it happens on the internet all the time.0 Likes