Monday, January 09, 2012

Finding Beauty In The Oddest Places

I am happy to note an addition to the roll of my usual readings. The blog Per Caritatem offers thoughts on a variety of subjects, much as I wish I could do. The latest offering concerns what could be called, for lack of a better phrase, a sociology of knowledge that refuses to grant pride of place either to the signifier or the thing signified. Rather, each exists in mutual relation to the other by means of a convention that, nevertheless, provides shape and meaning that transcends each.

Moving freely between French post-structuralist understandings of language and an examination of the atonal music of Stravinsky, the post suggests in a far more clear, nuanced, and detailed way something I have long proposed: rather than determine the aesthetic quality of any particular musical experience as something to be judged qua music we need to consider any musical composition in light of all sorts of things within which its significance may lie. This is why I believe it is possible to teach people to hear a variety of musical expressions as beautiful precisely because they fulfill the purposes for which they were intended. Rather than judge any particular piece of music - from Bach to Black Sabbath - by an arbitrary canon created for a particular purposes, it might be better to consider the conventionality of such aesthetic tools.

Traditional western musicology hears non-standard musical styles, from the varieties of indigenous folks musics to non-Western music in its marvelous variety, in ways ill-suited to the task at hand. Which does not render such musicological analytics erroneous in and of itself. Rather, it is a simple case of choosing the wrong tool for the job at hand.

Rather than unlearn what we have learned, as Yoda would insist, we need only consider that our notions of beauty, that arrangement and relationship among parts and the whole that affect us, are not universal. The experience may well be; that which we call beautiful, however, may differ greatly, and some may be unable to appreciate in a visceral way, the beauty that would grasp another immediately, and (perhaps) unmediatedly (to coin a word, apparently).

I consider myself strange for any number of reasons. Not the least of them being that I find myself praising the beauty in each of the following. My guess is most would find, perhaps, one or another, beautiful while dismissing the rest as either pretentious nonsense, noise for noise's sake, or (perhaps the most devastating critique of all) passe, irrelevant to our life hear and now. All I can say to others is simple enough: Hear it as it was intended to be heard, by those for whom it was composed. This is the first lesson in opening up oneself to the variety of beauty that human beings create in the world. Don't judge a work of art. Let the work judge you.

Virtual Tin Cup

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