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CLASSICAL  January 2005

CLASSICAL January 2005

Subject:

Re: "Jeopardy" Players Spurn Classical Music

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 10 Jan 2005 13:49:55 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (114 lines)

Richard Tsuyuki replies to me:

>>>It's not every individual's duty to appreciate every work of genius
>>>in every medium and field.
>>
>>I disagree.  Everything I don't know is my lack.
>
>The point of these quotations is not to stir up ill feelings between the
>posters.  But I was intrigued by the notion that one should be
>*embarrassed"
>by ignorance, and that it is one's *duty* to appreciate genius.

I don't know about duty, myself.  I don't even know that what I'm trying
to appreciate is the work of a genius.  But, yeah, I *am* embarrassed
when I fail to understand something or haven't heard something or can't
appreciate something that many others do.

>Personally, I would *like* to know everything, to have experienced
>everything.  But I can't decide whether I *ought* to know everything.
>Duty, to me, usually implies a duty to someone or something external
>to oneself.  Unless, perhaps, Mr. Schwartz meant, "It's your duty *to
>yourself*."

"Duty" doesn't enter into it for me.  I just believe that in general
it's better to know than to not know.

>Part of the problem, of course, is that there are not enough hours in
>the day, enough length to a life, to know everything.

You know, I hear this excuse a lot, and at some level, of course, it's
true.  But too often it becomes an excuse that allows one to become
satisfied that one doesn't know.  At best, it grants us some sort of
dispensation, but surely not a free pass.

>Each of us has to choose, "what do I want to hear/read/see/think
>about next?" How to decide?  Is the generalist who is familiar with
>all periods of music, art, literature in some way better off than the
>impassioned specialist in Mahler who has never sought out a single note
>of Stockhausen or a word of Merwin?  The easiest answer is, do what you
>want.  Sure.  But how do we decide what we want?  Is it some innate,
>subconscious reaction beyond our control, or do we have a way of
>intelligently discussing where and why we focus our energies?

No idea.

>This leads to a pet philosophical question of mine: is there objective
>value in art?  Does it make any sense to say that Beethoven is "better"
>(in an encompassing sense) than Britney Spears, or that "Karamazov" is
>a "better" book than "The Firm"?

"Better" is a loaded term.  I've yet to hear of a value of art that's
truly objective.  Also, "better for what?" The most I can say for a work
of art is that it occupies my time and that it occasionally gives me
insight into myself and to others.  But such insight isn't confined to
Karamazov and The Classics.  Pop literature can also do the same.  One
of my favorite books, 1600 Floogle Street written by Don McGuire in the
Sixties, prophesies much of the current American political climate, for
example.  However, I think you can say, "This engages me" and why.

>Does Beethoven make me a better person, happier, more able to contribute
>to society, than Britney?

Not necessarily.  Nor does reading Milton make you more humane than
reading Harvey Kurtzman.  Trust me on this.  I've worked in a lot of
English departments.

>I feel like telling people to see "Casablanca" and avoid "Titanic", but
>why?  If they enjoy "Titanic" immensely, is there anything unfortunate
>in that?

Not necessarily.  The question is, at what level do they enjoy it?
Is a person who enjoys Beethoven on the level of "It's got a nice beat,
and you can dance to it" aesthetically superior to the person who enjoys
Britney at the same level, simply because it's Beethoven?  I'm skeptical.

>Or should I rather be embarrassed by a lack of attendance history at
>monster-truck rallies?

Tom Wolfe wrote very well - I might say profoundly - about monster truck
rallies.  Maybe embarrassment is called for.

>Also, what about science and other fields of knowledge?  Should one be
>embarrassed by lack of familiarity with quantum chromodynamics?  With
>Hilbert space?  How to transplant a kidney?  Urdu?  Zoroastrianism?  The
>history of the World Series?  Is there something that makes us feel that
>the arts contribute to humanity in a more generally applicable way than
>other fields?

Yes, I'm embarrassed by my lack of scientific.  I simply haven't the
talent for it, but I don't pat myself on the back for this.  My general
lack of interest in sports I feel I make up for by my interest in great
sports writing, particularly the writing on baseball.

>My own vague opinion (which I realize is, ultimately, completely
>unsupportable), is currently something along these lines: humans have
>evolved biologically as well as culturally to be capable of discerning and
>enjoying great complexity.  Therefore, the enjoyment of complex things is
>in some way true to or even extending the nature of what makes us human.
>The broader the spectrum of complex art that we are exposed to, the more
>comprehensive a picture of humanity we thereby obtain.  (It may even make
>us better equipped to navigate the complexities and subtleties of modern
>life, but that opening up a whole different discussion.)  Ergo, it is
>"better" to cultivate the enjoyment of the broadest possible range of
>complex art (even with a seemingly associated loss of ability to enjoy
>things like pro-wrestling) than to spend time in narrower, simpler, more
>primitive forms of entertainment.  Either that, or I'm just a snob, it's
>all completely subjective and cannot be usefully discussed.  I don't know.

The problem is that there's a crude equation that "Complicated is better."
God knows, it's just as easy to write complicated trash as simple trash.
Also, there's some marvelous simple stuff, as anyone who knows folk music
will tell you.

Steve Schwartz

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