Akin to self-mutilation?

Ken Myers tells this story about an acquaintance of his (the rest of his lecture may be found here):

I know a young man who used to live here in Charlottesville who, in his mid-20s, spent a year or two learning about and coming to like jazz. He had an uncle who was very knowledgeable and passionate about jazz, but for my friend, it was a foreign country. He believed, however, that there was something objectively present in jazz to merit his time and energy, so he started a regimen of deliberate, thoughtful, attentive listening.

And in time, as he came to understand what was going on, as he became familiar with the vernacular, he came to really like jazz.

Now he was telling a friend of his, a young woman about his age, about this journey in artistic discovery, and she was at first shocked by his account, and then apparently rather disturbed. She had nothing against jazz, but she thought that learning to like a new form of music was a sort of unnatural act, not the sort of thing respectable people did. He was flabbergasted by her response, and as she explained it, he realized that she believed music and musical tastes were so subjective, and so arbitrary, that an effort to change one’s tastes was almost immoral; it was to violate yourself in some way. One’s subjective tastes were the most intimate, almost sacred part of one’s being, so to try to transcend or alter them would be akin to self-mutilation.

This young woman, like most of our contemporaries, could not imagine that musical forms presented an opportunity to know something about the nature of things, making the cultivation of new layers of musical literacy a worthwhile project.

Music critic Julian Johnson has observed that in our day, “in matters of musical judgment, the individual can be the only authority.”

Category: Poets, Painters, and Playwrights Comment »

Comments are closed.

Back to top