[ExI] Objective standards?

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Tue Sep 29 20:59:04 UTC 2015

On Tue, Sep 29, 2015 at 11:35 AM, William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com
> wrote:

> there is no way to cut and paste to make a reply - too much to catch up on
> - just a few thoughts;
> I don't decry highbrow.  What did I say?  I do say that the critics seem
> to like writers that just don't work for me, like Zadie Smith and Jonathan
> Franzen.  Jeffrey Eugenides is a strange case:  I love the way he writes
> and have zero interest in the content of his stories.  I'll keep trying.

It just seemed you were decrying "high brow" art with comments like, "Has
to be tragedic to qualify for high art.  Hogwash and sheep dip."

Regarding critics, it depends on the critic and what they're focusing on. I
was surprised to find James Wood, a critic I really like, savaging Paul
Auster and Ian McEwan, both beloved of many readers and critics. You'd have
to present more here than just putting out that X gives Y a negative
evaluation. That tells us almost nothing. (And disagreement in itself tells
us little. That critic X and Z disagree over Y doesn't mean much until we
know what they're saying and why. Can't settle the matter otherwise. If
mere disagreement, too, is enough to chuck out objective standards, then
they go everywhere, since folks disagree on physics, medicine, history,
and, I believe, anything you can name.)

> I simply cannot say what it is about my favorite classical music that so
> moves me.  I can recognize great writing in composers who leave me quite
> uninterested in hearing more of them:  Schubert, Haydn, Bruckner. I cannot
> say why I love some Debussy and some not at all.  Could it be like a
> beautiful woman that somehow just leaves you cold?

You got me too. Someone like Rand would argue about one's sense of life and
how that gives a pre-conscious like or dislike of music. That would be
psychological, of course.

> Case in point:  I was listening to NPR and they were playing a symphony
> from the classical period.  It really didn't sound anything like a great
> composer at all, and so I concluded that this was another one of those
> forgotten composers they are trying to resurrect.  Let them stay dead, I
> say.  And then I heard a section that just sang to my soul.  And then it
> was back to blah blah.  And then another hint of greatness.  It was
> Mozart's Sym. #1, written at the age of nine.  What was it about the great
> sections that so contrasted with the blah ones?  I just don't know.  I just
> know it when I hear it.  It is as if you described a painting to me -
> colors, figures, etc.  I would have no idea whether I liked it or not.
> Maybe this just fits the idea of the gestalt - something that cannot be
> broken down and analyzed according to its parts.
> ​Huh?  I have nothing whatsoever against Shakespeare and Beethoven.  The
> latter, in fact, wrote the most consistently great music of anyone.  No
> blah stuff from him.

I think your question "Who actually reads Shakespeare and listens to
Beethoven?​" and your earlier comments made it seem like you have a lot
against both. :) Glad to find this is simply a wrong reading of you. Now,
do you agree that most cultural elites like Shakespeare and Beethoven --
they're both studied in, respectively, literature and music courses, no?
Sure, they have their detractors -- and surely there are some in and out of
academia who believe their status unwarranted, but I think they're
outweighed by a larger group that thinks their high status is deserved.

> Dan, I once has a midyear break of a month in which I read 50 books - all
> fiction, of course.  Probably most of them were in the range of Elmore
> Leonard, and no nonfiction, which I read much more slowly.  A great
> nonfiction book might make me stop and think for half an hour on a page.
> So I am probably reading between 250 and 300 books a year, depending on the
> percentage of nonfiction. Yes, of course I am retired.  My back won't let
> me garden or play golf or much of anything, and so I read.​

You can definitely read much faster than me. :) I have the same experience
with "serious" works and Elmore Leonard type works. The latter are often
brilliantly written and fast-paced. It took me about a week, e.g., to read
_The Dark Forest_, a recent science fiction novel by Cixin Liu. For me,
that's really fast. For you, that would be a snail's pace. :)

Sorry to hear about your back, though your productivity is going to other

​I find it strange, even disgusting and totally missing the point, to have
> classical music as sonic wallpaper.

I don't know. Some of the lighter stuff -- "A Little Night Music" or any
waltz by Strauss -- seems to be made for that. And what's contemplative for
one person might not be for another, no?

> It's sort of like speaking in incomplete sentences or fragments.

What's wrong with that? Isn't that how most speaking is done? "Who is
that?" "You mean--" "The one next to --" "I see -- she has the -- the new
what's it called?" "Yeah, yeah. She's got one of those and she's--" "Shush!
She'll hear us." Did that make any sense to you?

> The point is to put your entire concentration to it. ( Dvorak at a party?
> Schoenberg.  Now there's one to put on to make people go home!)

YMMV. I actually don't like going to a party and hearing music so loud I
can't talk to anyone else.

> I have taught music to nonmusicians and can report that most of them have
> few to no listening skills.  They listen as a gestalt - they cannot listen
> to two or more instruments at the same time, like as in a string quartet.
> They are used to listening to a singer sing a melody and the rest is
> background, which they would miss if it weren't there, but which they
> cannot remember if asked.

Well, that's the popular Bel canto construction, no? Nice melody over an
accompaniment. Worked for Chopin. Everyone can't be a musicologist.

> Even two instruments is too much challenge.  One kid said that it was
> impossible.  No, it's just something you haven't learned because no one
> tried to teach it to you.​

Probably an issue of exposure and guidance and maybe self-control. But if
it's all a matter of tastes, why care so much about it?

> As for critics, I read Jacques Barzun and not much else.  I try to get
> through Wood's review in the New Yorker and generally I don't, and in fact
> already do'nt like the book he is reviewing.  Lit crit is the only course I
> lacked to get a degree in English.  I would probably have argued my way to
> a F.

But you're generalizing from what then?


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