Frank Kogan (koganbot) wrote,
Frank Kogan

  • Music:

They put the world off at a distance

Tom asks over on his Blue Lines tumblr:

People make statements all the time about which music they like and why they like it.

Some of these statements will be false.

Is there any advantage to trying to guess which, or in assuming that certain people or groups are lying? Rather than simply assuming good faith?

I said in response that emphasizing motive has more risks than advantages. Not that - if we're aware of the risks - motive should be off the table; motives can matter, but their relevance is greatly exaggerated.** These were my reasons***:

To complicate your question further, there are two parts to it:

(1) People say they like something.
(2) People say why they like something.

One could tell the truth about the first but not the second - or, I suppose, the second but not the first: "I LOVE this song" (which I actually barely like), but then I give a reason that actually is true to my bare liking.

And also, we don't always know that we're not "telling the truth"; e.g. a woman believes that she somewhat likes her husband's favorite band - until she belatedly realizes that she never did much like it at all. And as for someone's not knowing all about - or even much about - why he or she likes something, well, that's all of us a lot of the time.

But here is my crucial point: we may know very well that what a particular person says may be influenced by a number of motives - he may be trying to impress us, she may be praising her best friend's band, he may be a publicist, she may be trying to shock - but nonetheless, as intellectuals, our speculation about or knowledge of someone's motives absolutely does not give us the right to dismiss what that person says. We ALWAYS have to pay careful attention to the actual words that someone uses, the actual argument that someone is making. For the argument itself may be strong, may illuminate the music, may make us rehear and rethink - whatever the person's motives for making the argument. Also, if we don't attend carefully to someone's arguments, we can find ourselves going, "this is his motive for saying X," when actually the person said Y. And without knowing what the person actually said, we can hardly claim to know the person's motive for saying it.

"There are always two reasons for anything," Michèle Bernstein told Greil Marcus. "There is always the good reason, and there is always the real reason." I'd say, more accurately, there is usually a "good" component, which may well be real, but there are other real components that go beyond the good reasons. But what I'm saying is that, if a thinker is any good, generally that thinker's good reasons matter far more than whatever is left over as motive or "real" reason. It is the good reason that can travel, as it were, can affect people and move people. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't probe into motives, into all reasons; sometimes subterranean "real" reasons can turn out to be better than the merely good ones. But our understanding must begin with close attention to what someone actually says and does, rather than with our speculations as to why the person is doing it.

There are writers like Plato and Nietzsche where you don't always know what ideas they're committed to, what they're just trying out, or when they're playing their own devil's advocate. But we don't get to ignore an idea just because we can't tell if the person who proposes it is serious or not.

Simon Reynolds once suggested to me what my motives for praising the Paris Hilton album were before he'd read a word I'd written about it.* And when Jim DeRogatis reviewed Chuck Eddy's heavy metal book, Stairway To Hell, Jim said that Chuck Eddy's shtick was contrariness, and he later told that Chuck's including Teena Marie in the book was just an in-joke for rock critics. But Jim never addressed what Chuck actually said about Teena Marie's Emerald City or what Chuck said his reasons were for including it in the book, or what Chuck was saying about heavy metal by including Emerald City (the first side of which rocks like a motherfucker, by the way).

In this way critics like SR and JD seriously cripple themselves. They put the world off at a distance without realizing they're doing so.

*EDIT: Simon originally did this in an email. Checking it, I surmise that he might have read a sentence, maybe even two, though I don't think those sentences were about why I liked Paris's music. Also, looking at the artifacts, it's bizarre to me, given my actual ideas, that Simon and I weren't allies, or at least colleagues.

**EDIT: Actually, I think there's something crucially important - in a lot of my thinking, anyway, which is an attempt to tunnel down to insights and impulses that are half-expressed and half-masked by the actual reasons we give and arguments we make - ...something crucially important that I hesitate to call "motive" but that I might end up placing in the category "real reasons" or "more reasons." That's what I'm trying to suggest in that cryptic sentence, "sometimes subterranean 'real' reasons can turn out to be better than the merely good ones." But most people who focus on motive don't care diddly-squat about tunneling down to insights and impulses. I elaborate on this thought down in the comments.

***The reasons I give in my post hardly encompass all my motives for making the post, however.
Tags: alienation, mutual incomprehension pact
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