Day 100: Wednesday
Good Morning Zak,
So I really enjoyed your post about the top 1%. To answer your question, I think I may be in the top 1% of devil’s advocates… or maybe pedants.
I think I’d prefer the title, devil’s advocate. “Pedant” sounds a little too severe; it makes me think of the surprise concert lectures some artistic directors feel compelled to throw in after pieces of an otherwise perfectly pleasant evening.
Nothing against lectures in general, but giving them for an audience that’s expecting music is like giving eggplant to someone who thought they were getting chocolate cake.
Anyway, the point is, I’d like to take a minute to play devil’s advocate to your concept of the top 1 %…
From your post: “being in the top 1% in the world in musical ability won’t cut it”
Now, Zak, I think you’ll agree that when we talk about being in the top 1%, we’re talking about something objective. For there to be a top 1%, there needs to be a definitive ‘good’ and a definitive ‘bad’ that appertains directly to the object in question.
Today’s Sames and Opposites: what’s the difference between morality and mortality?
Most people have the intuition that morality is an object that works like that. There are good moral choices and there are bad moral choices. (Whether we can discern between the two is, of course, an entirely separate question.)
Naturally, it’s the letter t. Let’s pause a moment to appreciate the combination hashtags on this post: #mortality, #funny
But when it comes to things like music or the arts in general… there our intuition is generally less clear. It doesn’t seem impossible that the labels of good and bad art might derive less from the object than from the subject who perceives it.
All this is just my eggplanty way of saying that it’s not obvious whether there really is a top 1% for aesthetic decisions.
On the other hand, not all decisions that an artist makes are so subjective… What’s the difference between poetic lamentation and plain and simple whining?
Beatrice hath betaken herself to heaven,
on high in that dominion where God’s angels
are at peace, and you, O ladies, are left
bereft of her.
-Dante, Vita Nova XXXI
That’s one way to elegize. Here’s another:
Alas, with what deaf ears
Death hears my wretched cries
and savagely refuses
to close my weeping eyes!
–Boethius, Cons. Phi. I.m I
Now, I won’t pass judgment on someone in pain; I know that only makes things worse. I wouldn’t judge an artist for writing a lament one way or another… However, that doesn’t change the objective fact that whining is like fecal matter where you’re expecting eggplant.
To be fair to Boethius, I must point out that the author himself includes a sober palinode shortly after the passage cited above (I.m II).
What I’m trying to say is that even in the arts we don’t really have time for this kind of nonsense. There’s very little time. As each of us slowly parishes from the Earth, we get to decide what kind of expression to make along the way. We can whine or we can make a sound of thankfulness, but we can’t delay the inevitable end.