Sunday, June 24, 2007

Further Adventures in Taste

This blog contends that there is no taste that is "essential" to a person. All tastes are contingent. (See previous posts for some complications of this.)

This is seemingly self-evident from the degree to which people's love of Bukowski, Godard, Kurt Vonnegut, etc. directly correspond to the age of their first encounter. I could never argue that I "would always have loved" this or that, since, had I been of a different age when I first read/saw/heard something, it may have seemed entirely otherwise.

This is why aesthetic "close-mindedness" is so unconvincing. No one is born with their tastes, whether in favorite foods, their "type" of sexual partner, or favorite records: we are subject to so many determinants, familial, social, developmental, accidental, economic, that it is a mixture of wild arrogance and extreme self-effacement to imagine that one's tastes (principles, etc.) are not entirely a construct. A construct not entirely of our making, of course, but even a radical self-remaking cannot escape precisely what it is reacting against (and probably within).

What is frustrating, then, is the almost-unavoidable illusion that one is fundamentally this or that sort of person. In a previous post, I defined the canon as the transcendent version of this illusion: a taste for Shakespeare is still historically/linguistically contingent, and yet it cannot be imagined otherwise in any real time. On the other hand, my 17th century self certainly would have paled at hearing even Buddy Holly. What is real and more or less "one's own" is one's methodology of taste. But I refuse to admit (what culture is constantly demanding--from homophobic genetic pseudopsychology to identity-cultures) that anyone is "the sort of person" for any aesthetic particularity.

For instance, being a fan of punk music, I could easily despise Brian Eno's Ambient records outright on a number of grounds. And, in fact, I don't much care for those records. But if I bought Music For Airports and took it home, listened to it while getting ready for bed, I'm sure it would be fine. And there certainly are things I have come to prefer in music (songs, for one) that these records lack. But I would never say, 1) that I never would like such a thing, even if statistically I probably won't ever get around to it, or 2) that it has anything to do with some ME outside of what I have gone out of my way to be. Tastes are fundamentally "meta"--about themselves.

While some stuff is obvious garbage, this judgment cannot be rooted in a subject as such, but only in a force-field (of tastes, values) that conjures up that subject.

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