Wednesday, October 8, 2008

sub specie aeterni

Rolling Stone used to (and may still) have an inset feature on classic bands in their reviews section, where you could read a brief bio of a group and also see an overview of their discography, wherein you would learn that, say, "London Calling" or "Houses of the Holy" were (surprise!) 5 star albums. Meaning, of course, not that Rolling Stone had given these albums five stars upon their release, but that *with hindsight*, these were impeccable and classic albums. A bit of a cop-out, from my perspective of really disliking Rolling Stone, but certainly the correct way of thinking of reviews. The only catch is, we can't always wait 20 years to find out if an album is good or not.

So: there is the "present moment" of a review, in two senses: for the "contemporary musical context" in which an album is released, and also the present moment of the listener's always-developing taste. As a 16 year old and huge fan of Black Flag, I was in no position to appreciate a timeless classic like Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush." In this respect, the "hindsight" can only be my *future* appreciation of a work, which is as imperceptible to me as its value to posterity.

The only ideal review is one that reviews the album "in-itself" or "for us" (Hegel), i.e. "sub specie aeterni" (Spinoza)--from the viewpoint of eternity, or as considered "timelessly" and with everything known.

This is not usually possible, for obvious reasons. What is possible? Well, the exact opposite. Not at all an "objective" appreciation, but the completely subjective and pragmatic one. I have a perfect test question. "How many times do you think you will listen to this record?" A "five-star" record would be the most-listened to, a four-star less listened to, etc. until the 1-star record would be the 1 or 2-listen album. By "pragmatic," I mean not treating the quality of a record as something existing IN it, and that will emerge with time (like a meaning), but only in the sense of its tool for us (as giving enjoyment).

Bad reviews confuse these two positions.

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