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Friday, April 21, 2006

VARIATIONS ON A THEME: On the Necessity of Listening As Confrontation


by Chadwick Jenkins


he person who claims that classical music or opera fails to speak to her or him has more likely failed to listen. How often is something dismissed on the basis of a parody of that thing or (worse yet) a will to blindness in relation to that thing! If "speaking" denotes "pleasing" in such an assessment then perhaps the classical-music agnostic is correct. But should all experience be based upon passive pleasure? How odd the notion of passive pleasure should strike us!

One hazily recalls the older formulation: "taking one's pleasure". Taking one's pleasure insists upon the agency involved as one pursues (again a wonderfully active verb) the things one desires. In this formulation, I am as responsible as (if not far more responsible than) the desired object for my delight. My involvement is the price of desire that I am willing to pay; indeed the payment, the exertion figures into the very nature of the desire itself and becomes the essential substrate of my enjoyment. But too often we are concerned only with "receiving pleasure".

Indeed the (relatively) new sites of pleasure no longer seem to need us at all. Nearly all television sitcoms are thoroughly suffused with laugh tracks. The television laughs at its own jokes like the fellow at a party who drinks too much, fights with his wife, and is smugly self-assured that everyone there is an idiot aside from himself. Inasmuch as the viewer has any presence, it is wholly circumscribed — at least within the ecology of the sitcom itself. You are told when you think something is funny and you shall be mirthful. The latest Hollywood film tells you who is sympathetic, who is devilish, who is a hero, and which moment should bring tears. There is hardly any need (indeed, hardly any room) for you to bother thinking at all. Of course, one can always make room for critical distance but then that requires active (indeed self-aware) participation. And if we are to believe certain contemporary critical thinkers, that possibility is rapidly dissipating.

How does one form an opinion (notice again the active sense of "formation" and the deliberate process it implies)? How does one decide what one likes and what one despises? How much does one actually participate in the formation of one's own preferences? Active participation in the formation of preference would seem to require precisely that which most of us avoid at all costs: a direct confrontation with that which we assume we despise. For how can you possibly know why you "like" something you assume you like unless you confront that which you have dismissed?

http://www.popmatters.com/columns/jenkins/060420.shtm

Link Posted by jebratt :: Friday, April 21, 2006 :: 0 comments

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