A little too

‘I’m afraid I only take ironic pleasure,’ Darrell begins, signaling a shift from communal to personal frame in the course of multi-angled reply here a couple of weeks ago. He’s talking about what we were talking about there, the musics of our youths in church, but let’s strip away the impending specifying phrase and cut him off in mid sentence. It’ll do, truncated like so, for calling up a fear, or a lurking problem, that I’m starting to reckon with — a problem I’m no doubt late in coming around to, and that smart folks will no doubt think uninteresting as I express it, but that I figure I might begin to try to draw into the light a bit in this space. What I mean to get at is the difficulty of owning my own tastes as I get older, and particularly as my view of the historical situation I belong to changes.

It’s a difficulty reflected, though not with much clarity, in my confession to my sister (recorded in the post Darrell’s replying to), ‘most of this stuff [that I’m saying I love] is trash.’ If it looks at this point like I’m about to announce some embarrassment at being (to whatever degree I am) ‘lowbrow,’ we can dismiss that. I’m not embarrassed. (And hope I’m not so tedious as to announce it, if I were.) On the other hand, I’m not unsettled or upset at recognizing that there’s frequently irony, open or veiled, in what I may have to say these days about many or most of my aesthetic interests and attachments, either. But where does irony stop? That’s the difficulty — though boiled down further than a really incisive self-examination would allow, probably.

Here I’m not interested in big-culture, big-ethics troubles about irony. I have yet to grasp entirely what the matter was when the word was much in the air a few years ago. What’s on my mind right now is a personal problem, it seems to me, not so much a society thing. It’s not clear to me how far ‘irony’ goes for this purpose, for that matter; but it’s a place to start, anyhow.

Somewhat in the foreground, not in focus for the moment, is a dual turn in my life to be made some sense of with time. My work has taken a fairly drastic new direction recently, so that I’m caught up (not to say necessarily enraptured) with ‘creative’ concerns in ways I hadn’t been for a number of years. More profoundly, though, I’m bothered by history in a new way — or have new sensitivity, rather, to long-working ferment in my view of it.

But back to the thing demanding attention further out, further back: Can I keep reconciling doubtfully grounded affections by way of a negotiation we’ll call (for lack of a better word, for the time being) irony? I’m a pretty resiliently un-cynical person, to my own mind, but might I be on a sort of methodological path that rarely ends other than in death or conversion to cynicism? If so, is that fine as long as I make it to death first?

I don’t want to seem to say that it’s a problem that gives me no rest. I’m sleeping at night. But I’m also living with a constant awareness of contradiction, and of gaps where, when younger, I could believe with relative ease that things strung together, somehow, behind what I felt right about (which is perhaps closer to what I think, uneducatedly, aesthetic experience comes to than to say ‘what I took pleasure in’). I still ‘feel right’ about the things I always have, broadly speaking — about the sound and the sights that come together in jazz in the second- and third-hand forms I know it by, say, and its part in the appeal of Americanness, but also about still much less uncontroversial things: the instruments and manners and popular culture of warfare and violence, to choose an example of no small import. I skate over whether that felt rightness has any reliable basis, however, with a lot more consciousness of what can only be taken for granted and, more acutely, of what’s in jeopardy in concrete terms — terms of being able to live with people, of being able to work — should what’s taken for granted be revealed to be nothing, than I did only a few years ago.

3 Replies to “A little too”

  1. I now feel convicted to declare I do not want to, in any way, denigrate you or Steven Curtis Chapman or either of his chums for enjoying a heartfelt round of “He Touched Me.”

    It’s curious how “sacred” music is either the connecting point, or the point of departure, for so many of the would-be faithful. Currently I sing in a church choir where I’m the youngest male by at least a decade. I also sing in an ensemble (again, the youngest fella). 95% of the music we sing is entirely of this ilk. Every week when something new comes our way I gaze at the sheet and wonder, who can possibly be blessed by this? I have my doubts about the choir director. I have my doubts about the congregation, frankly. Some in the choir occasionally murmur, “Why that’s quite beautiful” etc, so I’m clearly missing something.

    Occasionally I wonder, hey, is there any sacred music that actually speaks to me? Well, sure: Bach, Handel etc — dead white guys who wrote tricky music that demands attention. Nice when the occasional piece of theirs gets shuffled into the mix.

    Regardless, I’m a member of the choir now, and backing out would be unthinkable. And besides, I enjoy it — I truly do. Just let it be known that I take liberties with the verses when I’m walking home. And where possible, I conclude the chorus with the words, “My bum.”

  2. It’s very strange to say that I didn’t know that you’re singing in church groups even now. Not in the least surprised to learn of it, but had I really not picked up on it before now?

    But more gratifying yet, knowing it now, to have gone to the trouble to put that post together. Not that you were the only reader in mind — but you certainly were in mind.

    As to this post, though: better maybe to read it together with the last (just posted an hour ago). I probably should come back to music in some way here, but I’m fumbling after something more diffuse.

    The ‘ironic pleasure’ line was an unlooked-for handhold in the dark. We’ll see if I can figure out where to reach next.

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