On Concepts, Categories and Lived Experience

"The time to make up your mind about people is never." Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story (Donald Ogden Stewart/Philip Barry/George Cukor)



July is significant for our podcast as it was the month in whim it was inaugurated, with no less a figure than one of the most uncompromising and (literally) independent of filmmakers Jon Jost.


If you were an unsuspecting listener at that time and you had only that one episode to go on you might be forgiven that the episodes would be similar in vein, with artists that tended towards the most obscure or most non mainstream.


Yet I have tried to have all sorts of people on my show, including award winning directors of streaming television, biographers of famous artists, coal miners, and concert pianists.


If there is a mission in this podcast (and I am often uncomfortable with the framework of mission since I like to keep the boundaries of the show porous and as inclusive as within the limits of reason, and I do think "entertainment" for its own sake is valuable in itself) it is to bring lots of disparate people involved in one way or the other with all of the arts together int the same podcast.


This is under the supposition that there is something important that unites all of these people and under the ethic that there is simply too much disunity in our world and, in a word, war.



So there is a peaceful sensibility, one of civility (though even the word civility is itself under attack from those on the Left that equate it with lack of progress or commitment to ideals). In articulating these very concepts here on this post i have to resort to words in the English language - like civility, independence and so on.


There really is no other choice. I was drawn to instrumental music as a musician above all other kinds of music because I sort of like that old Walter Pater quote that all art "aspires to the condition of music." And I think one virtue of such music is its very abstraction and inability to be defined and boxed.


I am reminded of a review I wrote of Laurie Verchomin's novel about Bill Evans wayback in 2011 and around the time it was first published:


"There is much truth to the ways we systematize and understand our lives. There is some truth to the labels in the latest DSM. I am perfectly willing even to concede all of the vogue words and jargon that we create to try and make sense of our lives. Having said that, I still think it is the role of art to get around, behind, and beyond such reductive forms of understanding. Nowhere is this problem made clearer than in the subject, content and potential reception of a valuable and well written memoir by jazz pianist Bill Evan's last (literally to the deathbed) and younger lover Laurie Verchomin, The Big Love."


I enlist this passage not to discuss that particular book, or Bill Evans or even the issue of the DSM or debates around political or social, even individual identities, but to qualify what I am about to say with the acknowledgment that I hold two convictions at the same time that are too often thought to be in contradiction when they are not. I both think things about people can be said that are real but that after such things have been said, and this is where the special role of art comes in, there is much more to be said, such that the categories which we concede are real are nevertheless insufficient and partial.


In this sense there is never a last word and we should have the humility to refrain from any last word, and all of us humans are always in process, and with as of now unrealized potential.


Think of any novel and the enormous amount of time it spends on the copiousness of singular individuals, often without the benefit of any summary whatsoever, whether from the fictional character or the author, or a "road movie" where we might spend a lot of time on people in differing circumstances. (And to get even more specific about the novel, even in those novels that are traditional or classical in some way where there is the simplicity of an omniscient teller there is an extravagant amount of time spent on things that complete, contradict rather than reinforce how we are supposed to think about any character. These examples from representations in art are quite the opposite to a medical or psychological report on any person. They are THICK; they contain multitudes.


As I have said on many on occasion but on which I have not devoted a great amount of attention, in 2017 I received a psychological and medical diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome, or to use an updated category autism. (I can't get into the contentious history of these terms in the present context.)


Now I want to say, and admittedly this will be inevitably controversial in certain quarters, to say nothing of our particular era, if you were to ask me how much there is to any category I would, say: sometimes a lot, sometimes not much, possibly very little, and if a category is merely a VOGUE WORD (in Bryan Garner's important formulation in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage) not as much as we might hope or think.


Being autistic is far from all of me, and I know from my own struggles with it as well as comprehension of living this category, that it is important but insufficient. That when I internalize works of art, both popular and commercial as well as esoteric and elevated, I am in turn changing and growing.


This means that not only will my autism will affect how I respond and change from these words of art - the part where autism can be said to be "real" - but also and this is equally important, that I will add things into my character and nature that frankly don't have much to do with autism at all, and have more to do with matters that effect humanity in general. Such a development is possible without leading to a definition of what this human nature is.


Again we should hold all of our identities more lightly than we do.


Indeed I think future historians might look back on our current era as one in which we make too much of categories and hold our categories to our bosom and live and die and sometimes even kill over them: the proverbial verdict of history on our era will be most harsh.


I am reminded of a quote that Thomas Moore likes to invoke from heraclitus:

"You will not discover the limits of the soul by traveling, even if you wander over every conceivable path, so deep is its story."


Among other things, that is the spirit in which I try and create this podcast.



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