My Aesthetic Imagination: A Series

“De gustibus non est disputandum” (In matters of taste, there can be no disputes)
-Ancient Roman adage

“All life is a dispute about taste and tasting!”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

My wife and I have a playlist called “Orthodontist music.” It’s basically soft rock songs from the late 1990s and early 2000s that played on repeat over the radio in our orthodontist office as we sat with our mouth’s wide-open, being orally penetrated. This playlist is a little ironic, but there are certainly some songs on the list I genuinely enjoy (I’m looking at you Tal Bachman). When I showed my older brother the playlist the other weekend, he immediately played Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” stating “I really do like this song.” This statement struck me as surprising because I genuinely hate that song, and having spent the better part of 18 years growing up together, you would think our tastes would be relatively similar. He asked me what I disliked about the song, and I immediately responded that the soft-guitar, pop vocals and repetitive/bland lyrical content turned me off, which turned out to be pretty much exactly what he like about it. In further contrast, my younger brother listens primarily to Scandinavian death metal and computer game soundtracks. Meanwhile, I’m over here just craving the newest music from TDE and looking up to Pusha T like the second coming of Christ. Why are our tastes so different? I’m going to start exploring that very question in series of posts on this blog, with the goal of both exploring my taste in art, music, television and movies to myself (and the reader, I guess) and trying to situate those tastes within a more overarching narrative of my life thus far.

The question of taste as aesthetic has a long tradition in the academy, stemming (as always) from Plato through Hume and Kant. However, in the 20th century, the study of taste adopts a distinctly social tone a social that is often seen as culminating in Pierre Bourdieu’s tome, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1979). Bourdieu contends that taste is intrinsically tied to class and cultural capital. Only if one has the “cultural competence” to decode a piece of art, can one enjoy it and support it:

“the conscious or unconscious implementation of explicit or implicit schemes of perception and appreciation which constitutes pictorial or musical culture is the hidden condition for recognizing the styles characteristic of a period, a school or an author, and, more generally, for the familiarity with the internal logic of works that aesthetic enjoyment presupposes” (p. 2)

I’ve spent much of my life trying to understand the “explicit” and “implicit” schemes that have informed and changed my taste in many ways. (e.g. I now read much more nonfiction than fiction). As I have tried to expand my knowledge about certain styles, genres and aesthetics, I’ve expanded my own cultural capital in unexpected ways and my taste has followed suit. I hope these posts can really explain how these changes happened, and what that means about my aesthetic imagination.

Bourdieu’s work on taste and cultural capital is one of the cornerstones of sociological research in the 20th century, and I do not intend to regurgitate his theories and methods in this series. Rather, I hope to keep them buzzing in the background as I write and explore my interests in popular culture. My first step in this direction is a series of three personal histories of my taste in visual art, television, film and music. Each medium has played a pivotal role in my life at one time or another, and I think it will be a valuable exercise to explore how they have impacted my aesthetic imagination

I also want to add a brief caveat here regarding this series. I want to clarify that I am not making a judgement anybody’s taste in music; the music I like is not intrinsically better or worse than what anybody else likes. Sometimes people seem to think that when I tell them about my personal tastes, I am dictating what their taste should be too; but, this is definitely not what my goal is. I acknowledge this is a fundamentally narcissistic enterprise, and most people won’t care (and really shouldn’t). The goal this series is to explain, mostly for myself, the origins of my taste and why I like what I like. If you disagree with something I say in one of the posts, please feel free to take it up in the comments, either here or on Facebook. However, please be civil.

With that in mind, please check out my first post about my taste in music!


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