Aesthetics and ethics. If ever there was a time to rethink these concepts and how they relate, it is now. As it was yesterday, and will be tomorrow (if we’re still here).
One thing baffling about Trumpian anti-culture is its utterly shameless inversion of values — of transforming vice (lying, denigrating, boasting, bullying) into a kind of anti-virtue. But even more striking is the way bad morals, bad taste, and shamelessness are perfectly aligned. The bad taste of gold plated office buildings, golf courses and pageants. A caricature of the nouveau-riche, even though the man is old-riche and has had ample opportunity to better his judgement.
In The Netherlands a little row has occurred these days over a news blog called GeenStijl (roughly translatable as Bad Taste). ‘Tendentious, unfounded and needlessly offensive’ by its own definition, it attempts to convert vice into a kind of anti-virtue without altering its substance. Not so much a channel of free, anti-establishment speech, as a depressingly sordid puddle of racist and sexist abuse.
Its slanted wall and its roof like a stranded ship I’ve known from pictures for most of my life. A hike through the Jura hills finally provided an opportunity to visit Le Corbusier’s famous chapel of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp, 15 km west from where the GR5 trail crosses the road to Belfort.
Hanslick’s essay on ‘the musically beautiful’ (Vom Musikalisch-Schönen, 1854) is a remarkable piece of work. Neither coherent nor illuminating, it yet manages to maintain itself in the centre of almost any discussion of music aesthetics.
The error rate of the average professional concert is low. Astonishingly low, in fact, not counting barely noticeable errors. Astonishing especially when musicians play complex music from memory: they perform the double task of reproducing the score, and ‘interpreting’ what they reproduce. In most cases however this interpretation is part of what they have stored in memory. This may reduce spontaneity and freedom in performance. That a musical performance has to stop and start again is altogether exceptional. With good reason, since continuity belongs to the essence of music.
The average soccer match, on the contrary, is halted every other minute for some misdemeanour. An offense during a soccer match affects the whole course of the game. So, one may demand that the match will start all over again at every offense. If this is put to practice, flawless soccer will soon occur. (Not that I would care).
Even the best tennis players make numerous miscalculations during a match, often mistakes of the very same kind as made by beginners. Of course, on average they calculate better, move faster and hit harder. Since the ball enters the field anew at every serve, a mistake has no further consequences. It just makes watching less enjoyable. Flawless tennis might occur when players care less about immediate hits and more about playfulness. (And stop grimacing and making obscene gestures.)
More aesthetics would be good for sports. A little less pressure on correctness might be good for music.