In my recent halting quest to delve more deeply into classical music, it occurs to me that I’ve been pretty trusting of people’s advice. For instance, everyone who has an opinion seems to think that Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is uniquely worthy of attention among his works, and so I got a recording of a performance from Netflix and watched it yesterday afternoon — turns out it’s pretty impressive. Similarly, I’ve eagerly acted on recommendations of books and recordings.
Why am I so trusting? Because basically no one is going to bother even claiming to have an opinion about classical music unless they know what they’re talking about to some degree. It’s totally “voluntary” to know about it — the culture has moved on, so there’s no payoff for pretension. Someone might tell you that The Wire is great just because they feel like they “should” think that; no one’s going to pull a similar move on Missa Solemnis.
In a way, this is a basic Adorno-esque point: previously elite artforms that have lost their accustomed role have a unique potential for “disinterested” uses. I wonder, though, how many other things are like this? One might say the same of all the visual fine arts. In a way, one of the most anachronistic aspects of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is that the pretentious professor is pretentious about painting, which is surely the least fashionable thing possible in elite academic circles. Jazz has likely succumbed to the same fate. Experimental fiction is likely headed down the same path, though it appears to be in a transitional phase where it is somehow regarded as a resented “duty” even though no one is really taking it seriously — the salient fact about David Foster Wallace for most educated people seems to be that he wrote really long books that they aren’t remotely going to read.
What seems a little too convenient, though, is that much of this is traditionally “white dude” stuff. (One could also say that jazz started to enter this category once it became the province of white “scholars.”) I’m not sure where I’m going with this — any thoughts?