Sunday, April 30, 2006

Some ideas about a friend's post

My friend Professor Romance wrote a post about disparities in appreciation between art and science. Read it before you read this. I am greatly sympathetic to this post, but I am also coming at it from the perspective of a guy who has a tremendous amount of interest in art and some pretty serious deficiencies in math and science. I'll deal with that later, but first I want to tackle his frustration at social situations in which attempted conversation about science or math brands one as a nerd or a bore and conversation about music, movies, etc. gets everyone talking and offering opinions. Although I would have very little to contribute to a conversation about science or math, I feel more at home with his frustration than I do with a lot of people who share my interests. I think Prof. Romance is actually fortunate, in that people who don't know much about science and math will refrain from spouting off a lot of uninformed opinions, while art gets confused with entertainment and hipster lifestyle accessories. People who haven't seen a film predating their birthdate will consider themselves experts on cinema, while someone will spout off on music or literature simply because they have the right haircut and know a couple of people's names. Art (or the conflation of silly entertainment as art) is sexier than mathematics. Rock and roll leads to a lot more naked blondes and whiskey than entymology. That's just the way it is. However, real discussion about art and its aesthetics is just as absent from my life as discussion about science is from yours. When I go to a party, people will talk a lot about "Kill Bill" or the Coen Brothers, but finding someone with something to say about Robert Bresson, John Cassavetes, or Andrei Tarkovsky, to pick just three of the filmmakers whose work has (no shit) changed my life is like pulling teeth from my ass. When I do find someone who can talk about this stuff, he or she is usually a pretentious cocksucker who filters the work through some kind of fashionable sociological construct, rather than dealing with what the films are: their form, content, and structure. When I want to discuss this work, I have to pick up a book by one of the handful of critics who actually give a shit about it, and have an internal debate with myself. Most people don't give a shit about the artists I like. This does not make me feel "cool," hip or happy. Mostly, it makes me frustrated and angry. I imagine you feel the same way about science, math, and Spinoza. While "art" may be talked about more than science, it is usually because art is so easily confused with consumption, and it is fashionable as consumption. People are mostly just trying to get laid, and a lot of art talk is merely code for "I'm not a date rapist or a frat boy drunk on Coors." If science had more of an influence on haircuts, if math came in collectible 7" sleeves, people would spout off a lot more shit about it.
To move on to my lack of interest in science and math, it is not something I'm particularly proud of, though I don't feel like my lack of interest has anything to do with cowardice. Unfortunately, my science and math teachers in high school and college were unbelievably awful, and my English, history, and music teachers were mostly wonderful. This lopsided education, combined with my natural interest in the arts and my struggles with science and math (always difficult subjects for me), mostly dampened my interest in science and math while expanding my love of art. Whenever I learned a science fact or figured out some mathematical problem, I felt a real sense of wonder and accomplishment (this is still the case). However, this sense of wonder and/or accomplishment pales in comparison to what I get from a favorite piece of music, a film, a painting, a photograph, or a short story. Art does something to me I can't put into words. It gives me most of what I get out of bed for. Life is ridiculously short. My interest in the arts is a bit extreme, but it's something I need in my life, otherwise I'm incredibly unhappy. If I go two days without listening to music, it's very hard for me to function. I find life without music, literature, or movies almost unbearable. This all sounds melodramatic, and maybe it is (in practice, it's more matter-of-fact than melodramatic), but it's true. If I wanted to learn more about math and science, I would have to cut back on the other stuff, and I'm just not willing to do that. However, I'm still young. I've changed gradually and added interests, and science just might be one of them.
Finally, Prof. Romance, your frustration ("What is wrong with these dudes? Why don't they see what I see in math or science?") seems to me a frustration that every thoughtful person shares, namely "Why don't more people see things the way I do?" Some of my friends share my interests and some of them don't, but what unites them all, I think, is a strong sense of humor and a dissatisfaction with the complacent apathy of everyday life. All of us give a shit about something we don't "have" to give a shit about, and that is what makes us all worth knowing. Most of the people in my hometown don't have any passions or interests at all, including my father, and that scares the shit out of me more than anything.

P.S. Be glad you have a deep interest in something that frightens dilletantes. It's a blessing, not a curse.

Friday, April 14, 2006

No One Wants to Play with Me

A rare Werner Herzog short from the late sixties.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Harold Ramis, I like what you have to say.

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