Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, April 17, 2006

Carl Wilson is reading about “taste.” I had almost posted something on “taste” a few days ago, but it was a digression in the middle of another post and I deleted it. I’m glad I did because Carl’s post helped me articulate what it is about “taste” that bugs me.

The concept of “good taste” carries a lot of upper-class snob baggage. Velvet Elvises, historically, are a sign of bad taste; meaning, blue collar taste. “Cultivated” taste requires more money, either a lot of it, or enough of it to simulate the possession of a lot more.

People don’t use the term that way any more, but I can’t help but hear the echoes. Putting aside my political prejudice against the word, I don’t find it useful; at its most benign, “good taste” can’t really mean anything more than “I agree with that assessment.”

“Taste” equates aesthetic consumption with eating. That interests me, and music is a tasty, synaeshetic experience for me: bitter, sweet, salty (funk = sweat = salt; and, the saltiness of lust), spicy (hot!); and timbre equates with the feel of food in the mouth -- crunchy guitars, smooth jazz, fat(ty) beats, lush(ious) violins. But that has nothing to do with my “taste” in music.

I prefer the Jane Austen-ish word “sensibility” as a stand-in for “aesthetic preference.” Sense-ability: the ability to sense the appeal of a particular piece. In 18th-century usage it meant, “passion.” I’d much rather have passions than something as dried-out-seeming as “good taste.”

And, you know, after flailing in search of a definition, there’s always the dictionary, and I wouldn’t object at all to being accused of possessing these qualities:
1. The ability to feel or perceive.
a. Keen intellectual perception: the sensibility of a painter to color.
b. Mental or emotional responsiveness toward something, such as the feelings of another.
3. Receptiveness to impression, whether pleasant or unpleasant; acuteness of feeling. Often used in the plural: “The sufferings of the Cuban people shocked our sensibilities” (George F. Kennan).
4. Refined awareness and appreciation in matters of feeling.
5. The quality of being affected by changes in the environment.

Down with good taste! Long live sensibility!

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