Harmful Fictions

Music is made of groups, sub groups, splinter groups, and any other set defined by minute categorization. Within each there is an assortment of beliefs and ideas that often fall in conflict with another group. This butting of heads leads to contentious friction: pop versus classical music, hip-hop versus rock, and so on. While it is not outright war, little pricks and nudges imply lines in the sand.

Stephan Jay Gould bemoaned such conflicts between science and the humanities. What he found particularly troubling was that each camp had put grand schemes in the other side’s mouth. That is, as Gould implies,

“…the opposing camps were confected of extreme views held by virtually no one on either supposed side – whereas the actual, and more nuanced, opinions of sensible folks in both the ‘relativist’ (humanities) and ‘realist’ (science) contingents express important insights that could greatly benefit the understanding of practitioners in the other party…”

There is so much more nuance than is taken on face value. It is a lot easier to generalize than to take the time to understand how many layers make up a style of music or a musician. What Gould gets at is that these “extreme views” are concocted and not derived from an honest assessment:

“…if only the two groups would pay attention to each other, recognize the extreme caricatures as harmful fictions, and learn to appreciate the fair and just emphases of each group”

“Harmful fictions” is a poignant way to put it. Possibilities for collaboration and wider understanding in music are thwarted by feelings of superiority, inferiority, and fear. All of which is projected by said fictions. If we can show that these groups are fictions and that they are no replacement for sincere understanding, who knows what positive possibilities could spring forth.


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