Quoting from the blog now, since it means I don’t have to type stuff in from the book:
Is there a certain song you love, or a work of art? Perhaps there is a movie you keep returning to over the years, or book. Go ahead and imagine one of those favorite things. Now, in one sentence, try to explain why you like it. Chances are, you will find it difficult to put into words, but if pressed you will probably be able to come up with something. The problem is, according to research, your explanation is probably going to be total bullshit. …
This brings up a lot of concerns. It calls into question the entire industry of critical analysis of art – video games, music, film, poetry, literature – all of it.
This ties into something I wrote in a comment yesterday, which reiterates a theory of mine: While we pretend that we construct analyses from scratch and then offer a final evaluation, in fact we first react in a like-don't like-meh manner, and then construct analyses to explain our taste preference. (It’s not analysis followed by evaluation, but evaluation followed by analysis.) I don’t think this process results in total bullshit, or I wouldn’t have spent eleven years writing this blog (or spent nine years getting a Ph.D in English). But the results aren’t what we think they are, and I find this statement of McRaney’s interesting:
When you ask people why they do or do not like things, they must then translate something from a deep, emotional, primal part of their psyche into the language of the higher, logical, rational world of words and sentences and paragraphs. The problem here is those deeper recesses of the mind are perhaps inaccessible and unconscious.
As I was reading this on my Nexus 7, I commented to my wife that there was a connection between the above and something that has fascinated me over the past couple of days. I have taken the following photo and made it the wallpaper for my Nexus, for my smartphone, and for my computer desktop:
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time just staring at this photo. Something about it reaches me beyond “isn’t my grandson cute?” There are plenty of cute pictures of him … some are probably better than this one, especially when the camera catches him laughing, which is often. But I love this picture.
And so, as I stare and stare, I try to construct an explanation for why I like it so much. I’ve thought about how it is well-composed (although I’ve cropped it for my wallpapers, so that’s not likely the reason). I’ve thought about how he really is pretty darned cute (but, as I say, there are lots of cute pictures of him). I’ve noted the smoothness of his skin (more obvious with higher resolution) and extrapolated a theory about the innocence of a child and how it speaks to me. I even imagined that if you took a picture of me when I was on acid, my facial expression would be something like this.
Anyway, I told Robin about the book passage, and about the photo, and she replied fairly quickly. “You like that picture because he’s looking up, and that appeals to you for some reason.”
Here is one of my favorite pictures of Robin. As a picture it’s nothing special, just one of those “I’m gonna take a picture of myself using my phone” photos:
I couldn’t tell you why I like that picture so much, any more than I could tell you why I like the picture of Félix so much. If I tried, it would be an example of an Introspection Illusion, translating something emotional into words.
But Robin knew right away what was going on, because she doesn’t have an emotional attachment to the pictures. She is able to identify my taste for pictures where the subject is looking up. I would never have thought of that.
Does this call into question the critical analysis of art? Are our responses to art completely subjective, and buried too deep for us to fully understand? And are all our attempts to analyze art total bullshit?
Again, I think the answer to the latter question is no. But it is at least possible that our work as critics, valuable as it might be, has less relationship to the work of art than we realize. And if that is the case, then the best critics are not the ones with the best taste, but the ones who are the best writers. And what we get from critics isn’t a consumer guide (which is being taken over by AI systems, anyway), but rather the pleasures of reading good prose.
This photo was taken in late 1975 or early 1976. The youngest one in the picture was born in May of ‘75, so figure out how old he looks, add that to May, and you’ll get a date.
There are four generations represented in this picture. In the middle is my grandmother, Frances Rubio, born and raised in Andalucía, came to the U.S. in the late 1910s. She would have been around 80 in this photo. Her son, my father, is the laughing guy on the right, holding the baby. He was in his early 50s. His three sons, left to right, are Geoff (born in 1947), David (born in 1958), and me (born in 1953). There were two sisters, as well, but I guess this was a Guy Picture. The baby is my son Neal, who is now 37 years old, which tells you the age of the picture.
My cousin Gabe took a ratty-ass old copy of this picture and made it nicer, and he deserves a tip of the cap.
It’s Blast from the Past day on Google+. It’s also Robin’s birthday! So I’ve combined the two and chosen this picture:
This is a list Robin made before we got married in 1973, itemizing expenses. She can give the details … her dad gave her money for school (she was going to Cal at the time) and added a bit for the wedding. She was expected to take care of both school and wedding with the money. It was an inexpensive wedding, even in 1973 dollars. She saved money by making her own wedding dress (and my wedding shirt). We got married by a friend who was a judge, in a public park, so no expenses there. There is no record of how close we came to the budget she laid out here.
I’m bad about gauging the age of kids, but I’m guessing Neal was around one year old, so let’s call this 1976. At the time, we lived on N. Valley St., which was near Strawberry Creek, a few blocks southwest of University and Sacramento. Yes, that’s my attempt at a fro … I got my one-and-only perm, hated the process, didn’t much care for the look, either, and never did it again. I also had glasses and a bushy beard. The glasses would become contacts a few years later; the beard (and long hair) disappeared sometime after the arrival of punk.
I wonder what we were looking at. Whatever it was, Neal seems delighted. Me? I was probably thinking that it was almost time to get in the car and drive to the factory for work.
A group of folks on Google+ calling themselves Blast from the Past run a weekly posting encouraging people to post pictures from, you guessed it, the past. This week has a theme: Hot Moms. Here is my contribution:
I’m going to try and break down some of the things in the picture, although it’s been 50 years, give or take, so it won’t be easy. First, there’s the super-cool Hi-Fi Stereo, which I think dates this to late-50s/early-60s, most likely the latter. I would have been ten years old, maybe a bit younger. My mom would be in her early-30s, having finally finished having kids (there were a lot of them). The name someone gave this picture (probably me, although I don’t remember) claims she is wearing a new dress.
The Hi-Fi had one detachable speaker, which you could remove to create distance between the channels for listening purposes. More often, we’d just move the detachable speaker to the back porch and listen in the backyard, obviously with one channel of the stereo sound being easier to hear.
There’s not much else in the picture. The stand on the right is straight out of Mad Men, Season One. On the bottom shelf, I see cartons of cigarettes. I’m going to guess the one on the right, raised above the others, is Benson & Hedges. If I remember correctly, the fruit in the bowl on the top shelf was plastic. Finally, underneath the stand, you can see a phone outlet, which were ubiquitous in the day but are seen less and less in the cell phone era.
Go to Google Maps and search for the place where you spent your childhood. It won’t look like your memories of the place, but you’ll find yourself thinking about when you lived there, and the changes between then and now will lead to reflections on the difference between you-then and you-now.
Here is what my childhood home looks like today:
The house is as old as I am, a tract home built when my mother was pregnant with me. All of the houses on the block looked the same, with the exception of the mirror effect, where some homes had the driveway on the right, like ours, and others had it on the left, which meant the floor plan was flipped. On walking through the front door, you’d be confronted with a living room, with dining room attached and kitchen off of the dining room. In the opposite direction from the kitchen, off of the living room, was a short hallway, off of which were three bedrooms and one bathroom. Eventually, families would remodel; in our case, we extended out the back, with a family room connected to the kitchen, and an extra bedroom and bathroom.
I can’t tell from the above picture what has been done to that back area, of course, and the size of the tree (and the shade) makes it difficult to see, anyway. You can see the front door, and I know where the windows are, but that’s memory speaking. The lawn seemed v.long when I was a kid (I can’t remember for sure, but a part of it might have been paved over later to make the driveway bigger). There was a rose bush in front of the door; when my grandmother was watching us and we did something wrong, we’d have to get a “switch” off the bush for a spanking.
I look at this picture, and I can see street football, and I can remember the neighbors who lived on either side, and I can see the floor plan, and which bedrooms I slept in at which times in my life, and where the TV was … if I were Proust, I could turn that photo into seven volumes of memories.
Here’s a picture of the above house from sometime in the mid-50s. I’m just guessing … my brother was six years older than I, and he doesn’t look all that old, so maybe 1956?