I’m having an incredibly hard time focusing for the final push to finish the first draft of my thesis. In some ways this is to be expected: after such a rigorous spring break, it isn’t surprising that I spent most of this week feeling burnt out and exhausted. So I thought a “writing” excursion, any kind of writing, would be a good way to get my brain gears turning on the right track again.
It’s lonely in the house today. My housemates are all either acting in or watching a production of “The Vagina Monologues.” My sister is in the hospital, getting operated on for an erupted cyst. I know it’s a fairly routine procedure and I shouldn’t be using it as an excuse to be too distracted/distraught to work… and yet, here I am.
Last night Corey and I went to a Bruce Springsteen concert. BRUUUUCE! I remember hearing those calls on his live albums and wondering at first why the audience was booing. In contrast to the Justice concert we went to on Wednesday (we’ve had a surprisingly and undeservingly busy social-outing week, considering my FIRST DRAFT IS DUE MONDAY), we were the youngest people there, as opposed to clumped among the oldest. Our seats were behind the stage but it didn’t end up mattering, as I think we got a better view than the people sitting in front, who were further away. Upon seeing the Boss arrive on stage I was surprised how he was less chunkier than I expected–I guess the camera really does add ten pounds!
I didn’t really get into the concert until the band kicked into the third song, “Lonesome Day.” Suddenly I was bouncing on my feet, singing along and waving my arms, as corny and cheesy as everyone around me. Every song seemed to come attached with the memory of a certain moment in my life–listening to “The Rising” album over and over again after Patrick and I broke up; “Darkness on the Edge of Town” album jogging doggedly along the dark and cold winding country roads of England; “Dancing in the Dark”–how is this song *not* about everyone’s high school experience? He played three of my favorite songs, “Candy’s Room”, “She’s the One” (the ONE song I wanted to hear live!) and “For You” (Elizabeth Wurtzel, if you could have been there!) All about damaged, elusive women, I note with interest.
Bruce Springsteen reminds me of the movies or bands you liked when you were a really young or impressionable kid, like “Return of the Jedi”: you know inherently that the Ewoks are corny, that the dialogue is cheesy, but goddamn does it still get to you, the way Luke is has come into his own dressed in black and stomping around, and the way the camera pans to the night sky after Darth Vader’s funeral (Old version only! Not the remastered travesty!). It gets you, and you can’t explain why to anyone. I can’t explain why “Candy’s Room” gets me so much, or why the lyrics that serve as this entry’s title seem to hold some kind of deeper and incredibly powerful, important significance to me, and even if I did, you wouldn’t understand, because it wouldn’t be comprehensible. It’s like my thesis–God! Like everything!
Gadamer talks about this effect that art has on us in “The relevance of the beautiful”–things get us, and we can’t explain why. It’s unexplainable, it’s ineffable, and we can’t quite put our fingers on it. It is not a type of knowledge that results from positivism, objectivism, or logical thought processes, but rather a “different type of knowledge” (a phrase I am fond of frequently using in my thesis, though it desperately needs a more concrete definition!).
Gadamer gives the example of an organist improvising during a concert, a piece that was not transcribed and thus will never be heard again (I think of the bridge in “Yes Anastasia” that Tori never plays live, supposedly because it was improvised on the spot). Gadamer writes:
“Nevertheless, everyone says ‘That was a brilliant interpretation or improvisation,’ or on another occasion, ‘That was rather dull today.’ What do we mean when we say such things? Obviously we are referring back to the improvisation. Something ‘stands’ before us; it is like a work and not just an organist’s finger exercise. Otherwise we should never pass judgment on its quality or lack of it. So it is the hermeneutic identity that establishes the unity of the work.”
For Gadamer, this thing that “stands” before us that makes improvisation “art” as opposed to meaningless banging on the piano is tied to the idea of “hermeneutic identity,” or the idea that we are all rooted in a tradition and history that leads to us understanding what is a work of art, and what is meaningless banging:
“To understand something, I must be able to identify it. For there was something there that I passed judgment upon and understood. I identify something as it was or as it is, and this identity alone constitutes the meaning of the work.“
Is this all fairly obvious and self-explanatory? For Gadamer, meaning arises from our place in history and tradition. One of the things my thesis is arguing is that this can be authoritative and dangerous.
This biggest problem currently facing my thesis is I have yet to explain exactly what this “different type of knowledge” is. As of now I just vaguely make references to “ineffability,” “dreams,” and “forms.” My adviser wisely advised me to avoid the word “aesthetic” because Gadamer’s fond of it, and I’m arguing against (or presenting an alternative) to Gadamer. But all this is turning into putting off finishing the “A Rose For Emily” section at this point. I guess it’s a good sign, though, if a review of a Bruce Springsteen concert can turn into Gadamer’s discussing of the hermeneutic identity of a work.