04 February 2010
A Frenchman once told me that it's impossible to have good or bad taste - you either have taste, or you don't.
I've decided not to have taste. This sounds like condemning yourself to being a kind of aesthetic water - clear, but colorless. Or that I'll suddenly develop a fondness for the gross, the vulgar and Judd Apatow movies.
Up until now, I have had excellent taste, if I may say so myself. I am, in fact, the very person the notion of taste was developed for - a more or less educated middle class person who cravenly wants to identify himself with an aristocracy.
Aristocrats, of course, don't have to worry about taste. They're aristocrats, and can play polo, yacht, pilot their airplanes and screw their maids and call girls with freedom. The very notion of good taste evolved with the bourgeoisie of the late eighteenth century. They wished to distinguish themselves, somehow, from their brethren and certainly from the working class, and align themselves with the fellows above their station, the inbred fox hunters and farmers with fancy titles attached to their name.
Likewise, my taste was developed partly in imitation of my betters - my artistic heros, the French and rock stars, among them. In many cases they lead me to discoveries my teachers did not tell me about and to places I wouldn't have discovered on my own.
Unwittingly, I founded part of my identity on what I consumed, thus falling into the clever trap set my marketers, assigning meaning to whether I preferred Armani over Ralph Lauren, or Saville Row versus the Neopolitan cut - these choices being entirely theoretical. Others, less so. Honda or Toyota, and so on -- what idiocy to suppose that a watch brand or a car make confers some imprimatur of achievement, other than the economic ability to spend spare cash on a symbol.
This ridiculousness extended even to weightier matters. Mozart vs. Mahler. Dostoyevsky vs. Tolstoy. Bernini vs. Vermeer, Miller vs. Williams, and so on. After a certain level, they're all magnificent and bizarre, and they all inhabit a summit, Mount Olympus or Parnassus to be old fashioned. Once in that ring, why parse distinctions based on a set of preferences that must be as accidental as blue or brown eyes?
My snobbery was at its peak in my college years; late adolescence being the time, I suppose, when was least certain of Who I Was, and therefore, most desperate to proclaim it.
I took taste so seriously that I, idiotically, did not date women who liked certain kinds of music. Looking back on it, I can see why a perfectly reasonable and otherwise attractive person might not like Throbbing Gristle or The Meat Puppets.
The elemental, fundamental works all are quite beyond any notions of taste, and don't need me any way. The Scottish Border ballads, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Rembrandt, Baudelaire, Dostoyevsky: they reach profound interior spaces as sophisticated and primitive as the cave drawings in Lescaux.
Now when I look over my rows of dvds, the titles on my iPod, the books on my shelves . . . it's a bit boring. I wonder how much of what I think I like is based on a genuine prediliciton, a real encounter with the work, or if it's just an indolent acceptance of some authority whose opinion I've taken on faith.
Time to clean house.
Laziness and authority: two implacable enemies.
Killing them, I assassinate "taste."
(But then I can afford to: I have impeccable taste.)