Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Music and Separation

I remember Margaret asking me a question once: "What would it be like if our lives had soundtracks?"

More and more lately, I have seen Gen Y criticized as being overly optimistic and idealistic, even while being disengaged from the surrounding community. The symbol held up to berate these "failings" is the iPod, often called the me-Pod, the individual cut off in a pod. I remember hearing this metaphor the first time during my time at Trinity Lutheran Church.

While this is a bit of a break from my heavier philosophical/theological posts, I felt that this symbolized criticism demanded at least a few thoughts. Is the use of the iPod as a symbol for our generation fair? Is asking that question even fair?

I actually do believe that the iPod as a possible symbol for our generation might be redeemable. However, I object to what many think it symbolizes. As such, the question is not "is the use of the iPod fair as a symbol for our generation" but rather "what does the iPod symbolize for us as a generation?"

I will grant that on one hand Gen Y is very idealistic and hopeful. We want more than is promised by the moment we live in. We believe that hope can be actualized. However, we are not that simple. Within that idealism I often discover a bitter skepticism in myself and others. Institutions have failed us. Individuals have failed us. We have failed ourselves. There is an apparent grand disconnect between our hope and our locality.

Many have claimed that this disconnect carries over to a disconnect between ourselves and the reality that surrounds us. We hide in our "me-pod." We cannot bear reality. So we hide in our shield of individualism.

I think there is some truth in these claims, but not where the claimants believe it lies. I agree that we cannot bear reality. We cannot bear the tragedy of the world. How unstable our world is. The pluralism that surrounds us. The lack of a singular meaning. The thousands of roles we play. The lack of a common thread. The lack of values we can stand up. We cannot bear the a-thematic nature of the reality before us.

As such, the iPod does not designate our separation from reality, but rather designates the tragedy of living in our reality. If we were separate from reality, from the absurdity of existence, we would be able to live without angst, without skepticism, without the nihilistic, a-thematic void that constantly threatens to devour our hope. Our hope does not arise because we are disconnected from the world. Our hope and tragedy paradoxically exist because of our reality - because we refuse to separate ourselves from our a-thematic realities. We hope because we must.

Which brings us back to Margaret's question. iPods are not emblematic of our separation from the world, a hiding in a false shell. Rather, iPods are emblematic of our desperate attempts to give our lives themes, structure and meaning. Music allows us to construct those themes, structure and meaning. We live in a world of creation. Music allows us to hope. My answer to Margaret's question is another question: "What would it be like if our lives did not have soundtracks?"

I cannot speak for an entire generation. But I can speak for myself. I do not listen to my iPod to escape. I listen to music so I can continue to hope. I listen to music so I can continue to live in our tragic world. I listen to music to continue to live within the paradox of tragic hope. Creation, music, art all allow us to engage. Praxis (faith-based action) follows the soundtracks we listen to. Our acts gain meaning in a world of music. So, what are you listening to?


Dylan said...

Very interesting post, Drew! I like how you spin the original iPod argument around and argue that music is part of the glue that allows us to structure our lives.

To me it seems like both meanings of the iPod, as both a symbol of isolation and retreat from reality and as a symbol of hope and context, ring true. We seek solace from a world that has failed our expectations while also dreaming about how to construct a world that will meet our expectations.

Anna said...

Yes, interesting post! It might throw into an interesting light the different musical tastes between people. If we're listening to music as a means to create themes, structure and meaning, what does that say about people when the music that resonates with them is all old (pick a period), all new, or an eclectic mix of both?

Tim Urista said...

Hmmm, what's your view of the inter-being of the iPod. Maybe celebrate the object in its full connection to our own being, then we can appreciate it as it is. I guess maybe we don;t have to reject it but to use, utilize and become aware of it as device, and us as social beings also. I think Eschatology and Prayer can be an iPod we listen to on Sunday mornings too, ie the thing we use to flee presence/awarene of the now.

Anyways, I'm curious about our convo Sat. Here is my diagram for what we talked about:

First, in this crude diagram is 1)Fuzzy transient state of our being, then 2) possibilities on the aggregate scale, ie from killing to breaking chairs (there are other ‘peaceful’ options too of course), and 3) the potential, where extra-worldly lure can be enacted here, where our full locality, ie socio-politics of why we do what we do (I take a wife because my religion says so, I eat a steak because the physical stuff of my body needs it) whittles us towards our actual potentials, and hence our choice.

Visually here it is
Now------To Be
o--> Ps --> aP--> A

Here Ps is of the form [P1,P2..Pn] and aP is a subset of Ps, while A or Actualized Potentials contains aP and non-aP in a further series. I guess you also want to say the lure comes in during Ps as well right? That’s how it can be a-temporal. So please modify where necessary.

Ok, so far so good, but where do impossible possibilities fit?
Like a unicorn or a flying man. Sure I can envision it, but it seems to me to have no locality. Regardless of films, movies, or our own experiences, we can still envision it can't we?
One avenue for this problem is to think other possible worlds that contain these possibilities. But, were do u place or how do we account for the impossible possibilities? Should we say they all exist in an infinitude series of other worlds?

OK let me know what you think,

Wildflower said...

If we become aware and embrace the relationship the Ipod gives us, I think that we can celebrate it for what it is, Tim. However, it is true, that as a symbol, in relationship with us, it can cause us to both flee and embrace life. Such is the ambiguity of symbols. As we live within that ambiguity, we shouldn't forget it. Meanwhile, I believe music will help us live within that ambiguity! ;)

In answer to your question, as far as I follow (that's becoming a consistent theme in my responses! ;) ) I think the diagram is mostly accurate. While the lure does enter at Ps as well, I want to point out that the lure is based upon our particular, momentary locality. As such, the lure is completely temporal. There is no lure apart from the moment. Like the wind (and the spirit) it blows where it wills.

Impossibilities are an interesting case. There are two options, both of which I wish to take. Keep in mind, for me, that the first impossibility is only from the exterior level. The first is the possibility for impossibility contained in the result of A. For example, if I act toward my potential and I am surprised to discover myself with a result I did not expect (or could not have expected) because I believed it to be impossible, the event will have broken in on me, the impossible will have broken in on my possible. That is one account of the impossible (that I cannot envision before it occurs).

The second account is for "impossible" things I can envision, i.e. unicorns and flying men. There are a number of points I can make here. First, following quantum physics and probability theory, there is actually a chance for nearly everything in every moment. For example, there is a chance for me to walk through a wall if I step against it. Scientific "laws" are more a matter of probability than anything else. Because of this, we can imagine a number of improbable possibilities.

Also, because of the disconnect between my action toward potential, and the result of that action, I can believe a potential to be actualizable when the odds of such are incredibly low. This is an epistemological problem - it is easy to envision someone, that because they know very little, believe something to have a high degree of possibility when it actually has a low degree possibility. As such, since my experience is limited, even while I might believe a potential to be highly unlikely, if I consider it a possible potential, I clearly, subjectively believe it to be possible. That is all that is needed for my approach to potential

Lastly, I imagine you might say, what about something that I can envision that I don't believe to be possible? For example, that I can fly. I picture myself flying and yet don't believe the odds are rather high that I will fly if I jump off a cliff. However, if I do act toward that "potential," I clearly must believe it to be possible (otherwise, why act toward it?). If I do not act toward that "potential" it is not potential, but rather simply just an idle thought. Since momentary agency is all that concerns me, if a thought has no ethical implications, it is simply not a thought. Or, I could invert that thought and claim that every thought has ethical consequences, and as such must, in some sense, be thought to be possible.

To sum all that up, subjectively unaware impossibility is definitely possible. Impossibilities we are unaware of are not potential for us, since the very definition of potential is that it is subjectively a possibility. However, one might be able to describe impossibilities we are aware of as laying down the limits for our potential. What is possible? That which lies beyond the boundaries of the impossible.