Learning the language

There’s a good discussion in the comments thread of a post in Nick Mamatas’s livejournal. (If you’ve not figured this fact out already, Nick’s blog is equal parts funny and intelligent – both the posts and the comments.)

Tower of Babel, Escher

I figured out when I was in my mid teens that ‘getting’ music was about familiarisation, or “acclimatisation” as I put it at the time (I used to scuba dive). That is, you needed to hear something enough times, hear enough variations on a theme, get sufficiently intimate with the conventions of a genre in order to get where it was coming from… to be able to parse the structure and language and aesthetics and so on. When I was younger and someone gave me the first Deftones album I just didn’t understand it. It was so loud, so distorted, that all I heard was noise – everything just smushed together into a mess. But I persevered because so many people said it was good, and eventually I got used to it, heard some more metal bands, and it all began to make sense to my ears. It didn’t take long to realise this didn’t only apply to music.

I guess this is part of the reason why I’ve always been so enthusiastic about trying out new things since then. Once you realise that not liking things is often just a result of not understanding it, it’s hard to walk away. I’m sure a lot of smarter kids figured this out when they were much younger, so I figured I had (and have) a lot of catching up to do. Besides, once you know all the rules it’s time to break them, right? That bit of received wisdom was drummed into me by a hundred how-to-write guides.

An unfortunate side effect of keeping an open mind is you can be too forgiving of mediocrity, purely through trying to see if there’s something more in there, buried deeper than you’ve gotten. Genuine awfulness is easy to spot, yet it’s tempting to keep trying with something that seems to promise more than it offers. But no, some songs, books, films etc. are just too average to be worth much of your time.

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