Note: I am reviewing the reissue.
This is an engaging, thought-provoking and highly readable discussion about taste, what it is, and the philosophical and practical issues inherent in taste.
I have rarely read such a readable book that discusses deep philosophical issues. Yes, there are plenty of pop philosophy books out there, but rare is there one that manages to achieve a high level of sophistication (and introspection, in this case) with readability.
Wilson asks himself the kinds of questions I have been asking myself for a long time:
- can (good or bad) taste be objective?
- is my taste completely the product of my upbringing and culture and, if so, can it be defended as anything other than accidental?
His discussion of these and other questions is entertaining, edifying and hits me on a very personal level. (I have long struggled with “guilty pleasures” I thought I wasn’t supposed to like but liked anyway, among very other things.)
It is, hands down, the best book I have read about the subject of taste within popular culture. I will be thinking about it for a long time and I am thinking about buying the book so I can re-read it in the future, to see if I change my mind in terms of the extent to which I agree with Wilson. (I don’t entirely agree, as I think we can come up with semi-objective if not entirely objective ideas about artistic genius, but I understand where he’s coming from and I struggle with the same ideas he does.)
This edition contains a series of responses to the book, in the form of a series of “essays,” running the gamut from a playlist to very thoughtful philosophical responses. Unfortunately, I feel like the essays are as hit as they are miss. The responses by the most famous people are self-congratulatory and barely concerned with the topic of the book. Some of the other responders seem like they read (or only remember) one very small part, and want to spend their time on that one thing.
That being said, a few of them are very interesting and thoughtful, even a couple that stray away from the idea of “taste” in art, and into wider social issues.
But I can’t say that I recommend this book because of the responses, as they are too varied.
But read the book itself. Very, very worth your time if you have any interest at all in art or popular culture, or the more specific subject of the book, Celine Dion.
Wilson mentions something called “rockism” in the book, which is, apparently, the bias of music critics towards rock music. Apparently the idea was introduced some years ago but I missed it.
Well, I am a rockist. I have viewed much popular music through the lens of rock, and that lens devalues pop music, hip hop, electronica, dance and likely numerous other things. I am a rockist because I grew up listening to Oldies and, when I graduated from that, I went straight into Classic Rock. For much of my formative years, much of the music I listened to was made by people with electric guitars. Moreover, it was made almost exclusively by men with electric guitars.
I don’t know if I can ever fully overcome my rockism, given it’s part of who I am. But, in my defense, I am also a jazzist, and a classicist, and I like to think that this love and knowledge informs my experience and judgment of non-rock music. Also, for most of my adult life, I have spent at least some time looking into various folk musics (and one “classical”) outside of these traditions, but which now inform our popular music, so I believe that this experience also informs my rockism.
So I may be a rockist but, at least, I’m a pluralistic/omnivore rockist?