Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Fable for Interpretation

Once upon a time, a European trader who had never been to India arrived for the first time in that ancient land. As he was walking the streets from the port to the market, he saw a snake-charmer sitting by the roadside. The charmer played an incoherent jumble on his pipe, and the snake slithered upwards and swayed to the music.

"What a poor musician you are." the European observed "I know a great deal about the Indian musical tradition" (which was true) "and I know that you play very poorly, without any sense of unity of melody."

"Sit here and play it yourself" the Indian suggested dispassionately.

The instrument was about six inches long and was very similar to the a recorder. The European picked it up and began to play an English marching song. The snake attacked him and bit him. He died.

"The poor unfortunate fellow." the indian observed sadly. "He didn't understand that while I do make music, my real work of art is the proper union of the music with the snake. All would do well to remember this. It destroys all differences between the objective value of the art and judgements of taste."


don pedro said...

the only thing I can think of is Percy Shelley's Ozymandias

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

It does have a simlar tone, doesn't it? The making the Indian a heartless half-murderer was quite an accident on my part, although that doesn't mean you can't incorporate it into the interpretation of the fable. Why don't we start there? What part of the beliefs and actions of the indian does his murderous heartlessness reflect upon? To what beliefs and actions is it irrelevant?

don pedro said...

well, I'm inclined to agree sort of with the Indian. I don't understand the value of "pure aestethics. Honestly at the end of the day whatever appeals better to people wins. Whether this is a perfectly written opera or "Watcha Say", whatever gets the people (or snake) seems to be the most important.

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

I know that the Indian has part of the truth, and he may even have almost the better part. Perhaps his uncaring attitude should be a clue to the part of the truth he's missing.

Some people (like my dad, for example) would say that judging the work of art the way the indian does is too subjectivist. But if we consider the union of work and observer to be the true work of, we can still apply standards to the reaction; a work of art that inclines someone toward something wrong or false produces an objectively bad response in that person.