Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bitterness and Cruelty and Things of Value

One man I know likes very much to play his piano. He inherited the machine from an aunt – a woman I never knew but whom he describes as bitter and cruel – and he plays it in her honor every morning. Of all the various qualities in the world, cruelty and bitterness, according to this man, are the only two that have ever inspired anything at all musical (or, for that matter, anything at all of any value). Those things he considers of any value being: music (all), novels (some), paintings (all), bridges (all), poems (few), and movies (none). His tastes are not exactly in line with mine, but in general we agree on such things. My list would run something like this: music (none), novels (few), paintings (some), bridges (none), poems (none), and movies (some). Our lists, or rather the lists of things we value, betray certain things about both of us, no doubt, though I cannot say for certain what these certain things may be. In any case, the man I know who plays the piano thinks that all things of any value are a result of either bitterness or cruelty. I would not be so prejudicial. Other qualities, too, precipitate things of value. Discomfort, for instance, is often a wellspring of valuable things, as is shame. Shame may in fact be the true wellspring of all these things. But that may be going too far, and this is not the place for a conversation such as this. I am not interested in the origins of things, and particularly not in speculations regarding origins, but I am interested in the man I know who plays the piano. He inherited the thing from a bitter, cruel aunt, and he plays it very nearly all the time. As a result, he believes all things of value to be descended from cruelty and bitterness, which I suppose is understandable, or if not understandable, then at least excusable, which is as much as any of us can ask for: that we be perceived as, if not entirely understandable, at least excusable, though I’m afraid this is only very rarely the case.

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