Re: reading a book

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Mon 25 Apr 2005 - 07:31:18 GMT

  • Next message: Kate Distin: "Re: reading a book"

    Bill Spight wrote:

    > Dear Kate,
    >>> I was once asked by a friend, a trumpet player, to play clarinet in
    >>> a performance of Dixieland jazz. (Neither Dixieland nor jazz is my
    >>> thing, but I said yes.) At the break during rehearsal the trumpet
    >>> player came over to me and said, "You have to play with swing.
    >>> Don't play the eighth notes as eighth notes, play them as quarter
    >>> note-eighth note triplets." Well, I didn't play them that way, but
    >>> that description did enable me to play with swing. I got it. :-)
    >>> I am not satisfied with the usual memetic explanation of how I
    >>> learned swing. Yes, I had heard Dixieland before, and could be said
    >>> to have learned it via imitation. However, I do not feel that
    >>> imitation is enough. In my mind I did not imitate anybody. There is
    >>> more to it. As Fats Waller said to a reporter who asked what swing
    >>> was, "If you gotta ask, you'll never know." This knowledge is found
    >>> in the self. Another jazz saying: "If you haven't lived it, you
    >>> can't blow it."
    >>> Not that there is no transmission. As with Zen, there is. But is
    >>> more a process of recognition, awakening (satori), evocation, not a
    >>> process of imitation.

    >> Memetically speaking you could describe what happened as the
    >> recombination of your existing memes with the information provided by
    >> the trumpet player, in the context of your experience past and
    >> present - to produce a new understanding of swing.
    > Well, I expect that I have a broader definition of meme than you, so I
    > think that swing is memetic, but I am not at all sure that swing (as
    > transmitted, not as spoken) is representational. It was not represented
    > in the musical score as a pattern of eighth notes, nor would it have
    > been as a triplet pattern. (If it would have been, then the music would
    > have been written that way. ;-) ) You might say that it is represented
    > in a recording by Benny Goodman, but will listeners a few hundred years
    > from now get it? My guess is no, even if they enjoy the music.
    > When Fats Waller told the reporter, "If you gotta ask, you'll never
    > know," (surely not original, BTW), he wasn't just saying, "I'm hip and
    > you're square," although that was part of it. He was also saying that
    > you cannot describe swing in words. You can't explain it, you have to
    > experience it.
    > Take the Zen metaphor of pointing at the moon. The pointing finger may
    > help you see the moon, but neither the finger nor the pointing is a
    > representation of anything. Swing cannot be described, but it can be
    > pointed at. With the right sensibility and experience, you can dig
    > swing. Otherwise, you're square.
    > Doobie doobie doo,
    > Bill

    It appears that there are two elements to swing. First, there's a set of information about it, which can be conveyed representationally in the same way as any other information (that's what the trumpet-player did; and that's what you must have been doing in your messages because before I read them I had no real idea what sort of music people meant by
    "swing"). It may not be possible to convey this information in any simple, follow points 1-10 and you'll know everything you need to know, sort of way, but it is nonetheless possible to tell people some information about swing. So in that sense there is a representational element here.

    Secondly, there's an experiential element. This element you can't get by talking *about* it. You have to *do* it. The talking can help tell you how to do it, but until you actually give it a go you won't get the feel of this style of music.

    Now this second element is no different from what goes on when we learn any new skill. You can listen to people talking about driving skills for as long as you like, but not learn how to drive without getting in a car. You can read all the books you like about child-rearing, but nobody can learn how to be a parent without raising an actual child. You can have A grades in Scripture and Theology but not understand what it means to be a Christian until you've experienced a relationship with God.

    So I'd agree with you that there's a memetic element to swing: that's the informational (representational) bit. But there's also a behavioural element - and crucially an emotional, responsive element - which is not memetic but experiential.


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