De gustibus non est disputandum[1]

The subject of quality is a reoccurring motif in the discussions. You hear about quality everywhere and it seems a subject which has become fashionable – bon ton[2].
Surprisingly enough, there is hardly a disagreement about quality. Once it is there, we identify it immediately, even if it is not exactly in our area of expertise. I was wondering if just as with quality, there are other grey areas where people have similar opinions about certain things although they do not have a clear definition for them. I asked various people some questions about the same piece of classical music. For example, I asked them if a piece was subjective or objective. On other occasions I asked if a piece was introverted or extroverted. I even dared ask people which tense was a piece composed in: past, present, future, or maybe in the conditional? As abstract as those questions seem and although I have supplied no definition as to what I meant, it seems people have largely agreed on all of those issues even if they were not amateurs of classical music.

De gustibus non est disputandum
In his immortal book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig describes how his protagonist Phaedrus, a university Rhetoric professor, asked his students to write essays and after they had been read in class, he asked the students to rank them in “estimated order of quality”. He also ranked the essays and his ranking was “always close if not identical” to the class average.
Yet how much of it is a matter of taste? And did all of Pirsig’s students have similar taste?
In our class, we were watching a certain performance and everybody agreed about its high quality (not just technically). When I asked whether it was done in good taste, there were more arguments and more disputes. We tried to understand “good taste”. We came up with proportionality, with authenticity, and with the harmony of the various parts, be it in food, fashion or in art. We also mentioned that bad taste, in this sense, is just like quality: it is very hard to define, but you know when it is there.
Much of the problem we are facing in those matters is our fear from the things that we “just know”.
A few days later he (Phaedrus), worked up a definition of his own and put it on the blackboard to be copied for posterity. The definition was: ‘Quality is a characteristic of thought and statement that is recognized by a nonthinking process.’ ”[3]

[1] – No arguments on matters of taste (Latin).
[2] – French: good taste.
[3] – Robert M. Pirsing, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Bantam Books, Page 184.
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If you would like to read more about those subjects I welcome you to visit my website at
www.DriveADoubleBass.com

You can also contact me at klinghoffer@jamd.ac.il

Also, if you have any ideas for things that you would like me to discuss in future posts, please write to me.

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