Wednesday, 17 February 2010

My son the anarchist, Adorno and sitars

Massively off topic but....

A few elements have come together at the same time this week in one of those pile-ups of thoughts that make you reflect on things. Firstly I've been on leave with my son on my own for three days (Mrs P being away with work - the first time she's been away from him overnight). Secondly I've been reading the collection of Theodor Adorno essays I've been posting dollops from. And thirdly I've been going through one of my phases when I listen to a lot of sitar music.

It's a trivial observation, but what has really come home to me this week is just how unsocialised my son is (he is only one, like!). He's currently experimenting with food, so a lot goes on the floor because (I think) he likes watching things fall. He's also quite happy to sit there having had his breakfast with big splodges of yoghurt on his face. Doesn't he feel it on his face? Or is my own awareness of having something on my face more a product of socialisation than a physical reaction? And watching him play with things is interesting too. He's into putting things from one container into another at the moment. But he doesn't mind what goes into what. So the little figures from his wooden toy bus end up in the box which is supposed to take specifically-shaped coloured blocks (ie circle, triangle, square). I realised that I get slightly annoyed that he isn't putting the right things in the right places. But then I suppose to him they are the right places, because he hasn't internalised the rules that go with each toy. I bet I'll miss it when he plays with them the right way.

Meanwhile this book of Adorno essays is really clicking with me. It's quite a bleak view of things, and I think sometimes he takes an interesting observation and pushes it a long way, but a lot of it rings true. The short piece on 'Free Time' is particularly good. He basically argues that while free time is defined in opposition to work, it is still influenced by the same societal structure. This is something that often nags away at me, or more particularly the impetus to divide up and maximise 'free time'. He makes a good point about the 'miracles' people expect from their holidays, which are constantly frustrated because distant places are no longer different. I even feel a need for productivity when I'm reading sometimes. I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes the thought flickers across my mind that it would be great to simply transfer the content of a book into your brain, like that scene in The Matrix where Neo learns how to fight by having knowledge of kung-fu etc uploaded. Informational efficiency, you see, rather than that messy time-consuming reading business. Bleurgh! Anyway, reading these Adorno essays has really made me think about the way that structures in society (capitalism if you like) don't get left at the front door when you get home.

When it comes to sitar music I'm a fully paid-up member of the 'uncomprehending white boy listening to something that sounds exotic' school. Adorno would probably hate me given what a music snob he seems to have been. I am aware, dimly, that sitar music involves a great deal of thought and structure. But to my untrained ears what is great about it is its complete difference to much of what I'm used to. Pieces start off slowly, have a mad fast bit, and then slow down again. And some of them go on for 25 minutes. And when there are tablas involved it's a similar story - they don't just mark time, or hold a steady beat, there are great surges and solos. I know there's plenty of non-sitar music that does the same kind of thing, and I like electronica in the same vein, but sitars have a bit of a hold on me. So what I really like about this kind of music is that it stubbornly refuses to fit into a structure that my mind expects/wants. (In sharp contrast I can remember ruining a track once by managing to identify the beat structure. After that I couldn't hear anything but the beats when I listened to it, and it destroyed the track for me).

Anyway today all the bits collided. I was walking round Brockwell Park with my son crashed out in his buggy (he had a bit of a rough night) with some sitar music playing away on my iPod, and thoughts about the Adorno piece I had just read floating about in my mind. I thought that everything seemed a bit more possible, if only you consciously resist the urge to structure and compartmentalise your own existence. I thought that I might be listening to sitar music the wrong way, but at least it is helping me undermine my own tendency to subdivide experience by the familiar. And I thought I hope I can resist the urge to encourage my son to do things the right away (whilst preventing him from putting his fingers in plug sockets, eating knives etc) and let him be the unsocialised, exploratory Tasmanian Devil he is for as long as possible. And most importantly, I felt really bloody happy.

Anyway, back to finance-related blogging soon...

PS. Incidentally the first time I heard of Adorno was when my mate bought the first Consolidated EP when I was at university. There is an 'Adorno Strength Remix' of the track 'Consolidated' on it.

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