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Author Topic: OSC, is it "bad" or is it "acquired taste"?
Crocobar
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Hello, Mr. Card, forum,

how do you tell the difference between "bad" writing and a book that is just not to your taste?

I am asking after reading many times in your columns your criticism of "flamboyant writing", and also atonal music. I am playing a devil's advocate a little bit: I despise atonal music and, for example, "stream-of-conscience" novels. However, I would not say that they are "bad", not automatically anyway. They are foremost not to my taste but it may be my taste that is not developed enough to appreciate them?

Now, you may not be calling them "bad" too, I do not remember the wording you use, but I certainly have the impression that you consider stylish writing and atonal music bad. Why do you insist that they are bad? Perhaps, the "elite" that you refer to does indeed like it?

I apologize for mixing together music and literature. It may be confusing but it is sort of the sides of the same issue. Also, it is easier for me to make a point because you are expert in literature, while I feel reasonably comfortable discussing music.

You call flamboyant writing and atonal music bad. I agree that it can be bad but it can also be an acquired taste with a high learning curve, don't you agree? An example. I listen and know that I enjoy a kind of music that is unapproachable by someone who hasn't heard such music before. I got to appreciating this music through several years of listening to hundreds of releases starting from easily understandable mainstream ones and evolving into direction that I liked the most. Now I find myself listening to the music that truly touches me but I have very little means of sharing this with friends because it takes an effort to understand that most people won't spend.

So, my friends are convinced that I pretend to like this bad music, while I know that they are wrong. It is not bad, it is an acquired taste.

Now, I tend to believe you when you say that some book (like Ulisses) is bad not so much because of your oversimplified explanation but because I believe that you are qualified to judge it. However, I hesitate when you do the same for the music. You seem to base your negative opinion on the atonal music, for example, on the fact that you and many people do not like this kind of music, and do not see what it could be liked for. Are you sure you have exausted all ways to appreciate this music before claiming that it is bad?

I guess, my question is, why do you dismiss the possibility that some literature and music may indeed be elitist? It is not derogative towards mainstream, not necessarily. It simply means that there are people that think it is worth going to extra lengths to appreciate this kind of art, and there are people who perform for them.

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Tara
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Don't expect a response from OSC on this forum, he doesn't visit here often. If you want a response specifically from him, you might want to contact him in a different way.
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Crocobar
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Well, it is not that important... If he feels like answering and sees this post, that would be wonderful, if not, so be it. But it's not just for him, I'd love to hear other people's opinions... He is known to respond once in a while though...
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pooka
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I'd say there's a difference between elitism and elite. Whenever forms become recognizable, there is a risk that function is absent.
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Clumpy
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I don't really like atonal music, though it is interesting on an intellectual level.

I love so-called "minimalist" music (i.e. Philip Glass etc.), dissonance, experimental music, musique concrete, industrial and pretty much anything but atonal music.

The bulk of my music collection still bases itself around traditional rules of melody and progression, though, even considering some of the nuttier stuff.

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ketchupqueen
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I liked Ulysses. *ducks the rotten fruit thrown her way*
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Crocobar:
Well, it is not that important... If he feels like answering and sees this post, that would be wonderful, if not, so be it. But it's not just for him, I'd love to hear other people's opinions... He is known to respond once in a while though...

I had a debate with OSC about atonal music. It turned out pretty much that he just connects the genre or school of atonality, (which is a rather terrible descriptor for modern academic music- try 35 years ago), to academics and "groupthink." Personally I don't think he'd thought much about it or had enough of an informed point of view to make the argument. His articles on atonal music pretty much reveal how much he has allowed others to influence him. None.
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Clumpy
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I hope nobody takes this the wrong way, but one of the features of OSC that compels me is how he can be so rational and focused as an author and so naive and emotional as a person.

I believe he thinks out his opinions, but tends to go with his first instinct and neglect others' reasoning processes.

It amused me (and doesn't anger me in the slightest) for example, when he challenged the motivations of our nation's critics for hating Tyler Perry movies.

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String
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You know, I know quite a few people who think that the latter books in the Ender saga are bad. I think it's because from xenocide on, the literature is not easy to appreciate. Some people think that they are boring, not enough action and what not. Maybe that kind of very character driven material is an acquired taste. I know alot of people who think that the bean sequels are better. I find them bare-bones and boring. Cookie cutter if you will.

The same sentiment can be applied to music as well. More than once I've had someone tell me that I must pretend to like my favorite band Dream Theater (which really isn't even that progressive, but does have its atonal and wacky points).

I agree with you Crocobar that it is a matter of taste. In my opinion most commercial music is pretty empty. Novels too. On the other hand Enders Game is definitely a mainstream novel, but fantastic nonetheless.

I think the the best Books and songs transcend though. They are deep, but can be enjoyed almost everyone.

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Scott R
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
I had a debate with OSC about atonal music. It turned out pretty much that he just connects the genre or school of atonality, (which is a rather terrible descriptor for modern academic music- try 35 years ago), to academics and "groupthink." Personally I don't think he'd thought much about it or had enough of an informed point of view to make the argument. His articles on atonal music pretty much reveal how much he has allowed others to influence him. None.

Did you have this debate in a public forum or through email?
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Lyrhawn
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Philip Glass is really hit or miss for me. Some of his stuff is pretty good, but some just grates on me like nails on a chalkboard.
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Scott R
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I enjoyed the music for 'Beautiful Mind.'

Hated 'Einstein on the Beach.'

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Colin
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Different aspects of music are what appeal the different kind of people all around. Being a musician myself (or so I say!), whenever I hear a song I try and see every aspect of it. I won't lie to you, my own taste always biases my opinion on music, but all in all I try to be a bit objective. I doubt many of you would have listened to a relatively new singer called M.I.A.; well I won't lie to you, I think her music's crap, but she has a great voice, and the sense of rhtyhm in her music is simply amazing. You won't find any melody there, but it will definately move your hips.
My taste? Well I can't define my taste in music. I asure you, though, that orchestras are the most beautiful thing you can listen to. Modern-wise, my favorite musicians range from Björk to Joni Mitchell to MUSE. I try to value numerous elements in a musician's craft, but then again, I always fall for my own taste.
I also value mellodical proggresion, I'm a classical guy, but disonance can be very useful at times. For example, my favorite song is Unison by Björk, it has very classical tunes and harmonies, while I also think Pyramid song by Radiohead, which has a very odd time signature, is a very effective song.
But I think what I value most in music is the concept and creativity imbued into it. While the results may not be very pleasant to my ears, if you analise the concept or the instrumentation it could blow your mind.

So, yeah, music is an aqcuired taste. Regarding literature...I am afraid I can't be a very objective judge. My favorite books are always the ones I can emotionally link to the most, so I am horribly subjective regarding my taste.

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odouls268
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Sometimes I wonder, how did we get here? What is the purpose? Why does the salesman want to know how they whip cheese?
Hobbes said it's because we walked here, and earth can support human life.
But then I remember, somebody somewhere just farted in a high class business meeting and is hoping no one notices.
With plights like this, how can we tarry so on the insipid?

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LargeTuna
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Whats atonal music?
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Colin
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quote:
Originally posted by LargeTuna:
Whats atonal music?

Music that lacks conventional mellody or has no mellody at all...
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aragorn64
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quote:
Originally posted by Colin:
quote:
Originally posted by LargeTuna:
Whats atonal music?

Music that lacks conventional mellody or has no mellody at all...
Not exactly. In a general sense, atonality refers to music that doesn't follow the conventional rules for "tonality", i.e. the key of a piece. It's come to have a much broader meaning though. Basically, according to my understanding, it can refer to any type of music that purposefully tries to avoid the traditional concepts of music composition. This can relate to chords, time, meter, typical harmonic and melodic standards, etc.

If you want some good examples, listen to some Stockhausen or Berio. There's also some "avant-garde" Jazz that uses some similar stuff. If you're interested in listening to that, check out John Zorn, Ornette Coleman, or Josh Roseman. Just be prepared to have your head hurt.

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steven
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"Basically, according to my understanding, it can refer to any type of music that purposefully tries to avoid the traditional concepts of music composition. This can relate to chords, time, meter, typical harmonic and melodic standards, etc."

Atonality specifically refers to harmony/melody. "Arhythmic" would refer to music without rhythm. I've never actually heard the term "arhythmic" used in musicology. Pretty much all music has some kind of rhythm. Atonal music can be very rhythmic, though. Music for non-specific-pitched percussion instruments like some drums and cymbals is from a certain point of view atonal. However, the term is usually only used to refer to music for instruments with easily recognizable pitch that does not conform to traditional melodic/harmonic standards.

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aragorn64
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Semantically speaking atonality refers to harmony and melody, but I'm pretty sure people use it in the broader sense of "modern" music in general. I could be wrong, but that's my understanding.
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steven
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"I'm pretty sure people use it in the broader sense of "modern" music in general."

Nobody with a musicology degree would say that. Microtonal music, like some of Harry Partch's stuff, is most definitely modern, while not really fitting into the molds of either traditional tonality of any kind, or atonality either.

"Modern" is not a perfect adjective for music, although it's useful in a very rough sense. There's not really a razor-sharp line between "academic/classical/serious" music and "non-academic/non-classical/non-serious" music these days. I know people who write pieces that fall into all three categories, academic/serious, non-academic/serious, and some of both. Gershwin's work fell everywhere on the spectrum. While people who can do that aren't extremely common, I can name more, some fairly well-known. Danny Elfman, John Williams, Lee Holdridge, and other movie/TV composers also write music that doesn't fit either mold too well. Bands like Rush also don't fit either mold well.

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
Originally posted by String:
You know, I know quite a few people who think that the latter books in the Ender saga are bad. I think it's because from xenocide on, the literature is not easy to appreciate. Some people think that they are boring, not enough action and what not. Maybe that kind of very character driven material is an acquired taste.

Actually the only handful of points that I enjoy in those books are those exceedingly few places that the book *is* character-driven -- e.g. Quim's martyrdom and the subsequent pogrom.

But the books soon descend into a theological treatise about the the souls of the atoms instead. At this point I'm really quite uninterested to hear about how OSC feels souls originate in our universe, and how their energy can be harnessed for teleportation, or what it means for the transferred personalities of those souls hosts, or the reality of their existence.

And even if I had cared for OSC's arbitrary ideas, the answers given are inconsistent -- Jane's soul transferred retains all her memories and personality and relationship with Miro when transferred -- Ender's soul however doesn't seem to try to retain its memories or its relationship with Novinha.

The plot of "Children of the Mind" about a search for the origins of power end up being inconsistent and irrelevant as well, leading to no place at all. The Japanese philosopher's political views have absolutely nothing to do with the cosmological understanding of that Polynesian religious leader, and both of them have nothing to do with how the crisis is *actually* solved at the end.

So basically, all those books are about lots of arbitrary things happening inconsistently and irrelevantly because OSC decided he wanted to make lots of irrelevant happen -- less of a novel, and more of random collection of vague ideas about nothing at all - out of all the books I have read out of all the authors, I'll say these two books come closest to being objectively bad.

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Scott R
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No accounting for taste.

I enjoyed both books and found Card's explanations logical and consistent with the world he'd built.

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Aris Katsaris
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Then perhaps you can explain to me, why would a soul leaving a body reduce that body to dust as if it had been a vampire... Rather than leave a corpse, like most souls do.

And why, from an moral perspective, persuading someone to stop living is so different from persuading him to euthanasia (which OSC objected to in Million Dollar Baby).

If these things are consistent, I don't see how.

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Scott R
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Last question first:

I don't know that OSC objected to euthanasia so much as he objected to the idea that handicapped people have no reason to keep living. He objected to the idea that "dead is better than broken." I think you've formed that particular argument on an invalid understanding of what's being pushed forward.

Young Val didn't kill herself; she didn't accept to be euthanized. She was willing to sacrifice herself so that Jane could live and save Lusitania. In the end, we're told she DIDN'T wind up losing herself. Jane and Young Val become the same person.

Ender wasn't able to keep himself, Peter, and Young Val alive. He chose to let his aiua inhabit Peter-- again, self-sacrifice for the good of others is vastly different than suicide or euthanasia.

First question:

My understanding is that an aiua is different from a soul. I don't remember the reasoning on this line; I do remember I didn't have as strong a reaction to it as you seem to have had.

Papa Moose might be the better one to ask. [Smile]

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Nathan2006
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I'm hardly an expert in music theory, but, from what I understand, atonality is a genre in the music comminity that has very specific rules for avoiding any known melodic, harmonic, or rythmic convention. It's extremely hard to write, and those who succeed in coming up with a true piece of atonality are, in a sense, gifted.

However, In my opinion, it sounds like crap. Intellectual drivel. I can appreciate the work that went into making such a hideous cacophany, but I can't help but wonder why they would bother.

Atonality is not experimental. Or, rather, not all experimental music is atonality. (In fact, experimental music is rarely experimental... Quarter and eighth tone dissonance have been around for centuries, yet modern pieces that utilize these are considered 'experimental')

Atonality is not to be confused with pantonality. Pantonality breaks harmonic and melodic relationships into mathematical equations. You form an equation and translate it into music, using all known tones, whereas atonality uses none. Atonality resists any known relationship, including the mathematical.

So. Drawing from my limited experience with atonality (I've only listened to a couple 'true' pieces of atonality) the only appeal I can see in listening to it is patting yourself on the back for knowing the 'rules', and appreciating the intellect of the composer.

That being said, OSC really doesn't know much about music. Although I'm pretty much in the dark with the music world (My experience lies primarily through solo piano literature and some theory), I'm pretty certain that Stravinsky's rite of spring was not atonality, although OSC thinks it is. If I remember correctly it was bitonality... Maybe tritonality.

I think he objects mostly to the fact that a lot of 'experimental' music today is the same 'experimental' music that's been used many times before. I'm not familiar with literature, but he's said several times that writer's are taught to write the same experiments that Joyce and Woolfe have already written. Well, as I said before, quarter tones have been around forever, but their considered 'experimental'. Prepared piano is hardly new, but is still all the rage.

He drew a parallel without really understanding the music side, I think.

However, I must say, I'm not very familiar with the music world myself. These details are all pretty fuzzy with me, and I've probably made several mistakes in the post. But, I'm reasonably sure I've gotten the gist of it. <Gulp>

*** Edited to add ***

It's aquired taste. Forgot to put that in there. I don't like atonality, but that's just me. Some other people may get something out of it, for all that I consider it to be hideous. [Wink]

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steven
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" atonality is a genre in the music comminity that has very specific rules for avoiding any known melodic, harmonic, or rythmic convention."

Rules more or less equal conventions, and most composers who write atonal music (and the word atonal has absolutely nothing to do with rhythm, like I said before) do follow rules/conventions, namely, serialism. Not all do, but there are some well-known and well-loved serialist pieces. I hear the Schoenberg violin concerto is pretty nice, although I think it has some tonal passages.

The Rite of Spring is not atonal. Anybody who thinks it is needs a couple of semesters of college-level music theory before they put forth opinions on the tonality of a work, or lack thereof.

That being said, I'm not the world's biggest fan of extremely dissonant music, although dissonance can be pleasing to me in the right setting, with other musical elements in appropriate relationship.

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Colin
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Conclusion: It's acquired taste [Smile] . And that is probably true for all arts.
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Flaming Toad on a Stick
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quote:
Originally posted by Aris Katsaris:
Then perhaps you can explain to me, why would a soul leaving a body reduce that body to dust as if it had been a vampire... Rather than leave a corpse, like most souls do.

An auia is not a soul. It is a binding force. The way it's explained in the books, each atom, each subatomic particle is bound to an auia. In a human being, all of the smaller auias are bound in a central, stronger auia that, for some definitions of the word, encompasses the soul. Furthermore, in strong human communities, the central auias of the humans bind together to form a web. And so on.
When any central auia is removed, it's components no longer bind together, and they disintegrate into their molecular or atomic or sub-atomic parts. This is what happened to Miro's old body.

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odouls268
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quote:
So basically, all those books are about lots of arbitrary things happening inconsistently and irrelevantly because OSC decided he wanted to make lots of irrelevant happen -- less of a novel, and more of random collection of vague ideas about nothing at all - out of all the books I have read out of all the authors, I'll say these two books come closest to being objectively bad.
...And yet you read them both in their entirety, retaining not only the plots and characters, but also the scientific and theological nuances and explications in full detail.

Clearly they were both captivating and memorable enough to engage you to the very end, and stay with you vividly, in spite of your assertion that they are "objectively bad."

I think this fact alone proves them to be, at least in your opinion, good books, despite your posting to the contrary.

Since this is the case, I agree with You. They are good books.

[Smile]

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
I think this fact alone proves them to be, at least in your opinion, good books, despite your posting to the contrary.
I find your being cute with regards to my opinions to be rather annoying.

I read the books and stayed with them to the end because "Speaker of the Dead" is one of the most magnificent books I've ever read - and as such I was willing to give its sequels a try, and not abandon them no matter how much they disappointed me.

That I was willing to read them all the way through even as they were leaving the taste of ashes in my mouth, says lots of things about me, few things about the books.

I don't buy your argument that the fact I loathed them must mean that in truth I loved them. I know what loving a book is -- it's what I felt with "Ender's Game", "Speaker of the Dead" or "Shadow of the Hegemon".

"Xenocide" and "Children of the Mind" is hatred instead.

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Scott R
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quote:
That I was willing to read them all the way through even as they were leaving the taste of ashes in my mouth, says lots of things about me, few things about the books.
The question is what does it say?

[Smile]

Again-- I enjoyed the books quite a bit, Xenocide especially. I found them consistent with the world OSC created, and I found them deeply thoughtful.

I don't mind that you didn't experience the same thing.

You said:

quote:
I'll say these two books come closest to being objectively bad.
I have to disagree with you. I'd like to understand, with specifics, why you feel that they are objectively bad.
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