Friday, April 29, 2011

Everything in Boxes

  I hope you all had a good Easter. I did. I spent the whole time at a folk festival - great music and dancing, food and drink, and generally good fun. Somehow though, the talk at these events always gets round to "What is folk music?" or "Is this really folk music?". Frankly Scarlett, I couldn't give a damn. It's all music. Sing, dance, pluck, strum, blow, bang, whatever.
  This set us talking about how the chattering classes are always discussing the classification of things. Botanists in Australia have spent years of their lives arguing about how many species of Eucalyptus trees there are, but the trees grow in the forests just the same. Somebody who was singing a song about starfish claimed that zoologists now insist that they should not be called starfish as they are not fish. Instead they should be called sea stars. Trouble is, they are not in the sky and they don't twinkle. I personally have inflicted on the world a PhD thesis on the ethnic classification of the Dayaks of Borneo, and how it doesn't really work because people are not classified by their characteristics in common, but defined by their differences from others, and they usually have relationships with various different groups of others. Phew! It has taken me about sixteen years to reduce my PhD thesis to one sentence.
  We took one of our granddaughters to her favourite science museum, where we went to a presentation on dinosaurs. They explained that Brontosaurus did not exist, because it had previously been discovered and called something else. There were even suggestions of scientific fakery in order to create more classifications of dinosaurs. Some large critter left those bones behind, and he existed, and wasn't classified for millions of years. It must be very galling to be declassified if the corollary is that you didn't even exist. I shall insist on being cremated when I die so that they can't do it to me.
  I bought a chalumeau at the folk festival. That is a kind of proto-clarinet. On looking up the history of these instruments, there was great argumentation about the precise stage of the process of gradually modifying sound holes and adding levers which makes a chalumeau become a clarinet, and whether the person who is credited with inventing the clarinet really did so, or whether he merely modified a chalumeau. Well, I can blow notes on it now, so a big raspberry to that one. Just stop arguing and make the music.
  Language came into the discussion. There was a French singer who had lived for many years in northeast England and who spoke with a brilliant Geordie accent. She said she hadn't known that there were people in England who spoke other than "proper" English. She originally came from Nimes in the south of France. I went there once, and discovered that there were people who spoke French in a manner that my old French teachers would have thought was most incorrect. But we put all these things in boxes and write rules and fail to recognise that the rules don't always fit. In an earlier posting English 4 U I wrote something about the changing language and got emails from people effusively congratulating me on confirming their prejudices about the necessity to retain "proper" English, when I was saying the exact opposite.
  Paleography, of course, is not immune from this kind of discussion. Learned folks are always arguing about whether you can define a script by the funny little twiddle on the top of the s or whether you should define it by the slope of the ascenders or other minutiae, when we know that in the real world there is an endless range of variation which tends to clump into loosely defined patterns which we dignify with names. But then we talk as if the classifications were the reality, not simply something which we have made up in order to help us think. I have had numerous emails from people sending me pictures of bits of writing so that I can tell them the name of the script so that they can read it. (??!)
  I recently acquired a couple of books about medieval musical notation, and discovered that the same old story goes on there. There are names for the various evolving styles of musical notation, but no exact place where one turns into another. But somehow the emboxment becomes more important than understanding the process of evolution. So we are back where we started, with music, having got absolutely nowhere.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So druin.k..

Doesnt matter