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May 14, 2014

Coolness & Recovery

by Brendan

Centering prayer master Thomas Keating, most famous for his book Open Mind, Open Heart, also has published a book called Divine Therapy: Centering Prayer and the Twelve Steps.  In it a journalist quizzes Keating on how centering prayer applies to each of the Twelve Steps used in recovery programs.

Father Keating has interesting and useful things to say about everything, but he’s especially good on the subject of humility, of being centered and not wasting time judging others.  To paraphrase, he says that, sure, other people can be annoying, vindictive, even evil, “but you can’t do anything about them.”

I got the book I discussed in my previous two posts, Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste, and it’s every bit as good as I’d heard and expected.   Wilson is a music critic with lengthy experience writing for publication, but in Let’s Talk About Love he focuses on Celine Dion as a test case, exploring why she’s so universally popular and so critically denigrated.  He establishes background for his case study by giving the history of popular music and critical taste in the 1980’s and 1990’s, wondering where musical taste comes from at all — why some things are considered “hip” and “cool” while others are not, and especially why we feel that we have the right to judge others, anyway.

Carl Wilson, "Let's Talk About Love"

Carl Wilson, “Let’s Talk About Love”

Well, Wilson simply outdoes himself in turning his own pre-conceptions (perhaps mis-conceptions) around and looking at how easy it is to find others at fault, how easy it is to establish a critical stance that raises oneself about all those annoying others who must be wrong, who have “such bad taste.”  Since, as Keating says, we can’t do anything about them, Wilson decides to do something about himself — to look through, around, or beyond his pre-conceptions and try to understand what Celine Dion might be doing right, in her decidedly uncool way.  Wilson renounces his “hipster” stance and listens with love.

Near the end of his section of the New and Expanded Edition (which now includes 13 essays by folks such as Nick Hornby and Mary Gaitskill), Wilson writes a chapter re-reviewing Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love album from 1997, reissued in an Aluminum Anniversary Edition  in 2007.  This album, of course, contains the Titanic (and titanic) hit, “My Heart Will Go On.”  He writes, “When this album was first released I assumed it was shallow, that it was beneath me.  A decade later I don’t see the advantage in holding yourself above things” (149).

So I can’t do anything about others, only myself.  And there’s no “advantage” in holding myself about others.  And it’s the easiest thing in the world to forget that other people don’t really have such bad taste.  Taste is, at bottom, pretty arbitrary.  Not to mention cruel.

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