Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Voice of the Soul (continued): Self-Pitying Music

I think there can be little argument but that music evokes feelings. It can make us feel happy, sad, courageous, fearful, reverent, boisterous—you name it. The whole purpose of background music is to put us in the proper mood. The music we like also says something about our personality or at least about our mood at any given time—for example, that we are romantic or sentimental, playful or serious.

So, what, exactly, is “self-pitying music”? Arthur Henry King (a very opinionated brilliant scholar who is deceased) had plenty to say on the topic of self-pity. King condemned self-pity in literature and in music and in people:

“Self-pity is never constructive. Self-pity is a morbid disease; it is a kind of self-indulgence instead of repentance. Self-pity is always a weakness, never a strength.”

“Self-pity is the dominant feeling of most modern literature in most countries. It is one of the greatest vices of our time. It is a very natural thing to have if one doesn’t believe in God. What a pitiable universe it is if there is no God! No wonder that self-pity thrives.” Referring to the writings of Beaudelaire, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, as examples, he said: “Self-pity is the insidious side of a demonic, satanic generation ….”

Wow. That is rather harsh (as they say).

King continues: “There is very little music since the beginning of our 19th century which is not vitiated by what vitiates the whole of our society: self-pity, self-regard, self-esteem.” To vitiate means to destroy or weaken. And, incidentally, it is pronounced VISH-ee-ate not VIT-ee-ate. [Illustration is Picasso's Weeping Woman.]

Once we grasp the concept of self-pitying music, it is easy to find examples in country-western music and popular ballads. Interestingly, AHK does not give blanket approval to classical music either, as one might expect. He criticizes the music of Beethoven and Tchaikowski as self-pitying. The power of such music on me is illustrated by the following experience.

My attention was grabbed one day by a song that Jeremy was playing on his laptop computer. I vaguely recalled that I had heard this song a few years earlier. It was particularly heart-wrenching. I seemed to remember that it was part of a sound track for a tear-jerker movie which I had seen, although I couldn’t remember which one. I began wracking my brain to remember where I’d heard it before and while doing so, I became obsessed with the song. I actually wanted to keep listening to it so that I could feel sad, bereft, and wretched. It made me want to weep. Eventually, however, I began to feel somewhat tainted or soiled, manipulated or used, and that I needed to wash my heart and soul of the self-absorbed, self-indulgent self-pity that the song generated. Not to mention the nightmare of having this song stuck in my mind. It was going around in my head all night long, and all day long. Endlessly. It was then that I connected Arthur Henry King’s remarks on self-pity to the feelings created by that song

Of course, I remembered all of this while working on my playlist (see August 18 blog entry) and finding myself feeling blue. Hopefully, now I will be vigilant against self-pity of any kind in these blogs. Navel-gazing is so unlovely.

(Exception to the rule: Navel-gazing that IS cute.)


Anonymous said...

Yes...I love self-pitying music...It is what I survived on in college...sigh...sigh, sigh, sigh...

Chris said...

Ah, self pity. I can relate to that. I think anyone that has made mistakes in their life pity themselves.

Can self pity be linked with humbleness? Maybe.

Can a proud person have self pity? I doubt it.

How about a selfish person? A selfish person could have self pity, although I don't think selfishness in itself would lead someone to have self pity.

Can someone be humble and selfish at the same time?

I could see that someone who may have a low self esteem or depressed is more likely to have self pity. But, at the same time, one who is humble may realize how small and insignificant they are. SO, in a nutshell, here is the equation:

Depressed + Low self-esteem + Humble + Sinner = Self Pity

But, what happens when you divide (and conquer) self pity with Christ? I can only imagine.

Anonymous said...

You know, Chris, you are extremely thoughtful. I love reading your posts!

Zaphod said...

I enjoy rumination, the delight of thoughts weaving around themselves. Listening to music, or playing music, is a right-brain activity and somewhat at odds with rumination, at least for me. What music does for me is almost Buddhism, a relaxing non-thinking. It probably isn't healthy but it does give the other side of my head a break.