Generalizations are...Wait! Hey! Stop!

You there! Hey! Can you help me out with something? Judging by your looks, I bet you know what makes carrots orange, right?

Figure 1. Despite making his living on carrot-themed jocularity, this guy might not know the answer.

The point being, a generalization about an attribute of identity can be very dangerous, backfiring when you least expect it.

I just wish that Jane Norris, from the Charlottesville Daily Progress, had learned this lesson before writing her puff piece.


Amit Peled started his year with a little bit of soul and plans to wind it up with a celebration.

As opening lines go, this one kinda works--you'll see. But that’s hardly why we’re here.

The Israeli cellist, who’ll team up with pianist Eli Kalman for the next Tuesday Evening Concert Series event in Cabell Hall Auditorium, has released “The Jewish Soul,” a CD that dives into complex works by Ernest Bloch, Joachim Stutschewsky, Max Bruch and other composers.

Fine. Good. And all that.

Ready? Here it is:

Having grown up in Israel, surrounded by the culture and the music, he can bring an authentic tone to his interpretations of the pieces [...].

Ah! So he understands the Jewish soul; he was born into it; he lives it; he breathes it. And you can hear that soul manifest itself in the music.

Now, I’m not going to pretend I know the makeup of the Israeli soul. Heck, I don’t even have a pituitary gland! [Yes, that was a Descartes joke] So I'll just take the author's word for it.

One question, though. What happens when...?

On Tuesday, Peled and Kalman will perform an “Homage to Russia” program that includes Sergei Prokofiev’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 119,” Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 40” and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano” [...].

Let's see. If we try to use our logic bones, it would follow that our cellist is good at playing music by Jewish composers, because he has an Israeli soul. However, since he’s not Russian he must be bad at playing Russian music, right? ‘Cause he doesn’t have a Russian soul. That’s why he’s good at playing Jewish music. ‘Cause he has an Israeli soul. He's not a Russian. He's Israeli. So he's good at playing Israeli (read: Jewish) music. And bad at Russian (read: not Israeli [read: not Jewish]) music, because he's not Russian, which means he doesn't have a Russian soul. Right? Right?!

Hmm. Is our author suggesting that one must be, say, Catholic to conduct Beethoven with authenticity? [And yes, that's a Wagner/Mahler joke]

Figure 2. Obviously not colored by a cat


Sator Arepo said...

There's a dangerous law of exceptionalism at work here.

Gustav said...

This definitely touches on a fine line that divides a lot of thinking on culture and heritage. In most public discourse we view stereotypes as offensive and sometimes dangerous. But in academic circles, I have often observed a sort of fetishizing of the "authentic" and a hypersensitivity to cultural ownership. I would think that a certain amount of this is helpful and even educational.

But on the other end, we might start to flirt with strange absurdities...can only people from Tulsa play Tulsan music properly? Or at least not be culturally insensitive to Tulsans?