The Thing in Itself

Food for Thought

We might say to a friend, “Let’s go eat pancakes,” but the real motive might be socializing. Separating the thing in itself from the whole package is not always easy. Sometimes I truly want to eat a pancake from a specific restaurant, and I wouldn’t care if anyone came along with me. Other times, the pancake is secondary. If the place is too crowded, we might go to a pizzeria next door.

Many people travel around the world and say their motive is to experience different cultures, but most of them never take the numerous free opportunities to learn about different cultures in New York. For instance, they might travel to China but never walk into a Chinese supermarket.

If you have a decent stereo system at home, technically speaking, recorded performance is almost always superior to live performance. Half a century ago, the legendary pianist, Glenn Gould, predicted that live performance would be obsolete. He turned out to be wrong, but what percentage of people truly focus on music? I grew up sitting in front of the stereo system, staring at the speakers, and listening to music. Nobody I know does this now. Music is almost always a secondary experience. When we go see live performances, our primary motive is the enjoyment of being with others.

Many enjoy street parades where a long line of people perform a traditional dance. But at home, nobody I know watches a traditional dance on TV.

I also wonder why people feel the need to go see artworks in museums. If you are a scholar and have exhausted what can be learned from reproductions, you might need to see the original manuscript, but otherwise, what would laypeople gain from it?

There is nothing wrong with enjoying other aspects of the experience besides the ostensible one, but in many cases, the stated purpose is rarely the primary reason. Those who need to study the original manuscript, pay full attention to a piece of music, watch traditional dances on TV for hours at home, and study a foreign language by frequently commuting to an immigrant community in New York City, I suspect, are a tiny minority in this world. I think Glenn Gould vastly overestimated the size of this group.