Is it all an illusion?

I attended an event the other day that made me think into what’s the point of the work of researchers who handle cultures as outsiders. By outsiders I mean those who attempt to play the expert in their field although they were not born and raised in the given region and tradition. Before anyone would take my words as an offence, I must add that I belong to this group myself too or at least I aspire to do so.

The event included a live performance from a duo, considered to be experts in Europe within this kind of music. They do their job with the best intention, no doubt, I can’t have a bad word against them, but to make what and how they play equal to how locals make their music is a very brave thing to do. And still, the audience greatly enjoyed the evening and not having much experience from the field, they identified the duo’s work as authentic and traditional. I have spent longer periods in the region so I listened to the happenings wide-eyed for it was a far cry from how it was supposed to be.

When we touch a subject or tradition that does not belong to us by birthright, can we add to it anything useful or sensible at all? Of course, we can be more informed than locals at times in terms of knowing all kinds of factual datas because we focus on such things, that’s our job to do, while as a local you might not pay much attention to the importance of a historical event for example. However, I believe that what we will never fully understand and acquire is the complexity of thinking according to a culture that is different to ours. Mastering local languages helps a lot but that’s still not enough. For that, we must be extremely careful with our statements.

How we experience things is simply just how we experience things and not definitely how things are. I can see things only from my perspective and the person next to me will see it from his or her own perspective that is determined by background, feelings and all sorts of things. But if we all see things differently, does reality exist at all?

And now, after querying my own work, I leave you for a while. I have an article to write…

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Posted in UK

2 thoughts on “Is it all an illusion?

  1. I think it is interesting what you say but I would have to say that from the point of view of experience we may all be the hub and centre of our own universe but that doesn’t mean that we don’t understand ourselves and others through a process of inter-subjective checking. This is the case with individuals and so it should be with cultures and traditions. What your saying doesn’t seem to ring true to me, or rather the extent to which it rings true is rooted in subjective views about self and other and in-group vs out group. I am sure that group membership is a complex thing and acceptance as a member of a group that is based on racial identity is very fragile, especially if you carry the stigma of difference on your skin for all to see but it doesn’t mean you don’t understand a culture and in many ways the outsider understands aspects of a culture that members of that culture would rather not acknowledge. The status of outsider gives one a distance that provides an important basis for a valid perspective that can reveal aspects of the truth that it is sometimes hard for members of a group to see. The whole basis of our attempts to be objective is rooted in a belief in ‘The truth” rather than assertions of “my truth” even the questioning of the arrogance of this sort of position and its impact on colonial attitudes towards other cultures is rooted in the attempt to be “objective” and fair. Cultural relativism is ultimately something we can become a victim of and the search for human universals is an essential part of being sane and able to make judgements about ourselves and others. Not being judgmental of other people and their ways of doing things is important but it should not be placed at the top of your moral hierarchy, this is particularly problematic in the case of participant observation or simply living in another culture. The balance between the desire for acceptance and not compromising your own values can be a major struggle for people. As far as what your saying about music just imagine what people would think about your statement if it applied to non-western performers of European classical music. I think that cuts to the core of the problem. Cultures with an Imperial past have as a result of their reach and the demands of conflict management and economics have had to reach greater degrees of plurality, flexibility of identity and inclusion more inward looking cultures and cultures with less power and reach are by definition parochial. Ultimately the problem you are raising is less one of understanding and rather one of being percieved as a member of the group and that perception of membership is effected by the inclusivenss of the group. Understanding based on membership or acceptance as member gives too much power to the group over the individual and the truth is a complex thing but belief in the truth and in human universals are a good thing.

    • I appreciate your lengthy comment but please keep in mind that I have no aim to go into academic analysis within my blog. I attempt to share impressions, thoughts, ideas, surely not some kind of universal truth or definite answer to any question. Trust me, most of us do not understand even ourselves! But taking it slightly more seriously…I didn’t mention racial identity, what I try to express here has something to do with the soul or heart, whatever you call it, that develops and grows according to your natural surroundings. You seem to focus on the mind.
      Using the word stigma in this context is not very fortunate, I don’t see differences in skin colour as a stigma. I also don’t believe in any kind of universal truth, as you say, ‘The truth’. I personally think that there are many ways, many truths to approach anything. When we think that there is only one solution for everything for everyone that can cause serious issues. I am not sure I understand your argument in every point though nor that we speak about the same thing. Maybe because my focus is now not on the mind.

      As for your note on European classical music – as much as I know that sort of music I guess I can say that classical music is played from sheet music, am I right? Composers, musicians have the freedom to play what’s written down according to their own taste and style, and they manage to bring out extremely varied things – again, according to their personal taste and even background. Just listen to an orchestra from Azerbaijan then let’s say from England and you will hear the difference. Of course they have rules to keep. The music I referred to is traditional Mongolian throat singing, accompanied by one of the most unique instruments on earth called ‘morin khuur’. Once you hear it played on the steppe, you will know why it belongs to Inner Asia. Both the beauty and sorrow of the extremely harsh traditional lifestyle, the clatter of hoofs, the whinnying of horses, all heard in this music. It is not possible to play that way without personal experiences, direct attachment to the natural habitat – that is putting the kind of soul in it that is determined by our roots. I wish you and everyone else to find the opportunity to listen to this music on the field.

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