“I know what I like when i see it.” Truer words were never spoken. It is our gut level response to things that pushes to like or the absence of like or worse. This phrase occurred to me when I was reading a review in the NY Times about the Oscars on Lars von Trier’s new film, “Melancolia”. The reviewer, an expert on film, spotted many references to other films in the first eight minutes, references that I would never have spotted unless I watched a great many more films. Does his informed opinion mean more than my uninformed opinion? (I haven’t yet seen the film.)
It is a dilemma that like and the absence of like can seem so arbitrary. After all, wouldn’t people want to know as much about something to deepen both their knowledge and enjoyment of a book, a play, an antique, a work of art, etc.? Gut reactions, however, have enormous sway with us and can negate the power of knowledge in a trice, particularly if they are proffered by someone whose knowledge is suspect but whose charisma is striking. The gut reaction is cavalier when seen in this light.
But what exactly is it that a deeper knowledge gives us to help us appreciate what we are looking at, listening to or otherwise experiencing? Does it matter that a composer’s wife may have died before he completed his symphony? Does it matter if George Washington actually slept in one particular bed? The list of such questions is endless and, at a certain point, one is desirous of cutting through the superfluity and return to the essence of the moment, to wit the gut reaction. Do you like what is being presented to you simply on its merits? It is a simple question with far too many answers.