Bored, I found the sheet music to Radiohead's “No Surprises” to memorize the two-measure hook on my learner’s keyboard. It’s my favorite Radiohead song, and I sing what I know of it daily. Typically, I don’t listen to the original recording, with which Stewart Lee ends the second series of his Comedy Vehicle. No, I have consigned Radiohead (and the Beatles) to Bob Dylan status: I fully recognize their incredible musicality but only enjoy listening to covers of their songs. Thus, I listen to either the Radiodread version or Regina Spektor's cover. The latter is the second track of the mix CD in my car, right after “Jerusalem.”
While this song may be vaguely suicidal, I would prefer to liken it to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” To blend lyrics from the two songs: “You look so tired, unhappy / Bring down the government / They don't, they don't speak for us / I'll take a quiet life / A handshake of carbon monoxide / And no alarms and no surprises / I... have become comfortably numb.”
All very upbeat, encouraging stuff! Ennui is not new to me as I’m sure it isn’t to any of you, but Roger Waters remembers a different MO in the last verse of his song: “When I was a child / I caught a fleeting glimpse / Out of the corner of my eye,” right before he stamps it out at song’s end. I’m interested in that fleeting glimpse.
I just finished The Last Unicorn and identified with King Haggard. Even as he was undone he simply laughed “as though he had expected it” because “very little ever surprised [him].” I keep my room at least as dark as Haggard kept his castle, my costs as low and my company as sparse; but, as I’m not interested in unicorn genocide, I don’t take our similarities lightly.
Haggard thought he knew everything there was to know, even though he didn’t. I don’t have delusions of omniscience, but I’m sure Haggard and I aren’t alone in finding everyday life boring. If I do essentially the same thing each day; and, as Mark Twain observed, current events really do rhyme with history, what can I reasonably expect to surprise me?
Roger Scruton’s Very Short Introduction to Beauty comes to the rescue once again. He deftly distinguishes between the energy of disinterest and the emptiness of no interest. He argues that pleasure in beauty is disinterested:
When I read a poem, my pleasure depends upon no interest other than my interest in this, the very object that is before my mind. Of course, other interest feed into my interest in the poem: my interest in military strategy draws me to the Iliad, my interest gardens to Paradise Lost. But the pleasure in a poem’s beauty is the result of an interest in it, for the very thing that it is.
But his next claim is, appropriately, more interesting:
The pleasure in beauty is curious: it aims to understand its object, and to value what it finds.
The italics are his, but I bolded value.
I've already written about finding beauty in everyday life, but I was more concerned with rationally assessing and recording quality aesthetics. I didn’t think to be curious for value! Now, I’m neither an Existentialist nor a Taoist, but I subscribe more to the latter philosophy regarding value. I think that while we have great imaginative powers to invent valuable things, we more often discover value that has already been created. The italicizing and bolding is over now, I swear.
|Just read them|
In short, I have been comfortably numb and have enjoyed no alarms and no surprises for some time. And I, probably mistakenly, believe I understand most things around me. But I know I haven’t cared to value what I find.
Living during an information glut, you grow to assume very little will hold value. If you stop there you will be bored at best and apathetic at worst. But not expecting much to hold value means finding value will be surprising, will be more than “just a little pin prick... to keep you going through the show.” You will not intone empty appraisals as the speaker in “No Surprises” does, but you will be able to genuinely and affectionately speak his words, “Such a pretty house, and such a pretty garden.” Understanding something is a fine step, but valuing what you find is, in Richard E. Kim’s words, “a small beginning.”