Simon’s response to Mark Wastell’s Epiphany in Wire 292, fascinating not because it is a Rashômon-like alternative reading of the same event, but because – contrary to certain prevailing hedonic relativist orthodoxies – it demonstrates that there is something more involved in aesthetic judgments than a mere registering of sensations. The difference between Mark’s response and Simon’s was not at the level of pleasure; it wasn’t that Mark found Parker and Braxton any more agreeable than Simon did. But, in Mark’s case, the initially disagreeable sensations induced him to take a leap beyond the pleasure principle: a cognitive act, a commitment, a decision to override the ‘anger and confusion’ that the music first caused him to feel.(Simon of course has taken such leaps in respect of other scenes, other musics.)

The mantra of hedonic relativism has it that ‘everything is subjective‘, where subjectivity is construed as an arbitrary set of preferences. But Mark’s Epiphany vindicates the view that certain encounters – events – produce subjectivities, even as they destitute us, deprive us of old worlds.

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