Culture Magazine

William James on Music

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Last year Kurt Newman went through William James's The Principles of Psychology, found all references to music, and gathered them into a single blog post. Here's one of those entries:
We learn to appreciate what is ours in all its details and shadings, whilst the goods of others appear to us in coarse outlines and rude averages. Here are some examples: A piece of music which one plays one’s self is heard and understood better than when it is played by another. We get more exactly all the details, penetrate more deeply into the musical thought. We may meanwhile perceive perfectly well that the other person is the better performer, and yet nevertheless––at times get more enjoyment from our own playing because it brings the melody and harmony so much nearer home to us. This case may almost be taken as typical for the other cases of self-love…
And this is also surely the reason why one’s own portrait or reflection in the mirror is so peculiarly interesting a thing to contemplate . . . not on account of any absolute “c’est moi,” but just as with the music played by ourselves. What greets our eyes is what we know best, most deeply understand; because we ourselves have felt it and lived through it. We know what has ploughed these furrows, deepened these shadows, blanched this hair; and other faces may be handsomer, but none can speak to us or interest us like this.

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