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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts After Hearing an Accordion Being Played On a Boat

I was cycling home from work with a small detour, because I had done an interview for my research project in the west of town. So I decided to take the route along the waterside of the lake that lies between the town and the village where I live. Although the weather was great for sailing, there were not many boats – it is always rather quiet on this particular lake.

One boat was anchored not far from land. Three people were sitting on deck. When I passed the boat, I heard the sound of an accordion. Looking at the boat I saw that it came from one of the people on deck. I could not hear whether the guy in question was playing a song, and which one; I just noticed the to my ears always slightly melancholic accordion sound.
And then I noticed that, in a flash, I had been thinking a lot of things at the same time:
-         I thought it was fitting that an accordion was played on a boat on the water – it seemed the natural thing to do, a thing done for hundreds of years (I don’t think the accordion is actually that old, but nevertheless I had that hundreds-of-years-feeling), a lovely tradition making one feel nostalgic (shanty choirs, De klok van Arnemuiden, and so on and so forth);
-         I also thought: what nonsense that this guy takes an accordion to a boat – how infantile to play the role of an old traditional sailor in such a silly way in these modern times (the musical equivalent of people with an expensive yacht wearing white clothes and – even worse - a white captain’s hat);
-         I also kind of “meta-thought”: who am I to think all this of the poor guy. Maybe he just likes to play the accordion anywhere – in his car, in his garden, and also in his boat; no role-playing involved, just genuine musical fun;
-         and I meta-thought: so what if this guy actually ís doing a bit of role playing? Let him enjoy it!
-         And I meta-meta-thought: what a lot of thoughts on such a simple occasion.

Then I felt a bit dizzy. Luckily that disappeared soon enough, especially when I shortly afterwards saw two storks on their nest and a buzzard circling in the air.

I guess my whole train of thought contains a lot of what is called “reflexivity” (one of the many forms of reflexivity – I guess there are at least three and maybe even more meanings of the word, often used without much discrimination). Reflexivity in this case meaning that not only you are thinking something, but also you are using popularized knowledge about your thinking coming from the social sciences to adjust what you are thinking. That is why the social sciences are called “reflexive” – because the knowledge generated on human life changes that same human life. I think this is the way Anthony Giddens is talking about the reflexivity of sociology.

By the way: may I, with summer’s holiday coming, strongly recommend reading “Accordion Crimes” by E. Annie Proulx? A fascinating book on America and immigration, told by means of following the life of an accordion through the hands of its many successive owners. And once you have read that, also read her short story “Heart Songs” from the book by the same name, on old-time musicians. And then read the rest of the short stories in the book, as well as the books “Postcards” and “The Shipping News” (don’t forget to watch the movie, also!). And any other books she may have written.

And by way of post script:

Dear mr. Amazon,

I know you are reading my blog, because just two days after my last  entry, in which I confessed that I had stopped reading “Real Country”, a book which I bought from you, you sent me an email offering to buy it back from me for a good price. Now that I know that you read my blog, we may as well communicate directly, don’t you think? So: mr. Amazon, could you maybe send me a list of the complete works of Annie Proulx you have on offer second-hand, leaving out the books mentioned above?


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