Sunday, September 10, 2017

Commonality Value

We all understand the concept of "rarity value". It's often occurred to me that its opposite also exists-- I suppose it should be called "commonality value".

The appeal of many things is that they are so common. The awareness that they are so common, that there are innumerable other instances of them, is a big part of their appeal.

This theme occurred to me (though far from the first time) when I was going to Mass today. As readers will know, I'm not a Traditionalist. I'm not anti-Traditionalist, in fact I've found myself leaning in that direction quite a lot recently. But something keeps me in the Ordinary Form, and partly it's the desire to join in the same liturgy that innumerable Catholics participate in all around Ireland (and all around the world) every single day.

This same feeling often strikes me in regard to other things, though. It struck me on Friday evening, when I went to see the movie It in the cinema. Like most Stephen King films, it's set in Anytown, USA. Well, actually, it's set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, and the town is anything but ordinary under the surface. But, on the surface, it's the ordinary American small town with white picket fences, low skyline, box-like buildings, and doubtless plenty of Mom and Pop stores. This environment, so common in horror and science fiction, seems so endearing precisely because it's so ordinary.

The same is true of love stories. The world will never grow tired of love stories. Sir Paul McCartney addressed this very theme in "Silly Love Songs": "You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs, but I look around me and I see it isn't so..." The fact that men and women have been falling in love (etc. etc. etc.) since the species began doesn't make love stories any less interesting to us. It makes them more interesting.

The themes of Christian art are another example. How often can the Crucifixion be pictured? Or the Nativity? Or the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden? When do these themes get played out? They never get played out. In fact, the artistic tradition enriches each new treatment of them.

This feeling also occurs to me when I'm listening to homilies. I take great pleasure in the knowledge that the Bible passage the priest is enlarging upon has been discussed innumerable times, millions of times, in the history of Christianity-- that it's a "living word".

Holiday customs are another example. A Christmas tree is beautiful in itself, but it's more beautiful because there are Christmas trees in almost every home, office, shop and square throughout the Christian world. The same is true for Halloween bonfires, New Year's fireworks, St. Patrick's Day parades, Thanksgiving parades, and so on.

Another example: popular songs, stories, plays, and other works of art. When does a work of art become a "classic" or a "staple"? And doesn't it seem to become more than it was at first, when it attains this status, as though there is now a kind of aura around it?

Another example is days. Days are beautiful (in my view) because there are so many of them. Nobody could hope to remember all the days that make up their lives...I keep a diary and one of the pleasures of reading it is remembering days that I'd forgotten. This is even more true of history, whether it's the history of the world, the history of a nation, the history of a soccer club, or the history of some institution. Individual days blur into that delicious shimmering timescape, the past imperfect...

One instance of "commonality" value which gives me special pleasure to think on is country roads. I take tremendous pleasure in daydreaming about the thousands of miles of country road, many of them deserted or almost deserted, which must stretch all over Ireland. The same is true of cinemas and pubs. And yes, I wrote about this fascination in this blog post, where I made an effort at prose poetry. I tried to evoke a similar atmosphere here.

 I suppose you either feel this or you don't.  Personally, it's something that I think about very often, that I've always thought about, that moves me profoundly on almost on a daily basis. I wish I could find words to do it justice. Perhaps that would require poetry, rather than prose.


  1. There is some weighty comfort to the fact we can enjoy some mundane things without end! Nice you brought up the example of popular songs also. I see almost no exceptions to the rule there, and would only melancholy confirm one such candidate in the now so grotesquely over-reprised, yet once before that stage really wonderful, Torna a Sorrento. As someone put it in print: "there are limits to the number of times one can listen to this song and like it"; but even then, in versions like the very best one of Dean Martin´s I only nigh agree to that dry limit opinion. Hopefully it´ll be only a temporarily fatigue in the longer run. It probably depends a lot on the setting it gets plays in. To hear staple status songs unwanted is not at all as to choose them free or to hear music shared on a personal level...

    1. Well, it's the same thing with movies. I stopped watching Groundhog Day for a while because it had gone stale on me. I do think the best measure of any work of art is how much it bears repetition.

    2. Perhaps paintings has the upper hand when it comes to that? I cannot imagine being tired of an El Greco in the same way as any film or piece of music. Indeed it goes for religious art in particular.

    3. On the other hand, you don't spend so much time looking at pictures, I'll warrant! (Never liked El Greco myself.)

  2. To do one´s heroes a favour it might be a good idea not to put those few pet films or songs or books (or other art) to the test by indulging in them.

    1. Well, I agree, but this chap watched Groundhog Day every day for a year, and says he still enjoys it!