Different Perspectives in Books…and Music!

 

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“There are no facts, only interpretations.” So said the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Each person sees the world from a slightly (or extremely) different point of view, so every time you read a story (or listen to music for that matter) it’s like you’re walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. 

Perspective can be all kinds of things:

1) An omniscient observer looking at an encapsulated world

This may be the typical third-person narrative voice that tells you what all the characters are thinking, knows what’s going to happen, and/or can see how the characters are part of a bigger picture. The person (or even thing) telling the story could also be unbiased and detached from the characters’ emotions, or he/she/it could have specific opinions about the story that influence the interpretation (i.e. if I was on the wolf’s side, I might tell Little Red Riding Hood differently).

2) Switching from one character to another

There is no rule that the same character must tell the whole story. Consider Frankenstein: first we have Walton, then Frankenstein, and even the monster telling parts of the story. Your characters can play “popcorn” storytelling as much as they want.

3) Character’s social position

There would be a difference if Mrs. Reed were telling the story of Jane Eyre’s childhood vs. Jane herself. Likewise, there would be a difference if Heathcliff were to tell the story of Catherine’s childhood instead of Nelly. Whether the storyteller is a friend or enemy, rich or poor, these epithets influence how the story is told.

4) Inner feelings

Can you guess what I’m thinking right now? Probably not. You might come close but there’s no way one person can understand all the subtleties in someone else’s mind. So when the storyteller talks about how another character is feeling, you know there’s some sort of gap between what they say and what’s 100% true.

But you can also become the storyteller. No one else will see a book and its characters exactly the way you do, because (you guessed it!) you have your own perspective. As a result, you become the interpreter of the characters’ inner emotions. How much of Hamlet’s madness is genuine and how much is feigned? What were Briar Rose’s feelings when she awoke from 100 years of sleep to a beautiful prince’s kiss? The story can influence your judgments by the details it provides, but ultimately you can push against the boundaries and decide if something is good or bad, real or fake, omniscient or limited.

5) When the story is told

Hindsight is 20-20 as they say—a storyteller may understand and interpret events differently if much time has passed between the story and its events. Alice’s story about Wonderland told right after she woke up would necessarily be different than Alice’s story told in a week, or years after, to the same person. (Coincidentally, the story would probably be different if she were telling it to different people, as well!)

Of course, if the character is telling the story at the same time he/she/it is experiencing it, we’ll have another perspective altogether. Perhaps the best example of this is the detective story. Some characters may seem guilty at first–clues seem to indicate one thing–but after the mystery is solved, everyone has been revealed in their true colors with the clues in their place, often revealing quite a different story than was at first apparent.

 

All of these perspectives affect how we perceive stories in books. But then music (including classical music) tells stories, too! So why shouldn’t those stories come from different perspectives? It’s always interesting thinking about classical music in particular and imagining who the storyteller might be or if there’s something the music isn’t saying…

Have you ever heard a piece of music that seems to be telling only one side of the story? Have you heard a piece of music that seems to tell a story from multiple perspectives?? I want to hear about it in the comments!!

Thanks for reading!

You might also like: The Weirdness of Time in Classical Music (And Books, Too)

20 thoughts on “Different Perspectives in Books…and Music!

  1. The stories that classical music tell are like poetry to me. Meaning, I don’t always get it right away, the meaning can change, and what I perceive may be totally different than what the author intended. 😀

    I like your intro about there being no facts, only perception. As a historian, this was a mind-boggling concept. In grade school we’re taught that history is FACT. It happened. We memorize dates, battle outcomes, and the names of people who did things. But histories were written by individuals based on memory. They convey specific perspectives and world views. FASCINATING.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree!! Classical music works for me in a very similar way. And exactly! It’s always crazy for me when I stop to remember that what we read in history textbooks is necessarily biased to some degree. I mean, there are more and less biased things and that’s the nature of being human but yeah it’s kind of crazy!!

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. This is very insightful; I’d never really thought of music in that way. This definitely gives me something to listen for in the future! Prokofiev’s “Visions Fugitives” comes to mind. It almost seems as if he were hiding something.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Stories that stem from classical music come in two ways for me. Either I’m encapsulated enough in the music’s time period and setting to imagine as vividly as possible what the song might of been depicting, or I listen to the piece and the story in my head contradicts the intent of the composer/time period. Regardless, I find myself closing my eyes and drifting into music as often as I can (it’s harder now than it was… gotta keep imagining though!).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I attended a lecture on the academic study of popular culture once and the man speaking made the point that you can never get back to the original emotional experience of artistic creation. So, for example, someone composes a piece of music. Everyone who listens to it can’t hold the composers emotional connection to it because they are approaching it with their own emotional background. So we all have to project ourselves into the music we hear. It’s the only way we can, in fact, experience music. As a result, the same piece can affect us differently at different times. Then he went on to say even the artist who composed the piece will forever experience the piece like this too because they will never be in the exact same emotional mood they were when they wrote it. So, even though they gave birth to it, each time they play it or hear it, it will be slightly different to them because they are in a different emotional place themselves (whether slightly or dramatically). It was a fascinating lecture and I’ve thought of the points often. We talk about this (albeit not with classical music) in a class I teach on popular culture too.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Okay…it was a couple years ago so the memory’s foggy but I did a little perusing on my bookshelf. I remember being so impressed by what he said I looked at what he had on Amazon. I’m 98% sure Tom Beaudoin was the speaker. The main point of the lecture was the crossroads between popular music and spirituality or the religious experience of our music. I have a few books on the subject but, looking through them all and when I got them, I think he’s the guy.

        I’m excited that I may’ve inadvertently aided your research too! Yay!

        Liked by 1 person

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