Monday, December 9, 2013

Art, Resonance, and Subjectivity

by MarcyKate Connolly
"Since the one thing we can say about fundamental matter is that it is vibrating and, since all vibrations are theoretically sound, then it is not unreasonable to suggest that the universe is music and should be perceived as such." -Joachim-Ernst Berendt
The above is one of my all time favorite quotes (emphasis mine). It appeals to me on a lot of levels (not the least of which is that I majored in music in college), but I think it explains one fundamentally tricky beast that plagues all artists.


Yes, that word. The one that strikes fear in many hearts, but especially writers. If you’ve been through the query trenches, you’ve most likely heard something along the lines of “this business is subjective” in agent responses. It’s true, and it can suck.

But take heartwhat doesn’t work for one person, may very well resonate with another. 

And that’s the keyword here—resonate. Have you heard the phrase, “That struck a chord with me?” If we think of each novel  (or other creative work) as a note swimming in a sea of other notes, it begins to make a little more sense. If your book is a C, then it isn’t going to jive with the agent or editor who’s resonating at a D flat. But if you find an agent at E or G, you’re on your way to a full chord. 

For those who aren’t familiar with music notation, basically, the first example sounds dissonant, but the second is more harmonious. Point being, just because your C book doesn’t work with the D flat agent doesn’t mean C is bad. It means your C needs a E. 

The same is true with readers. As someone whose book will be out in about a year, reader subjectivity makes me particularly nervous (read: TERRIFIED).  Every person, every reader, resonates on their own note. There’s so many potential ways my book could resonate or jar with readers, that it’s downright scary. If you’ve ever visited Goodreads and taken a gander at any book’s review section, you’ll see what I mean. Subjectivity abounds.  A book may only partially resonate with someone, while it will knock the socks off another. Just remember that it doesn't mean the book itself is necessarily bad—it means it wasn't right for that reader.

So what exactly do I mean by resonance? You know that feeling when you read a book (or hear music, see a work of art) and it tugs at your insides? Ever read a book that you could not put down because you had to know what happened next? Ever had to keep listening to a song over and over because somehow something in it just clicked with you? That is resonance. Art can tear you up and sew the pieces back together in the best of ways. Resonance is when you can feel, sometimes in a physical way, that a book, or song, or painting vibrates on the same wavelength as you. 

And that can change. We grow and our tastes evolve. Our tunes change. What resonated years ago, may not today. Or that same passage in a book or piece of music may floor you every time.  For me, there’s too many books like that to pick just one, but I can tell you the one piece of music that still guts me whenever I hear it—the “Lacrimosa” section of Mozart’s Requiem.  Never fails to give me chills. 

So tell me, what books, or other art, have resonated with you? Share in the comments!

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper MG fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children's Books in Winter 2015.


Jemi Fraser said...

Love this! You've expressed it so well. It's music often for me too. Certain voices, harmonies and minor chords set off chills and hit deeply. kd lang singing Hallelujah at the Vancouver Olympics was one of 'those' moments :)

SC Author said...

I LOVE this! For me, it's "Les Misérables," "The Casual Vacancy," and of course, Harry Potter. I'm not too well-learned in music but I do love these two singers especially XD

SC Author said...

And that quote is really awesome. As someone that geeks out about physics and astronomy and particles, I never thought of vibrations like that, which is so cool to me now.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

For me, it's The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo. I expound upon this novel so often, but I've come to really realize that it is just that I read it at the right time and it also so happens that my personal philosophy jives so well with the theme of that novel; great harmony. I can get why others think "meh" about it - but I guess that kind of thing can help me with how others feel about my own writing. I hope. Haha.

Manhattan Image and Style said...

What a great post! For me is "Les Miserables"

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