Interesting, isn’t it?
On Saturday evening, I attended the premiere performance of a new contemporary dance company, Matheta Dance, in the East Village. The performance was divided into two parts: “Keep On” and “Keep Up.” Part one of the performance was a call to action to be more aware of how women are ill-treated, underestimated, and undervalued in society. Through the use of strong, aggressive, and emotionally loaded movement, five female artists dressed in all black, communicate this message. After the applause had replaced the somber atmosphere, the lady seated next to me said: “That was interesting.”
Part two of the performance was a stark contrast to part one. Part two centered around the journey of a woman following her dreams, focusing on the critical role of supportive relationships that uplift the spirit. Through the use of soft, flowing, and emancipated movement, the same five female dancers dressed in colorful dresses, communicate this message. After the applause had joined the celebratory atmosphere, the lady seated next to me said: “That was interesting.”
These were two completely different performances in terms of style, music, movement, emotions, and even costumes. And yet, this lady chose to use “interesting” to describe both of these performances. As if they were identical.
Interesting. A word we use all the time. A word we hear all the time. But what does it really mean? Why is it so often used to describe aesthetic objects, experiences, or even thoughts?
According to Sianne Ngai in Our Aesthetic Categories even though the judgment of interesting is feeling-based as opposed to concept-based, its status as an aesthetic judgment is insecure. The popular and overuse of the term “interesting” has become a weak evaluation and aesthetic judgment. To say something is “interesting” is very elusive. It might sound intelligent, cultivated, or even in tune with culture, but in essence, it has no substance. It is a word that demands an explanation (“It is interesting, because…”) or something to be compared to (“it is interesting in comparison to…”).
If this is true, why do we, as a society, accept to hear someone say something is interesting, without further explanation or comparison? Or even more problematic, why do we, as a society, accept to say something is interesting, without further explanation or comparison?
Are we using the word “interesting” because we want to sound intelligent? Are we using the word “interesting” because we don’t really have a point of view or opinion? Are we using the word “interesting” because it is a politically correct way not to offend?
Interesting. A word we use all the time. A word we hear all the time. An empty word. On my way home, seated on the R train, I replay the evening in my head. I turn to the lady and say: “Why is it interesting?”
Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 26.