Sunday, March 14, 2010

Easterly: Dissonance (and Resolution?)

I'm listening.  First, while I believe a critic should use a variety of tools in a critique — reason, logic, evidence, Economics 101, anger, humor, satire, snark, compassion, evaluation of individual projects and organizations, and systemic analysis – it’s also important to get the mix right. The feedback I hear is that I have recently gone too far in the satire/snark dimension and am not using enough the other dimensions, and I need to adjust.
That is Bill Easterly, responding to some of his own critics.  His response reminded me of the following passage I read in a nice book called Introduction to Music Theory:

Figure 3: In most music a dissonance will resolve; it will be followed by a consonant chord that it naturally leads to, for example a G seventh chord resolves to a C major chord, and a D suspended fourth resolves to a D major chord. A series of unresolved dissonances, on the other hand, can produce a sense of unresolved tension.
Moving from a dissonance to the consonance that is expected to follow it is called resolution, or resolving the dissonance. The pattern of tension and release created by resolved dissonances is part of what makes a piece of music exciting and interesting. Music that contains no dissonances can tend to seem simplistic or boring. On the other hand, music that contains a lot of dissonances that are never resolved (for example, much of twentieth-century "classical" or "art" music) can be difficult for some people to listen to, because of the unreleased tension.
Even though I am a friend and great admirer, I, too, find some of Bill's posts too snarky - too dissonant, too negative, sometimes slapdash. But then I remember his superb books, The Elusive Quest for Growth and White Man's Burden.  These are exceptionally analytical, thoughtful, measured, and well written.  Despite their critical nature, they point in a constructive direction, toward a new development aid framework that has not yet been articulated by Bill or anyone else.  In some sense, those two books have been the "resolution" to previous periods of dissonance.  So the natural question is: when will Bill's next book be out?