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January 05, 2006

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Scott Walters

I think it is beautifully stated. I agree with him entirely!

Kelly

Yeah, Isaac, I was tempted to replace fiction with drama (theater) as well. Brecht, reacting to pop culture, once said: "We need a type of theatre which not only releases the feelings, insights and impulses possible within the particular historical field of human relations in which the action takes place, but employs and encourages those thoughts and feelings which help transform the field itself." I think we, as "artists" (oh yeah, and I don't totally dig on the words art or artists anymore, I've seen too many people smirk when they hear those words, it evokes a certain elitism which is often inescapable, but I'm gonna use 'em for lack of better words)--we all need to make art for art's sake, but everyone needs to learn how to appreciate art, in the best way they can as individuals, for the sake of their own humanity. In this Land of Make and Take, we are simultaneously writers, producers, and members of the audience (and I believe the audience can possess an art all its own--the art of careful viewing. Right? It's hard to watch plays, I mean, wouldn't we rather be eating ice cream or making out sometimes? Honestly. Give us/them credit). Yeah, I'm thinking we all need to work harder to figure out what we want to say, and what others are saying. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt and believe that what everyone's trying to say could very well change everything. So, yes, please, please entertain me--and let me entertain you back. You know, let's have an Art Party, for lack of a better phrase. You dig?

Karl Miller

David Foster Wallace is one of my favorites -- I read "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" on a plane this summer and have been hooked ever since. "E Unibus Plurum" (sp?) is a wonderful essay for putting deconstructionists and postmodernists in their place. And, if memory serves, it was written fifteen years ago. That's an eternity in pomo terms.

We can toggle back and forth on the audience vs. artist axis forever and continue to find new phrases to characterize this interaction. Were it not already someone's blog title, "Unrequited Narcissism" would be my pithy invective for most of the avant-garde stuff out there.

Nice post!

Alison Croggon

I agree it is contemptuous and foolish to blame an audience for not understanding something. That doesn't mean, on the other hand, that an audience is always right. Were contemporary audiences right to boo Madame Butterfly off the stage? To dismiss Ulysses? To ignore Paradise Lost? It might be that the most profound respect one can show an audience is to refuse to spoon-feed those people the pap that mass/industrial culture claims is the only thing that constitutes "entertainment". (Btw, who are these "postmodernists" and "deconstructionists", as a matter of curiosity?)

A marvellous Australian poet, Les Murray, comes from a poor background, rural "white trash". He has said his only duty to his readers and his constituency is to write as well as he possibly can. He certainly gets readers of all kinds and backgrounds, though his poetry is hardly easy. Yes, give the audience the profound respect of the best we can do; but don't patronise them by second-guessing their desires, or assuming they're unintelligent and need everything explained. The rest is up to the various individuals who witness the work. Some will like it, some won't; with luck, some few will remember it all their lives.

George Hunka

Even if he was describing an extreme for the sake of his point (no problem with that here, by the way), Wallace's characterization of the avant-garde writer as necessarily writing for other writers may be true in a few cases, but not in most. An audience exists for more challenging and experimental work, and it's always been small, but it's there. And other artists have always been a part of our audience, no matter what we do. The question starts to eat its own tail.

Which is why all this hand-wringing about "the audience" seems somewhat beside the point to me. Soon we'll be having a pissing contest about whose audience is smarter, mine or yours, and this is ... unproductive, let's say.

For what it's worth, I stand with Kelly and Alison on this one--that we should concentrate on our own work, and we should also understand that some audiences will be more discerning, harder to please, than others, and that an audience is made up of individual perspectives of wildly varying expectations and tastes. Some will be open to challenge and change, others will stubbornly remain closed-minded, seeking the easy way out. And I'm not sure what else can really be said.

George Hunka

By the way, that "You can try to confront what it is that makes fiction magical in a way that other kinds of art and entertainment aren't. And to figure out how fiction can engage a reader, much of whose sensibility has been formed by pop culture, without simply becoming more shit in the pop culture machine. It's unbelievably difficult and confusing and scary, but it's neat"? There's so much bullshit here it's beginning to smell like a cattle farm. All those useless words that try to inspire slack-jawed awe: "Magical"? "Neat"? Who's he trying to kid?

Sorry for sounding like a crank, but in terms of pop culture (especially today's; pop culture in 1920s Germany was a somewhat different matter in some respects), if you lie down with dogs ... well. You know.

Scott Walters

George, you ARE becoming a crank! Jesus Christ!

George Hunka

So long as we're duelling with quotes, here's what Foreman had to say about theater and pop culture, though:

"Let's dare proclaim that in the face of a society increasingly crying for a media-driven, market-oriented, popular art, reaching out to everyone at once–while 'deep thoughts' are officially allowed in such art, they must only come in a form that is easily communicable to all.

"BUT I MAINTAIN
that to feed the individual human spirit, the true art of these times must be a kind of demanding gymnasium where sensibilities get rigorous exercise–so that those sensibilities then become more refined, able to pick up on and appreciate the patterned intricacies of a world which is usually, in art, simplified into recognizable social and psychological clichés or knock-out effect. Such normal strategies lie about the world because they talk about what we already know (which is always wrong) in languages with which we are already familiar (and therefore put our more delicate mental mechanisms to sleep)–all this, instead of waking us up with the uncharted energies that throb behind the facade of the shared world of communicable convention."

Foreman's often accused of obscurity, but I think this is clear enough.

George Hunka

First line of that quote was cut off--it should be:

"I BELIEVE THAT NOW IS THE TIME FOR A CELEBRATION OF ELITIST ART!"

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