Sunday, October 28, 2007

The New Yorker, Oct 22, 2007

from "The Corrections: Abridgment, enrichment, and the nature of art" by Adam Gopnik:

Of the "compact" Moby-Dick produced by British publisher Orion:
...What the Orion "Moby-Dick" says abut the book is what a good critic or professional editor would say about the book. It's what they did say: there's too much digression and sticky stuff and extraneous learning. If he'd cut that out, it would be a better story.

Only years of careful inclulcation in the masterpiece makes us hesitate. And rightly so. For when you come to the end of the compact "mobdy-Dick" you don't think, What a betrayal; you think, Nice Job--what were the missing bits again? And when you go back to find them you remember why the book isn't just a thrilling adventure with unforgettable characters but a great book. The subtraction does not turn good work into hackwork; it turns a hysterical, half-mad masterpiece into a sound and sane book. It still has its phallic reach and point, but lacks its flaccid, anxious self-consciousness: it is all Dick and no Moby.


The real lesson of the compact editions is not that vandals shouldn't be let loose on masterpieces but that masterpieces are inherently a little loony. They run on the engine of their own accumulated habits and weirdnesses and self-indulgent excesses. They have to, since originality is, necessarily, something still strange to us, rather than something that we already know about and approve. What makes writing matter is not a story, cleanly told, but a voice, however odd or ordinary, and a point of view, however strange or sentimental. Books can be snipped at, and made less melodically muddled, but they lose their overtones, their bass notes, their chesty resonance--the same thing that happens, come to think of it, to human castrati.


What these commentaries (of film directors on their director's cuts) reveal to us is this: the movies we see are the already abridged editions of longer novels of ambition and intelligence, thwarted and rewarded. The augmented film teaches us the same lesson as the subtracted book: art is a business not of clear narratives but of troubled narrators. Western literature begins not with the Trojan War but with the poet's announcement that he's going to tell a story about the Trojan War. It is self-consciousness of purpose, not transparency of action, that ignites a poem. The trouble with popular entertainment is perhaps not that we don't have enough strong stories but that there are not enough weak narrators--not enough Ishmaels, whose slack and troubled attentiveness, accumulated sighs and second thought make the Ahabs alive.... The insertion of that second nettling watching presence is what separates the merely crafty from the artful, the compact from the achieved, and guarantees that, no matter how the maker's hand may add and subtract, the viewer's mind will continue to divide, and multiply.


from "The Well-Tempered Web: The Internet may be killing the pop CD, but it's helping classical music" by Alex Ross:

Younger musicians, in particular, are using every available means to reach a potential public that is far larger than the one that already exists. They are not haunted, as older musicians are, by nostalgia for a time when Bernstein appeared on the cover of Time and Toscanini was a star of NBC radio. Instead they see the labyrinth of long-tail culture as an open field of opportunity; they measure success in small leaps.

The same goes for poetry. Instead of moaning and groaning about the sidelining of poetry in mainstream culture, or longing for bygone eras when poets were public figures of influence and controversy, younger poets should use "every available means to reach a potential public that is far larger than the one that already exists." In this pursuit, they should take heart by measuring success in "small leaps." This is probably already obvious to many people, but its truth is only now sinking into me. When Robert Urban, the host of the Rainbow Reading at Pisces Cafe, on hearing me read and liking my voice, suggested that I record my reading of my poetry, I was flattered but did not take the suggestion seriously. I was still bent on making my mark as a wordsmith of the page, not a lyricist of the supposedly more ephemeral performance. I recognize now that is an outdated prejudice. Every available means. Sigh, does that mean I have to master technology? After I was given my radio recordings by Anne Cammons, I have still not posted them on my blog. I tried uploading them from two hosting sites, but both failed, and I just gave up. Persistence is the name of the game.

Some of the sites mentioned in Ross's article:
the Arnold Schoenberg Center; Think Denk, the blog of pianist Jeremy Denk; Keeping Score, a music education website hosted by the San Francisco Symphony.


Andrew Shields said...

Richard Taruskin's recent New Republic article about classical music can also be read with profit by poets who are interested in "the sidelining of poetry by mainstream culture."

See my post about it:

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi Andrew,
a friend also sent me a link to Taruskin's article. The article shrewdly thumps some pieties, I think.

Andrew Shields said...

I'm glad you found your way to it. An interesting piece indeed.