U2, Damian Hirst, "The Real Thing"
Looking around at other writers’ blogs I take some comfort in the fact—well the appearance, anyway—that having months pass between posts is not that uncommon a practice. Here I am again. :)
There’s been so much going on of late. So many things to write about, but perhaps strangely I’m not here to write about any of them. Couple brief notes: Prairie Schooner will be publishing 2 translations Taeyong and I did in their forthcoming issue. I’m especially proud of that. Also have the cover selected and first proofs back to White Pine. My next book of translations continues to be on track for a spring release. Maybe over Christmas break I can provide details. The cover art process and endorsements are things I usually post about anyway. Also should finish up those Gary Snyder picture postings….
Perhaps it’s because a New Year is nigh or my birthday came and went last month, but there’s no doubt things are slowly becoming easier in my life. Which means art and writing get to bug me now.
A number of things have come up in the past few days. I read an interview with U2’s Edge where he describes the themes on their album Pop (I love the song Gone on that album) as “…love, desire and faith in crisis…. The usual stuff.” I suppose it’s fair to call it “the usual stuff” given these emotions have had a place in works of art pretty much since there were works of art. Add to this their re-working of the song Even Better than the Real Thing with artist Damian Hirst for a video and supporting background imagery at the Glastonbury music fest. Irony, post-modernism, and self-awareness of the risks of losing emotional authenticity—I know these have been—and I believe remain—longstanding concerns of a band like U2 because on the one hand, they very much are a band with a social conscience, but on the other hand, they are a band that has enjoyed international commercial success.
I suppose it’s a problem for artists that never goes away—artists committed to exploration at every sustainable level, that is. Still, I get hung up on an artist’s place in all this and what is real in a commitment to a work of art as an expression of truth and beauty (forgive the Romantic swerve there, I do believe I’m headed somewhere interesting).
What are the cycles of literary modes? Here’s a cursory stab off the top of my head: Romanticism, irony, satire, parody, and then a return to realism, which leads to Romanticism, and then the cycle repeats. Northrop Frye has done workin this but precisely who said it and the particulars of the cycle aren’t really at issue here. What bugs me is that the modes are expressions of cyclical social constructs, and so in that respect lack authenticity.
Now it appears with the commercialization of human emotions, we can apparently say the same thing about human emotions: not only are human emotions commercialized, but as a follow on, emotional expression in art risks being derivative of a social construct. I suppose it’s always been this way in art and I suppose I always knew it in my own way, even before I went to college. Many of us who are concerned about art always seem to reflect upon these matters. At the same time, I find myself now asking, how does all this define human relationships with the "natural" world (read: "nature")? Where are we in the U.S. on the scale of cyclical literary modes? Where are we headed? Is there a way to break out of this repetition, and if so, how do we do it, and do it in a work of art? Is breaking out of repetition necessary, or simply an expression of how we integrate with the “other”? Has technology and the speed of communication functionally eliminated the cycle, or has it just changed in appearance?
After thinking about it and meditating for a bit I have a couple answers, which now feel embarrassingly obvious. The aesthetics, in some sense, aren't really relevant. Well, aesthetics do matter, but only as much as what they indicate. Art, in this respect, is all about indication. So when we think about longevity in art and try to get a feel for useful aesthetics in terms of how well they indicate the authentic, I don't think I have any specific answers. What is indicated and worth endurance is such an individual measure. Some indicators (art's language of aesthetics) transcend moments of time and culture; and it may just be because of how the future culture reads the past, not necessarily how the past is speaking to the future.
At the same time, believing as I do that human consciousness progressively evolves, the usefulness of any particular indicator and what it points at I'm going to go out on a limb and say eventually becomes constricted by the integrative function of human consciousness. We may be several thousand years away from saying Shakespeare is irrelevant (except in terms of a certain period of influence) but I can see it happening. It may happen much sooner (for better or worse) because of technology, and how human beings use and experience technology.
Having said that, I can well imagine technology adapting Li Po's (or, interestingly enough, his translators') indicators (and all art's, for that matter) and coming up with some new way of experiencing what was said via the written word thousands of years ago. Which makes me wonder about authenticity again. I guess my problem is it seems like the lines between aesthetics and what they indicate are blurring. I feel like a dog chasing its tail. :)