Saturday, March 1, 2014

short exchange

My friend Burt,whose real name is something else, wrote me this:
Talent is something of a cultural construct, is it not? There are times when those who constructed the Western Canon would not allow a work to be entered because of its subject matter and the disreputable pedigree of its author. Standards of talent are hinged to artistic value, which must speak to the concerns of the moment.

The condemnation of risk-takers and canonical violators of all types is as old as written civilization. I have no doubt that the elites of Sumeria smashed any tablets that attempted to challenge the supremacy of Gilgamesh.

True, there is a lot of trivia and self-indulgence clogging up the taste-filters of today.  But the enemy has NEVER been from the outpourings of unfiltered individuals. Those who uphold the rigid standards of the past – whether set by Tender Buttons or the King James Bible – are the foes of a vital cultural life. It's the cultural pontiffs -- not the punks -- who deserve our skepticism and often our disdain. 
I responeded thusly, if not promptly:


I agree with your general assessment of the risk/talent dynamic, but I would venture further and argue that we need to skeptical of anyone's say-so and disdain any set of world-shrinking absolutes. Cultural pontiffs--choice phrase, Ace--often enough start off as punks and wind up giving us revised histories of their salad day heros by arguing at length that the music, the novels, the plays and the poetry they liked in college and early professional life didn't try to smash rules, break forms or set fire to the palace , but rather tried to return art and aesthetics to principles that have been dormant, abandoned, forgotten.

Eloquent apologies for one's formative taste, though, does not constitute a defense of the starker, more brittle frameworks that have dissolved like so much sugar in the guise of avant gard impulse; I am all for risk taking and rule breaking, but even the nastiest, least comprehensible bodies of work created by suitably sociopathetic experimenters there are things that catch your ear, your eye, your fancy as you read what's in front of you, there are measures of genius that find that one thing in experience, that issue that no one had engaged, that combination of forms, ideas and attitude that had yet to be combined that strikes you a get level as real genius.

I think these elements are genetic, organic, a hard to phrase dimension of human experience that transcends , easily , the problematic situation  of social construction and canon making. This is why I tend to support subjective or heroic criticism--the critic less as taste maker than as someone who gathers their responses, knee jerk and reasoned both, and conducts an inquiry to his own first-person criteria as to what constitutes failure or success in a frame, in a line, in a string of musical notes.Delete

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