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Bad Horse

Beneath the microscope, you contain galaxies.

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The annihilation of art · 1:26am Jan 30th, 2014

Here’s some music for you to listen to while reading this blog:

About a week ago Daemon of Decay made some insightful observations about poetry in a comment on the latest Seattle’s Angels reviews. I’m not anti-poetry, and I don’t think he is either, but he makes a good point: Poetry has for decades been caught in a vicious cycle of self-isolation. An elite chooses experimental, inaccessible poems and fills the journals and anthologies with them. Readers drift away from poetry, deriding it as pretentious. The elite learns to associate inaccessibility with quality, and criticism with amateurism, and produces more and more inaccessible works, which it is capable only of praising, never of criticizing. Their tastes drift farther away from the mainstream, casting more and more readers out. Poetry that does not meet their criterion for obscurantism is not published; poetry that does, is not read.

You mention that to many people you know, poetry is "too difficult, too vague, or too subjective." I would argue that in many cases, this seems a very accurate description.… And likewise, poetry is often allowed to succeed where other forms of art would not. Many poems are so highly impressionistic that listeners and readers are left struggling to find meaning in the words….

With music or prose or artwork, we can point to something exact and have our opinions judged fairly. I dislike the singing; the characters are bland; the colors are mismatched and give me a headache. All valid criticisms. But when you approach poetry, criticism from the uneducated is treated as such….

For poetry to escape the taint of elitist disdain, it needs to rid itself of the shell that is formed around it. Is this a condemnation of all poetry or even most poets? No, not at all. But the popular conceptualization that poetry is a pastime for a small group of intellectuals, as unfair as it might seem, is grounded in a subjective grain of truth. For the people looking in from outside, poetry is often not some beautiful song waiting to be digested, but a pretentious chunk of purple imagery that revels in its own depth and inaccessibility. Which is, I think we can both agree, a sad state of affairs that harms those on either side of the window.

… We've all heard people say they dislike rap, or country, or dubstep; the most common response amongst those respective genres is to attempt to convert the doubter with "good" examples from that genre…. In my personal existence, poetry was never handled the same way.

This isn’t isolated to poetry. Orchestral music has taken exactly the same march into isolation and cultural irrelevance since about 1920. Jazz followed later, starting maybe around 1960. Literature started down that path with Ulysses, and Joyce kept going down it for the rest of his career.

The visual arts, meanwhile, went in a similar but weirdly opposite direction, taking the quickest and easiest route to driving away the common folk. By the 1930s, the goal in architecture, sculpture, and painting was to make everything as simple, boring, and ugly as possible. This 1938 building in Brooklyn wasn’t a slapdash cost-saving construction project; it was a celebrated design by a famous modernist architect. Notice how its color perfectly matches the mixture of dead grass and mud on the ground in front of it.

And it wasn’t long ago that if you walked into a modern art museum, all you’d find would be a hundred variations on this:

and this:

That YouTube video at the top? That’s a composition by Brian Ferneyhough. My renter is a composer. He’s trying to earn enough money to go back to grad school in music composition, and Ferneyhough, he says, is considered by many composers to be the greatest living composer. That piece isn’t modern at all—he composed it in 1966. 48 years ago. It represents the pinnacle of the past eighty years of orchestral composition. [EIDT: Video was removed; I replaced it with one from 2006.]

To get accepted to grad school, my renter has to write something like it. He has seven folios full of his attempts.

I asked him if it bothered him that he’s spending his whole life struggling to make a kind of music that, if he succeeds, no one outside of academia will want to hear. It will never be played on the radio; it will never appear in a physical music store; it will probably never be played in a concert hall outside of western Europe. He says that this is only to be expected; few people have the intelligence to understand the greatest works in any art form.

An art form that is completely detached from culture. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Is it art, or is it a cult?

I asked him if it was an arbitrary social convention, or else if it was the next logical stage in music—if you rewound the clock and played the 20th century over again, slightly differently, would it inevitably lead to that kind of music, like geometry inevitably led to topology? He said he believes so; that Ferneyhough is not just different than Beethoven, but superior to him.

During the 1930s, the entire European artistic landscape seemed determined to drive people away from art. I think this made nationalism and fascism possible. People outside the elite sensed that culture had deliberately rejected and ejected them, and so they united to destroy it.

It's seldom a good sign to find yourself in agreement with Hitler. But if Ferneyhough is great, I don’t want to be that great.

The march to self-isolation always starts with great works by a great artist—Picasso, Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot, Miles Davis, James Joyce. People imitate them, and try to take it further. Then it goes too far, and no one can admit it’s gone too far because by that time everybody in the elite power structure of that art has gone on record praising it.

Is this a uniquely 20th-century event? Has it happened before in history that the leaders of an entire art form deliberately isolated it from the masses? As far as I know, it hasn’t.

I think this couldn’t happen before the 19th century because art was funded by patrons, and the artists had to please the patrons. The patrons didn’t have careers in art, so they didn’t have to always find something new and weird to try to stay ahead of the crowd. There were professors of art and of music, but their opinions didn’t matter much.

It bothers me a lot. Orchestral music was, to me, humanity’s greatest achievement, and now we have annihilated it, and many other art forms, and no one understands why.

How and why did a single generation of artists destroy half of the West’s artistic heritage? Is modernism really the single cause behind 20th-century elitism in music, poetry, sculpture, art, and literature? Why didn’t it succeed in literature? How can we make sure it never does? I really wish I had answers.

And I really want to know whether the stuff is actually good, and I’m just too dumb to see it. But I don't see any way of ever knowing that, even in principle. If the only way people ever come to appreciate Ferneyhough's music is to be told they can never understand music unless they appreciate it, and to listen to it over and over trying to appreciate it, how can they know whether they appreciate it because it's good, or because they've gotten used to it?

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Comments ( 84 )

I have to say, this is a particularly insightful blog post. I only wish I had something insightful to leave in the comments. I suppose this will have to suffice. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Horse.

I remember taking a music theory and sight singing course from a teacher who was absolutely convinced that Ferneyhough's sort of thing was true genius, that in a thousand years it would be remembered, because it was "real art" and that pop music was just a passing fad that nobody would remember a decade after a given piece came out.

To try to "prove" this point he played a song that had been huge when he was in college and that therefore he was SURE would be already forgotten by our generation... Don McLean's American Pie. Not only did we all know it, half the class could sing along with every word.

After that little demonstration we stuck with the stuff he was supposed to be teaching us and didn't get any more lectures on the greatness of modern classical music!

I think this pretentious nonsense will always be with us, but I also think that especially with the internet making it easier for creators to reach audiences without needing a gatekeeper middle man who decides what is and what isn't "good enough" that good, approachable, understandable, enjoyable art will always be around. Although I don't know we'll ever work out some of the current problems with paying the artists who produce it what they're worth.

I mean heck, in an idealized world where everybody gets compensated for their talents, the writers here on FimFic (at least the best of them!) would be paid for writing. But heavens knows if or how a system like that could ever become reality.

First off, that composition at the beginning did honestly give me a headache.

Second, I think that the problem we're touching upon with this is a matter partially to blame on post-modernism, the idea that everything is open to interpretation, and that there is no such thing as a proper measure save individual reckoning. Extrapolated to its extreme, post-modernism as applied to politics is often of Nietzchean Nihilistic flavor.

People in the constant chaos of daily life become convinced that there is no such thing as a good, that there is no measure for certain things. People don't ask questions of events on face value, and so can't come to understand them.

Personally I'd recommend, as always, "The Republic of Plato", particularly on the part of the purging of the feverish city, for the subject of people no longer understanding art.

1772737 I listen to more music that my father listened to when he was my age than I do from the present.

Hmm... I would like to explain this, but I sadly don't know where to begin. :ajsleepy:

This is a topic I've found myself drifting back to several times over the past few months.

One of my occasional sidelines is to preread for Equestria Daily. The prereaders are a pretty literate bunch, at least compared with your average fanfiction reader/writer. In fact, on a purely mechanical level I'd rate many of the prereaders significantly higher than the students in any college literature course I have ever had the privilege of attending. Perhaps it's just natural selection, but when you spend months of your life dissecting stories to tease out what makes one better than the other, you build up an impressive degree of skill in that field.

Fairly often, we find ourselves judging two related but opposing stories: the "popular but bad," and the "unloved but beautiful." I'm sure you can think of plenty of examples of these off the top of your head (if not, the feature box probably has several of the former).

I won't pretend we're rising to the level Joyce (even though I dislike his writing, I recognize that he was onto something), but I sometimes wonder if we're starting down that path, of celebrating a story's artistry even if that same artistry has the effect of making it a less popular story. Is this the cycle of all arts -- to go from popular and celebrated, to studied and refined, to elite and isolated? It is natural for artists to continually improve their art, but I worry that after a certain point the improvements they seek lift the artwork beyond the ability of most people to appreciate.

I'm sure there's some genius to that composition, but it sounded terrible.

I write to appeal to a broad audience. I don't write to appeal to literary critics. If you need a PhD to comprehend something I wrote, I have failed.

I have never understood the appeal of a monocolor piece of canvas. That's not edgy; that's what I did when I worked as a painter one summer. And I painted a barn, not some lousy 3x4' piece of canvas.

There was a very good reason why I sat next to my English Professor in my senior seminar class--right after my horseback riding classes. While still wearing the same clothes and boots.

As for art? I lost interest when my art professor told the class--with great sincerity--that the Egyptians had built the pyramids in a pyramid shape because that was "visually interesting." It would have been more visually interesting if they'd built them inverted. Structural realities required them to build the pyramids the way they did.

My understanding was 'Modern Art' came about as a way to fight Communism in the Cold War era.

I think there is a balance between being artistic and popular that is what people used to strive for, but it is so difficult to achieve that most pick one or the other. Either you're Nickleback, appealing to the widest audience (look at their record and ticket sales), or you're this guy appealing to snobs. Then you get those few who are actually good, like Picasso, were you can see the skill and the appeal.

Edit: That's why I write for myself. I write things that I enjoy, and I hope that others will, too. First and foremost, however, is myself. If someone actually likes that... 'composition' more power to them, but I don't. Art exists for a lot of reasons, it can be used for a lot of purposes, but it does not exist simply to exist. Art that can't be appreciated, or at the least can't be explained, is existing just to exist, and I find that to be a waste. I would love to hear an explanation for that piece, a reason why it is 'better than Beethoven' because I don't hear it.


Is this the cycle of all arts -- to go from popular and celebrated, to studied and refined, to elite and isolated?

No, I don't think it is, and for reference, I will point to theater.

I could say music, but the answer is yes and no. Some types are elitist (orchestral) and some types aren't, (movie scores: hum the first few bars of The Imperial March) but since one can never draw hard lines that don't have tons of exceptions, it's a moot point.

I could say the same for writing, too, I think, though not as articulately.

But theater is almost wholly an exception to that pattern: it's not young, (we have scripts from plays from literally thousands of years ago) but in all that time, it has never become something the average person couldn't see and enjoy.

Broadway plays are not high-falutin' artsy-fartsy stuff, even when they are based on such things. Cats comes from a T.S. Elliot poem, and ran for over 20 years (as old as some of the performers) and only lasted because small children who've never seen a live show before walk out smiling. The leaders right now are Disney (The Lion King was awesome, by the way) and freaking Spider-Man

Spider Man.

There are, of course, inaccesible plays. No one produces them, so no one (not even the intellectual elite) sees them. The "great" plays of my own country's history (written in the 30's, no less) are no hard to grasp, even if they drag your whole brain into the experience. (Death of a Salesman is easy to relate to but hard to put into simple moral terms: it challenges, but never bars entry)

Shakespeare was never supposed to be intellectual, he was fond of fart jokes. We tried to make him that way is all. And live theater must remain accessible: the economics of it demand wide potential audiences.

Which my bring us to an important point: economics. The sad truth that your friend must face is that he will never get paid well by pleasing his professors. Hs skills have great value, but to capitalize on that value he'll need to create the art the public wants.

Could poetry be turned around? I think so, and I think the internet is the place to do it. Jedi Master Ed was the first person to turn me on to poetry; he has a sense that leads to things I tend to like. Of course, he leads me to old poems. But with free distribution, I think there may yet be a moneyless market. Will anyone make a living writing poems in the near future? Few, if any. But will millions of would-be poets find an audience that wants simple and accessible? Yes, there are millions of us out here.


All art has always had some part of it that was about exclusivity, (because part of the art world has always involved attempting to prove yourself the better artist)--it's just that the ways that exclusivity are measured have been changing. In painting, realistic representationalism used to be the benchmark. Then, too many painters got good enough at that, and they began to try to find new ways to define themselves as better. In the romantic era, well before the photograph, you can already see the move from realism begin in the surreal and idealized landscapes being produced.

Make no mistake, though--the photograph still had a huge influence. The photograph radically reduced the demand for painted art, (and manufacturing the demand for sculpted art), and so removed the effect of popular public opinion on the race to prove yourself the better artist. Without having to consider whether the public would like it, artists became free to disappear into their own navels. This same process repeated itself with orchestral music and jazz, and is even now happening to the craft beer scene in the form of ridiculous hop and alcohol content races.

I don't think literature can fully go down that path until it has been disconnected from a paid-publishing model. It still has the demands of the best-sellers list acting as a counterweight away from the full swan dive into self-absorption. That tends to be the story--art forms or genres that are popular don't end up disappearing into their own navels, because that very popularity keeps them from being able to do so. The discussion between elite creators has always been what has driven new techniques and approaches, but it's consideration for the public's taste that keeps those discussions from descending into, if you'll forgive the term, a circle-jerk.

I suppose it may be inevitable for any art form or genre, though. If popularity is what keeps Art from going nuts, then any subdivision that fails to continue to hold the public's attention is doomed. I think literature is fairly robust against this, just because of its size, but it does make the divisions between, say, genre and non-genre authors a little more worrisome.

I'm with 1772795 here; this is something of an uncomfortable approach to the topic, because pretty much everyone with an opinion on what makes "good" fanfic will turn around and with the same breath lament the drivel in the featurebox.

I suspect that the root of the problem is that what the critics are measuring as good and what the masses are measuring as good really don't have much to do with each other. I guarantee you, listening to the sonata you linked at the top of the post, I don't have the background in music theory to tell you why people with a background in music theory think it's good, but if modern critics are in such agreement, there must be something there (even if that something is an arbitrary standard used as a shibboleth). But is it listenable? Not really, and that's the problem for the rest of us.

Similarly, the problem with Joyce[1] is not that it isn't good writing — it's terrifically clever, if you go through with a copy of the Cliff's Notes and savor the languageplay — but that it can't be read as a low-effort piece.

[1] The closest pony fandom came to that was darf's Alectrona, and look at its reception (+150/-30 votes from a 2000+-follower author with an EQD feature). There's probably a lot more to be said on this but I've got editing to do and a new chapter to release.

I can't help but think that there's some sort of analogy between certain works of 'art' and humor. If you have to explain it, the effect is ruined. I've always thought art was supposed to evoke a specific emotional response, and if that response is confused (and that wasn't the intent), then the artist has failed.

I'm gonna leave off on a quote from somewhere I can't remember by a person I also can't remember but still agree with. "The purpose of art is not to make a living, but to make life more bearable."

(Disclaimer: I have absolutely no idea what I'm on about, so feel free to disregard everything I say as the disjointed ramblings of uncultured swine.)

It bothers me a lot. Orchestral music was, I think, humanity’s greatest achievement, and now we have annihilated it, and many other art forms, and no one understands why.

The universe works in mysterious ways, I am going to see the symphony in quite literally the first time in my life in just a few days...I am looking forward to it, but also a bit apprehensive.

Also, I tend to think that Jazz is superior to orchestral music, or at least classical orchestral music. :raritywink:

As for poetry, I have always said I was rubbish at poetry. It's funny really. I am rubbish at poetry. If I can't understand it, it must be my fault. I never even bothered to question this before. This used to also apply to literature in general, but my time on this site has largely cured me of that. But never with regards to poetry.
I wonder if it is any coincidence that Auggie's pony poetry is about the only poetry outside of Shakespear that I both understand and have enjoyed. :trixieshiftleft:


Some types are elitist (orchestral) and some types aren't, (movie scores: hum the first few bars of The Imperial March)

I'm not contradicting you, but it's ironic that the Imperial March and a lot of the rest of the Star Wars music was based on (and much directly stolen from) Holst's orchestral composition The Planets.

'Twas ever thus.

Poetry is everywhere and always has been: in advertising, country songs, urban pop songs, thieves' slang, children's entertainment--and of course in parody and satire, in which we geeks revel with our filksongs.

Naturally poets who make a living from government grants, don't consider that poetry. They are the court-poets, and they have never, ever in two thousand years of Western history, esteemed those who sang their lais at the market-cross or their ballades en jargon du jobellin to the doxies at montcorbier.

They've been around for a long long year, these men of wealth and taste, singing to a select few and advancing their careers by avoiding error--bureaucrats of poetry! Shakespeare tried to be one of them with The Phoenix and the Turtle:

Let the bird of loudest lay,
On the sole Arabian tree,
Herald sad and trumpet be,
To whose sound chaste wings obey.

But thou, shrieking harbinger,
Foul pre-currer of the fiend,
Augur of the fever's end,
To this troop come thou not near.

Thank God he failed and had to go on writing plays.

But a nation survives its bureaucrats (though a government may not), and these no more succeeded at annihilating poetry in the fourteenth or fifteenth or sixteenth centuries than they did in the twentieth or shall in the twenty-first, or even in the year 2525.

They'll continue doing their thing of course, burrowing down into some warm cranny, living off the leavings of their hosts, nigh-impossible to dislodge. Rather like bedbugs. And they may from time to time invent some new technique or viewpoint which we, the street-poets, the goliards, can totally steal the shit out of.

And who knows how we may be remembered, we drop-outs and kick-outs of our cultures' great institutions, when our betters' names and endeavors have been forgot? Whose little visions or vignettes here may be bricked up in some virtual monastery wall, to be sung five hundred years hence as a new Carmina Burana? Who shall be rewarded, and who shall go empty-handed? O Fortuna...

Then write. Write, you lot. And never mind who heeds it. Five hundred years from now they may sing it in the concert-halls. Write as is if they already did.


My understanding was 'Modern Art' came about as a way to fight Communism in the Cold War era.

Modernism predates the cold war by about 40 years. The wikipedia page on modernism claims it came about partly in sympathy to Marxism. Their story is that modernists were dismayed at the "consumer culture" created by industrialization. Ordinary people could afford art, and they liked bad art. Somehow the artists interpreted this as meaning that the ordinary people had been duped by capitalists, or something, and art must help them shake off the chains of their oppression by being nasty and uncomfortable enough that the people would question their assumptions about it.

That's not how it was explained to me. Modern art was commissioned by the CIA's predecessor and set-up to show that the freedom in the West was so pervasive that art had transcended beyond the rules and guidelines so strictly enforced in Russian and other oppressed countries where art had to conform to the party mandates.

1772943 Does that not prove Holst was on to something, though?

I can kind of see what Ferneyhough was going for; I've played that sort of music myself.

It isn't about emotion, at least not coherent emotion. It's about confusion and chaos and lack of form. I guarantee the term senza misura was used.

It's a bitch to play, too.

In his day, Shakespeare was a hack. A popular hack, but a hack.

He stole material from others, he made up asinine fake words just to get a cheap rhyme and because he could get away with it, he pandered to the lowest fascinations of the public, and he created silly, violent, melodramatic crap that 'real' artists and critics despised and berated. There are scathing deconstructions of how awful his work was by the elite of the age.

Oh, the Queen came to see him - lots of people came to see his plays - because he was the cheap blockbuster engine of his time. He made popular, pop-culture crap.

And he is now the acknowledged greatest playwright of all time.

I submit that academia is a cult, blind to reality, steeped only in their own filth, and that the only true measure of art is time and lasting popularity.

Your renter is going nowhere, fast, I think.

There are two criteria universally applicable to all art forms in any media:
1: What you think about it through observation
2: What you feel about it through experience.

The problem is that only by combining these 2 criteria do we form an opinion.
The problem is that no matter how educated and experienced and expert anyone is, 100% of all judgement based on all criteria of all art is an opinion.
The problem does not lie with those whose opinions differ, but with those who force their opinions on others, rather than argue for their own opinions in public forum as they are meant to.
The problem lies with the abuse of power by those who have it. As it always has.

I've always suspected that this raw, desiccated stuff was produced in mass quantities because the producers thereof discovered that they could get grants by so doing. (New set of "patrons," nothing more.)

Disclaimer: I actually like some of Ferneyhough's compositions for strings. Then again, to borrow a phrase from Blagdaross, I am not known for emotional coherency.

Hmm. Food for thought, definitely.

I will say this: I don't have any learning in Art. I have but a Grade 5 in piano, and all I play these days are stuff by this guy, by sheer force of forcing the fingers to move ever faster and muscle memory. I'm by no means qualified, nor will ever be, but... I think I can see the appeal of Ferneyhough. The augmented chords to the point of complete unrecognizability. Contrast of trills and "hard" chords, legato and, er, non-legato. Music that doesn't conform to the structure of simple chords because it runs on not chaos but something else, something that is unique that needs the brain to gear up and kick into its banks of theoretical knowledge to figure out. It engages the mind, and while Beethoven and Chopin - heck, even Eminem - achieve the same effect for me... 1773006 is probably right in that emotion isn't the first aspect, because if it was, you're looking at someone who's so learned in standard theory that he even feels in avantgarde, and that's a little unsettling.

And I can also understand modernist art, empty canvases, black blots and whatnot, but only in my own way. I'd propose that it's texture, lighting, things that weren't the focus back when people were drawing identifiable things - not a stunting but a further exploration into the details beyond first glance - but that's me, and it's probably not the same that a lecturer would tell you. Either way, I can see the appeal in those too - because it makes you think Why? - I reckon that I am satisfied because I've accepted that there is no one true answer, there's only your own. And his own. And her own. And that includes the "lolwat" and "this is garbage", too. Whichever answer that comes of the stimulation your brain goes through after being confronted - subjected, perhaps - to it - that is your answer, and your meaning.

I guess a good example of literature would be George Perec, a French author who wrote a novel without the letter "e" and, later on, did a short with only the consonant "e" (there's a lotta misspellings, of course, "artistic license"). Which Moped with the Chrome Plated Bars? is actually quite a nice read, I find, but that's because I knew to appreciate the repetitions and the inconsistencies and the misspellings, which gave it a personality and life.

If I had to do a tl;dr of this, I'd say that art is interpretation and reinterpretation, and the latter's never been more in the hands of its viewers than in this. And that does mean that these are my two cents only, but then again, it's always been no more than that.

1772997 That might have happened, but that's not how it started. It was well underway by 1910, before there were any communist nations, and the 1930s-1940s were probably the heyday of modernism.


There are scathing deconstructions of how awful his work was by the elite of the age.

Can you tell me how to find some? I'd love to read them.

But, I don't think Shakespeare became famous despite the elites. First off, there were only about a dozen professional writers in all of England in Shakespeare's time, and one of them had to become famous. And today, he's on academia-provided life-support. People perform and attend his plays because we're continually taught that he was the greatest playwright ever. But as far as plot, character, theme, humor, and clarity of presentation, they're generally bad IMHO. What they have is a lot of pretty phrases, which is just the sort of thing the academic elite love. But put "A Midsummer Night's Dream" or "Romeo and Juliet" up against "A Streetcar Named Desire", "Raisin in the Sun", or "Death of a Salesman", and you'll see how far we've come in 400 years.

1772795 I think the age-old comparasion to junk food is apt, especially considering the works here on FimFiction. The most popular stories are rarely truly thought-provoking or emotionally resonant, but they cater to a large audience, play it safe, and are good for a quick laugh/tender moment/quick pony fix; they are the snacks of the fiction world.

The stories that delve into the human(pony?) psyche, stories of political manoeuvring and intrigue, stories that question protagonists with riddles that force the reader to ask themselves who they really are, those stories, are by their very nature harder to digest. They are rich and complex and hearty, filled with prose that demands to be read. They linger in the reader's mind, long after the page has been closed, when the tale has come to an end. They ask so much of the reader to truly appreciate what they are. And they are not for everyone.

But sometimes a master chef will experiment with ingredients never meant to be combined. So too can the author create a work to fringe to appeal to the masses. Some select few may share the author's specific taste, or be desperate enough for something new and shocking for the extreme work to fill some niche in their library. The layman will find it distasteful, but that's okay. It was never intended for the layman.

At least, that's how I think about it.

:rainbowhuh: Now I'm hungry.

Maybe there's a simpler way to look at it. Artists create for their audience. The isolated and elite groups make for themselves because, well, they don't care about anyone else. Or at least that's all I can think of to say here.


Maybe it's just because I saw Hamlet performed at the Globe Theater in London once, but IMO academia's been spending centuries trying to bleed Shakespeare's works dry of everything that's made it immortal. (And failing horribly of course. I learned nothing real about Shakespeare in gradeschool.) I can't quite tell you why exactly, but I don't think Shakespeare's popularity is going to go away for at least a few more hundreds of years. The plot, character, theme, humor, and clarity of presentation might simply be bad, but who cares when people will enjoy it forever regardless?

1773231 Personally, what I enjoy about Shakespeare is:
1. the pretty costumes
2. the bizarre Elizabethan language
3. pretty wordplay

and that's it.

I know it's subjective, but I can't imagine what could be going through the head of someone who'd put anything by Shakespeare up against, say, "Death of a Salesman", and think it was on the same level, or even just one or two levels beneath it. "Death of a Salesman" has real people, four of them, with real problems, not a shallow morality play. It doesn't have identical twins separated at birth, men pretending to be women and women pretending to be men, mistaken identities, rampant racism and sexism, and Three Stooges humor. Shakespeare is still revered only because nobody ever thinks of putting Shakespeare's works up against a modern play. The idea is sacrilege.

I like Julius Caesar. And Hamlet would probably be good, if he'd written an ending.

Now, Shakespeare shines when compared to his contemporaries. But not, I'd argue, when compared to our contemporaries.

Comment posted by Bad Horse deleted Jan 30th, 2014

Excuse me for being an outlier here, but I actually like the piece proffered at the top of your post. Granted, I've never heard of the guy before, but I think I have heard better out of Beethoven. I agree with >> Blagdaross in its chaotic nature, but I also find the piece thought-provoking, as one might feel a sense of confusion during a mystery.

As for my take on today's art: There's a reason why I stick to the internet for my visual interests, and that reason is that quality art appears readily in bundles from a plethora of genres. I've never been to a proper art museum, either, but it's my understanding that many people can create what's considered very good art using computer programs on the standard market. It is also my understanding (I could easily be wrong here) that said art is not displayed within said museums.

I'll also say that I don't really understand the point of most of the elitism set in place over time in reference to art, as paintings from the Mona Lisa area (early 1500's) were rather astonishing in their detail. I understand the invention of photography largely beat out the demand for such pieces, but I don't think the race for artists to out-strange each other was quite called for, either.

I admit I've never had much of an understanding of plays; they seem to me as though they are like movies, but without music.

EDIT: I also find the music piece to have dark subtleties, as well as sounding like someone hammering away on a piano.

This blog post frustrates me because it feels like something to take personally and I don't know how to argue back against it.

One of my favorite books is Infinite Jest, something that you would no doubt throw under the bus without a second thought because it is a long and meandering work with tons of endnotes. But what I get out of this book isn't alienating language like with Joyce (on a sentence-by-sentence basis this book is no harder to read than any other) or an alienating, relativist, post-modern stance about there being no absolute truths or whatever (I'd wager that this book actually lampoons the kind of art you're disparaging at one point.), but an honest depiction of addiction, many things we take for granted being scrutinized and made absurd, and the sense that that David Foster Wallace cares more about helping us than impressing the snobs. Still, I'd probably recommend that everyone ease into his world with his nonfiction essays instead of just jumping into the deep end like I did.

On another note, there's also the matter of The Wire, a pinnacle of artistic achievement for the medium of television. Whenever people talk about it in these terms (and it always seems to be in these terms), I get the impression that it's easy to think of it as the medium's equivalent of that composition you showed us or whatever, but newcomers who start watching the show are always surprised by how engaging and unpretentious it actually is. Even though it takes cues from greek tragedy and the social dramas of Dickens, it also has a near-complete lack of cinematic stylization, complex and interesting characters, and the best use of comic relief I've ever seen (in that it is actually funny instead of annoying and that it does provide relief from a series with a good amount of pessimism).

It struggled in the ratings not because it was disappearing up its own ass, but because it was written with the expectation that you watch all the episodes in order and because more than half the characters in it are black. I've never watched The Sopranos, which is often paired with The Wire in terms of their artistic complexity and achievements, but The Sopranos was popular enough for the controversy over the ending to become national news and The Wire is something many have never heard of (though Idris Elba's recent appearances in blockbusters like Pacific Rim may change this). So if The Sopranos also proved hard to jump into at any time or had loads of black characters, please tell me, but I very much doubt that's the case.

What I'm trying to say is that I don't want to have to pick sides between high art and low entertainment. I'd rather see the distinction become blurred and bridged by more middlebrow works.

I'm confused. Whose side are you taking, exactly? Nobody's?

Eh. I've recently been taught that Shakespeare's five-act structure is an immensely better way to write a story than the three-act structure that everybody gets hammered into their head in third grade, and you know what? It is. So forgive me if I hold Shakespeare in higher esteem than you and Chatoyance.


Does this discussion have sides? I thought we were just all considering various approaches to art, and popularity, and enjoyment of art? If it has to be "Capital A Art" vs. "popular stuff that the critics don't like but it's fun" and we can only pick one I'm going to have a reeeeeeeeeeeeally hard time picking, I have favorites from both camps.

Admittedly I think that most of the really high-mided stuff that artists (and poets, and whoever) make just for other artists and art critics is the actual fad, it's the thing that's obsessed with novelty and has rules that change constantly, and any given style is unlikely to still be famous years from now, wheras the best of popular work is more likely to stick around and still be popular when our kids are starting to listen to music and go to plays and so on. But that doesn't mean I don't sometimes still like it. A lot of the conceptual stuff done with painting and sculpture and installation art really fascinates me, particularly. People have such different ideas, that never would have crossed my mind!

Sorry. I got on the defensive because I immediately assumed that Infinite Jest was part of the targeted group. This isn't the first time I've done it.

That's pretty understandable. But although I suspect a few people commenting here have metaphorically thrown the baby out with the bathwater in dismissing a whole bunch of things just because they're considered high minded so they must be navel gazing crap, I personally don't think it's that clear cut. Is Infinite Jest what's being targeted? Well, until somebody else mentions it negatively by name, there's no way to know, is there?

To expand on my own personal ideas about art, for me I see how art is judged in three camps.

1. There's what the professional critics say. I consider that to be pretty much irrelevant. They can say whatever they want, as has been mentioned already in this thread, artists and art critics all too easily get into a, ah, "circle jerk" of mutual praise for how enlightened and erudite and artistic they all are. So that I pretty much dismiss.

But then there's what history will say about something. If people are still engaging with it and liking it in a hundred years, then it's great. Not everybody has to like it. We've got some Shakespeare detractors here already, after all. And I'm not a huge fan either, honestly! But I'll consider Shakespeare to be a great anyway. People like it, there's something there.

That doesn't really matter either though, because in the end my own personal enjoyment is the thing that benefits me. If somebody else reads a story and loves it, I don't get a warm fuzzy glow. I have to read it, and love it myself.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that whatever points debates like this bring up, and however valid they may be, somebody else slamming David Foster Wallace can't actually lessen your enjoyment of reading it, can they? :raritywink: (If they can, that's a Friendship Problem that I'm not sure I'm up to addressing!)

Soooo what I read in this post in layman's terms is, the success of a masterpiece depends on the masters expectations of success. If the master artist is catering to their peers then the peer's approval will be all that matters and the piece will be produced as such. If the master artist is seeking mass approval then they will produce something people can relate to and fine art has become irrelevant because too many artists are catering to their peers. Is that correct? :unsuresweetie:

You forgot to number 2 and 3 there, silly.

My personal taste is probably most important to me as well, but I've always been reluctant to dismiss stuff that's just not for me as being terrible. Also, personal taste doesn't apply to things I haven't seen yet but could see in the future. There is way too much out there for me to see in my lifetime and having an expert or two that I can look up and help narrow down my list is helpful. But in this case it does help to find the right experts, like ones that don't just praise everything or criticize everything they write about and thus display a lack of perspective.

Or it could just deal with a subject area that's interesting to me and looks to deliver a unique experience. I didn't read Infinite Jest because of articles in highbrow literary journals, but because I saw a forum where a bunch of ordinary people decided to read it over the summer, treating the whole experience as like a book club's wilderness retreat. That sounded interesting to me, and the first two scenes of the book itself grabbed my attention immediately.

I'm also not going to immediately and passionately agree with critical consensus every time. I think the album Nevermind is honestly pretty overrated and I don't like listening to the whole thing (there are some songs on it I like, of course). If I thought that another show that I've seen was more well-crafted and well-written than The Wire, I would say so at every opportunity... but in this case I have to agree with almost everyone else who's ever seen The Wire.

I'm still going to enjoy Infinite Jest and the like, but I don't like feeling alienated because of my tastes, either. I would think that most bronies would know what this feels like.


I don't like feeling alienated because of my tastes, either. I would think that most bronies would know what this feels like.

Painting any large group of people with broad strokes like that is even riskier business than so painting artistic categories.

By reading David Foster Wallace, I am trying to kill literature itself. Trufax.

I think the cause and effect is reversed here, and as such you're asking the wrong question.

You ask why it is that these people have destroyed orchestral music, poetry, and visual art.

I answer: they haven't.

In the case of orchestral music, jazz, and poetry, the cause of their ridiculous, pretentious demise is identical - they lost cultural relevance. It was not that they killed their cultural relevance, but that their lack of cultural relevance killed them.

Orchestal music was a big thing at one point, but over time, orchestral music has decayed massively in terms of cultural relevance. There simply is not massive demand for orchestral music, and certainly not live orchestral performances; even on the radio, people prefer to listen to more modern music over older compositions. Part of it may be that orchestral composers simply could no longer surpass what had come before; people had had so long to write really good orchestral music that even if you could write something as good or slightly better than what had come before, you couldn't "win". Without novelty, the art form withered. This is an easy explanation, though I also suspect it is wrong.

The 1930s also marked the rise of motion pictures, and I suspect the true cause of the death of orchestra wasn't lack of innovation, but lack of public care; if I can go and watch a movie, or go and listen to an orchestra, a lot of people are going to go to the movie over the orchestra. Orchestral performances not only are expensive - I have to pay all my musicians every single performance - but films are engaging in ways that orchestral performances are not. Orchestras can only engage via their sound; film have sound and visuals. And indeed, Walt Disney made Fantasia, now widely praised as a wonderful film, as a sort of orchestral film in 1940 or so, and it was a horrible flop. Clearly, the greater engagement that films produced was outcompeting orchestras.

So orchestral music died and the only people who clung to it were pretentious snobs who went to the orchestra because they were the elite. It is a form of conspicious consumption, and the fact that it was utter garbage is unimportant, because the value was that you were the sort who went to and appreciated the orchestra, regardless of whether or not it was actually enjoyable.

The reality is that orchestral music is still relevant, but none of these pieces made by these chumps are; however, people really love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and Metallica's entry into orchestral music was well-recieved, and I think it is pretty obvious that they, along with some stuff that Disney has done involving orchestras, have been the best thing that has happened to orchestral music in over half a century.

To put it bluntly, these people have become utterly divorced from mass commercial success. When you produce something that you claim "most people are not educated enough to appreciate", then there's a very, very good chance that what you have actually produced is absolute garbage that you need to be invested in to appreciate. This is almost certain when you are producing something whose quality is purely subjective, and you have no objective metric to measure against. If no one outside of a very small community can appreciate something, and it has no objective value, then it is vastly more probable that the thing is in fact worthless.

The same is true of poetry. Poetry, I suspect, has truly died because its purpose has become lost. The value of poetry is in the spoken word, I think; while poetry can be beautiful to read, its true power, I think, arises when it is spoken out loud, or thought about in that sense. What happened in the 1930s, when poetry died? Well, we all know the answer to that: radio and film, and then a couple decades later, television. Again, we had entirely new ways of engaging our audiences, and we could give them a lot of new, fresh things. I think poetry may have died sooner than it had to; radio is a fairly good medium for poetry, though competing with music - which is, I think, related to poetry in many ways - hurts a lot.

But again, once we had television, and now, the internet, where is poetry to go? There is no market in poetry readings. To actually be a brilliant poet, and reach mass success, I think you'd need to be a Frost, and, let us face it, there are very few Frosts in the world, and fewer still when there's no clear route to becoming a new Frost. And even if you do, how do you make money? I have purchased exactly one poetry book, ever, which I'm quite certain is more books of poetry than at least 90% if not more of the population will ever purchase. Almost all of the poems I'm interested in at this point are old enough that they're out of copyright, and many of those which aren't are more readily available via the internet than a book. The most popular poems are short ones, not terribly long ones, and that only hurts all the more, as it is that much harder to make money off of them. Suing people for public peformances of your poems earns you massive amounts of emnity and probably isn't worth the legal hassle.

So, again, it is all sophistry, a small, inbred group of people all oohing and ahhing over garbage as a form of conspicious consumption, a means of pretension, the idea that they are, indeed, glorious masters that are above the unwashed masses. If they had to rely on actual quality to sell their crap, they would curl up and die.

And honestly, I think stuff like this is the strongest reason why the NEA probably needs to reconsider how it spends its money, but that is neither here nor there.

It is, I suspect, the near-inevitable result of art forms that when they cease to be culturally relevant, those who remain interested will engage in such inbred behavior. While modern art was full of crap, the reality is that people were still selling normal art left and right, and continue to sell said art in far greater volume than modern art sells at or will ever sell at; wandering around the internet, it is obvious what sort of art people prefer. Abstract art still has its place, of course, but the super inbred stuff? It is the result of the same phenomenon. But art has never fallen to the same depths simply because it is more valuable to society, and so while a small inbred group did indeed engage in stupidity, the other artists continued to progress the medium, and now we have enormous amounts of gorgeous digital art which isn't at all the result of modernism.

Literature, likewise, has never fallen to the same depths, as even though there are those who peddle garbage and claim that only certain sorts of books are proper sophisticated works of art and the rest is drivel, the truth is that there are vast amounts of money to be made writing A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter and Twilight, and that truth prevents it from overwhelming the world of literature. And fortunately, I suspect that writing will always be important to us, and as such will never die the same sort of death that poetry and orchestral music have.

Popularity is the insulation against such stupidity, simply because it provides an objective metric which actually incentivizes the production of things which can indeed be appreciated for what they are without the need to pretend that you are better than everyone else.

I also have to disagree with this assertion:

Orchestral music was, I think, humanity’s greatest achievement, and now we have annihilated it, and many other art forms, and no one understands why.

Orchestral music was created centuries ago. I think that it is very far away from our greatest achievement, or even our greatest artistic achievement. I think film surpassed music long ago, and I think it is very likely that video games have or will soon surpass film, though I think the distinction between the media prevents video games from ever eliminating non-interactive experiences, as there are many stories which are very much worth telling which aren't interactive, or which are made worse by the attempt. Photoshop has forever eclipsed traditional art; digital art is not only faster to produce, but capable of massively higher quality simply because of the vastly superior tools it provides. Things keep getting better and better, not worse and worse, and smaller numbers of people can produce more and better works of art.

Incidentally, to answer the question "has this ever happened before in history?"

The answer to that is actually a pretty resounding "Yes, many times."

An obvious example would be Easter Island. They built an enormous number of statues, chopped down all the trees on their island in doing so, their civilization collapsed and they never did anything of even nearly the same scale again afterwards. Rongorongo, their writing/memetic system, was completely lost because almost no one knew it.

But examples exist throughout history - just look at Ancient Egypt. They built the largest, tallest man-made structure for over THREE THOUSAND YEARS in about 2500 BCE. They built the Sphinx either concurrently with the pyramids, or hundreds of years earlier. It remains the largest monolith statue in the world, five millenia later.

The Greeks built the Antikythera mechanism in the first millenium BCE, a device more complicated than anything man made for over a thousand years afterwards.

Going back a thousand years prior, Linear B was lost, and when the Greeks regained writing centuries later, it was with a totally different writing system.

There have been many times throughout history that societies have lost things which seemed marvellous, and very frequently they ended up happening for similar reasons - they were too much work to produce, or society changed and whatever it was lost its relevance.

Was it because of this degree of inbreeding? I don't know, though if you look at some religions, you can see prior to their collapse they were growing increasingly elaborate, so it is very possible that the collapse of such things may be linked to such. Heck, look at the Aztecs - the massive costs of supporting their crazy religion made everyone hate them and made them easy to conquer. There's a good chance that they would have fallen before too much longer, as their system was making absolutely everyone hate them; even without the Spanish, I doubt they would have persisted for more than another century or so.

Unfortunately, it actually doesn't mean anything at all. You can get a group of invested people to agree on anything, potentially; look at cults.

As far as the critics versus masses thing goes, though... I think the real problem, as it turns out, is that it is very complicated. The only way to actually judge whether or not someone is competent at something is to basically have them do it, and then compare to other competent people. If you have no reference pool for competence, it becomes impossible to determine competence unless there is some sort of objective metric - and in this case, there is none. Or rather, there is, but none of the critics want to hear "you're all incompetent", even if it is 100% true.

On the other hand, though, critics disagreeing with the public isn't necessarily wrong, either - that which is popular and that which is good are not identical. If you look at top hits, yeah, some of them are great songs... but there are plenty of great songs which never made #1, and plenty of #1 hits which get little if any airtime later on down the line, even on stations which recreate the era. Why? Same reason all sorts of fads hit and die. Pogs and Magic cards came out at about the same time; pogs died a horrible death, Magic spawned an entire genre of marketing for games and is still around (and the best game of its type) twenty years later.

The same is true of books, films, you name it. There are plenty of examples of films which won best film which were clearly less relevant and important than other films, but there are plenty of examples of very popular films that no one is going to care about in thirty years - most summer action movies fall into that category, and they make a lot more money than many films that critics praise. Transformers II was an awful movie, but it made scads of money. The fact that it made scads of money didn't make it a good movie, though, and I doubt that in fifty years people will look back and consider it one of the apexes of early 21st century film-making - they'll wonder why it made so much money relative to many other movies from the era which are remembered in 2060.

It is very hard to distinguish between popularity because it is good and you just can't see it, and popularity because of a fad, until after the fact; if it was easy, it would be a lot easier to make lots of money.

That isn't really irony; it is more what you expect in a genre where the people who are supposed to be innovating are churning out garbage. The people who know what they're doing just go back to the last things which were good and tweak them a bit.

I'm sure it is. Many absolutely horrible video games are nearly impossible to play, precisely because they are so bad.

That's not to say that all hard video games are bad, but many bad video games are quite hard. And you can tell people who are bad at understanding video games because they think that a video game being hard means that the unwashed masses are not properly appreciating it because it is too hard, rather than that the game is so hard precisely because it is so terrible.

Soge #39 · Jan 30th, 2014 · · 2 ·

I think that it is all a question of perspective. For instance, two of my favorite albums are Dodecahedron and Sunbather, both very inaccessible, dissonant, and built on things completely alien, or even repulsive to most people unfamiliar with Black Metal – and even then, Dodecahedron still makes my skin crawl after many repeated listens. The thing is, while I love these to pieces, I would only try to introduce someone to them if I knew they had at least some degree of familiarity with works in related genres. And, in order to get those works, some additional context on other genres is also necessary, so on and so forth.

In fact, I'd go a step further, and say that most of the value of what would be considered "high art" is in their reaction to existing works. The Rite of Spring isn't nearly as impressive without an understanding of the ballet and music conventions of the time, and without it, it is hard to see why late-period Schoenberg would be relevant, or any of the many other composers that, eventually, leads to Ferneyhough. In the end, he is probably a lot better than those that came before him, but only if you experienced everything that came before.

Throwing Ferneyhough at someone that is barely familiar with Bach is like trying to make a preschooler care about the Riemann conjecture – they are so far divorced from those concepts that it is hard to make they even care, or explain what is important about them. I believe that more adequate entry points could be useful, that is, having people distill what is significant about those works and applying them to more accessible expressions, kinda like how Jazz permeates and inspires some of modern music, or how Dubstep is essentially the application of atonality and dissonance to electronica.

I don't have any insightful comment on this, but I do want to say that I find it telling that I shut off Ferneyhough's piece in favour of my own music before I read the part of the blog that addressed it.

1774734 But what you said implies to me that Ferneyhough's music isn't good as music, but as part of an abstract discussion or argument, or just as meta-music, playfully wanking about with musical techniques much as Joyce wanked about with literary techniques.

A great novel requires a reader who's had lots of real-life experiences, enough to understand and relate to complex real-life problems. But I don't think it requires a reader who's read lots of novels.

I'm suspicious of anything entirely meta, or anything whose greatness relies entirely on cleverness. The Pachelbel Canon isn't clever. Lots of orchestral music is clever, but the first few bars of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" or Beethoven's Fifth have nothing clever at all, yet immediately you know you're in the presence of greatness.

How can I tell whether this music is objectively good, or just something arbitrary that you've gradually accustomed yourself to, like frog-boiling?


the "popular but bad"

Like darf's stories!

and the "unloved but beautiful."

Like darf's other stories!

1773725 I read the first 2 chapters of Infinite Jest, and it didn't seem avant-garde except in choosing to break the stories off in strange places. I stopped because chapter 1 was about a boy who was smarter than the rest of the world combined, and I've read too many of those stories; and chapter 2 was about a man crippled by marijuana addiction, and I thought it must be propaganda written by someone who didn't know anything about marijuana. It turns out some people do get addicted to marijuana, but I didn't know that then, and have known lots of people who took massive quantities of marijuana.

It was well-written, and maybe I'll go back & read more of it someday. If there's a trick to it, I don't know what it is yet.

1772856 I suspect that may be at the root of what's going on. Artists experiment with style, but then they take these pieces that were created as stylistic experiments, and beatify them as if they were objects of art. They're not. They're sketches, experiments, fragments.

In sculpture, for instance, we had decades of people producing blobs and blocks. Now modern sculpture has (I gather, from my limited exposure) turned back toward representationalism, but using many such blobs and blocks together to represent things. Those blobs and blocks were useful experiments, but they weren't art works, they were art exercises.

Comment posted by Bad Horse deleted Jan 30th, 2014


In the case of orchestral music, jazz, and poetry, the cause of their ridiculous, pretentious demise is identical - they lost cultural relevance. It was not that they killed their cultural relevance, but that their lack of cultural relevance killed them.
... If no one outside of a very small community can appreciate something, and it has no objective value, then it is vastly more probable that the thing is in fact worthless.

A very good point. And yet, the popular public does like crap: Transformers movies, Rebecca Black, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I believe there are things that are too good to be popular, like Jorge Luis Borges' stories. Do we decided those are crap based on our prior, and throw them out?

I think the distinction between the media prevents video games from ever eliminating non-interactive experiences, as there are many stories which are very much worth telling which aren't interactive, or which are made worse by the attempt.

Tangent: I spent years studying interactive fiction. That was why I went into artificial intelligence in the first place--to make AI smart enough for interactive literature. The two most-advanced autonomous, reasoning, planning AIs ever made for text-based interactive fiction were two that I made, in 1986 and 1992, that were never really used for anything interesting. Nobody ever even tried to make anything as sophisticated (though Andrew Stern made some that were advanced in other ways, like Facade, and Petz; Petz and The Sims pushed very far in other directions and IMHO are still two of the best games ever made). There just was no interest, commercially or artistically.

I had some hope that things would improve when computers became powerful enough to have 3D physics engines, and a document I wrote in the 80s or early 90s is still floating around the internet, envisioning computer games where you could walk around in them and manipulate objects directly, by pushing on them or lifting them, and talked about how that could create more interesting stories. The 3D part happened, and the stories, kind of, a little, but basically even to this day no one is interested in interactive story. Valve made a decent story in "Half-Life", but when I went out there in, I think, 1999, to talk about the AI for Half-Life 2, they said they wanted to step backwards, not forwards, because story and AI were expensive and time-consuming and Team Fortress made a lot of money without them. There are companies now that appreciate the value of story in video games--there weren't, in the 1990s!--but AFAIK they're mostly linear stories, or parallel stories, or multiple endings, but not full-bore autonomous-AI or even compositional/generative-grammar stories.

I spent some time in MUDs, and indeed you can create very high-quality interactive fiction if you have enough people, and you screen them very aggressively, but at the time the entire world population produced only a couple of hundred sufficiently-skilled roleplayers, enough to populate 3 or 4 quality MUDs.

I worked for Zoesis in the late 1990s, trying to make 3D interactive fiction. The 3D aspect of storytelling was incredibly, unbelievably time-consuming. Things that you'd gloss over in one sentence in text could take a week in 3D, writing code that would widen a character's eyes and tilt their head back to convey just the right amount of shock in any given situation. I said there were ways of using artificial intelligence cognitive models to automate the emotion-animation code, which was one of the reasons I got fired; the president said that produced flat characters. The company failed, largely due (IMHO) to having been given too much VC money to piss away without needing to produce anything marketable.

My site post interview tomorrow will say some things about interactive fiction.

One thing I'm surprised hasn't come up with the specific example of poetry is the idea that the more "populist" poets didn't disappear, they bought a guitar. Or made friends with someone who learned piano. Or found an MC to back them. It seems to me that at the same time poetry was dying, lyric writing (and rapping) has become more complex and prestigious. In fact, it's a rare poetry textbook these days that doesn't make room for Eleanor Rigby, and Paul Simon's response to Richard Cory, usually among a handful of other songs by the recent generation of canonized poet/songwriters. And while I'm one of those weird people who owns a shelf of books of older poetry, I don't read recent poetry, but I do listen to music primarily for lyrics.

Now, obviously not all lyricists are poets, or good poets, but there are more good poets among them than there are among the poets these days.

One thing struck me, reading this argument:

Pit the Ferneyhough sonata you linked against a random Mozart sonata, and I guarantee you that someone with a music degree would construct a virtually identical argument about the depth and complexity of modern music vs. the dreary formulaism of chamber music.

1775286 The prose in "Death of a Salesman" isn't nearly as technically complex as the lines in a Shakespeare play. They're simple and straightforward. It's just a lot better-written. The characters have personalities. Their problems are real-world problems arising from those personalities. The story has a focus and everything moves around that focus. The text is just simple prose to convey the situation to us. Shakespeare, by contrast, is mostly about dazzling us with his verbal pyrotechnics. The content is secondary; the style is primary. That seems more like the Ferneyhough to me.

Wow. And I thought I was passionately opposed to the reactionary close-mindedness that comes about as a dark side to nostalgia goggles (though I tend to think of it in terms of new works in individual media, not in comparing different media forms by age). This comment has so much venom in it that it really makes me wonder if you have a personal grudge tangled up in this whole issue.

My reading of that first chapter was that it's about a young man who has what feel like amazing ideas in his head that he thinks could change the world if he had the slightest ability to form and express them for the benefit of other people, or else a young man whose every attempt at communication is disastrous. It tapped into some of my greatest fears and anxieties. Also, spoilers for something you could connect the dots on pretty easily as you read but is never outright stated to you, but that first chapter is a flash-forward compared to the rest of the story, so if that version of Hal rubs you the wrong way, then maybe the main one will be different enough to change your mind.

The second chapter with the marijuana symptoms didn't stick with me for very long because it lacked the personal connection of the other one, but I thought the writing was pretty vivid and it never occurred to me at the time that this could be propaganda (much like it never occurred to me to suspect that Hal is a suspicious wish-fulfillment character). But one could make the argument that the many later scenes taking place at the Emmet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House are propaganda in favor of services like Alcoholics Anonymous, in the sense that they do their best to organically convey that AA is not a creepy cult of some kind but a genuinely good thing for people in this kind of troubled situation to have in their lives.

Is there seriously a huge contingent of people who like Rebecca Black unironically? My impression of the meme that was the Friday song is that it spread because of how awful it was. Some would say that it was awful in a way that confirmed deeply ingrained societal beliefs (teenagers are shallow and vacuous, autotune is a crutch for the talentless).

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