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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Review: Telling it Again and Again *Repetition in Literature and Film*

Repetition in Literature and Film
by Bruce F. Kawin
Cornell University Press, 1972

         The only reason I read this book is because I saw it listed in the bibliography of Rock Music in American Popular CultureSince I bought that book for the bibliography, I was excited when Telling It Again and Again arrived and it had a handsome  early 70's dust jacket that featured a classic graphic theme. The design is reason alone to buy some of these weird 70s academic press titles.

         Telling it Again and Again touched on two topics I've been thinking about:

  1.   The role of the aesthetics of novelty vs. the aesthetics of repetition in the field of popular music production  and consumption.
  2. What makes a hit record?
        The consideration of these areas by artists and audience members is riddled with impressionism and romanticism.  For me, the single most significant error in discussions of popular music and its consumption is the dissonance that occurs in conversations about the aesthetics of novelty vs. the aesthetics of repetition.   This is a debate that repeats itself in every channel of discourse.  Specifically:

  1. The originality of artist's sound.
  2. The success of an individual composition with a specific audience.
  3. The merit of a specific group of compositions by a single artist.
      These limited examples are meant to demonstrate that this is a limitless subject of debate, even the debaters are ignorant of its existence.  Kawin's thesis is that repetition lays at the very core of humanity, and that novelty is a defect brought about by specific developments in modern western culture.  In support of this thesis, he enlists such diverse source material as the Upanishads, Wittgenstein & Mircea Eliade.  Or, he ties together Hindu spiritualism with western language/logic analytic philosophy and the academic literature on Shamanism in support of the contention that repetition should be valued more then novelty.

    This fascinating discussion of the merit of repetition vs. novelty brackets about 120 pages of turgid prose that actually deals with specific example of the use of repetition in the novel and in movies(mostly french movies from the 1960s.)  That material... has not aged well.   The material of the novel was somewhat engaging, but the analysis of 60s French cinema made me want to beat up 60s French Cinema.  

    Why would anyone write about film?  Making movies is like being a professional golfer:  Helps to be a rich white guy.  I've watched thousands of films, read about them, taken undergraduate course in their study, had friends who have pursued it as a profession, know actors, etc. and it all just seems like a big waste of time.

   I know people who read this blog are super into movies but to me it's like, why would you pick a format that is so expensive, so closed off.  It is so hard to find an audience for an amateur film.  It's almost impossible to even try.  It's the artistic equivalent of  poor kids all over the world who think they are going to be the next LeBron James.  And people who say that they don't care about gaining an audience for their art work are either lying, crazy or or stupid.  To say "Oh yeah I'm going to make a movie" even TODAY (with advances in technology)  is like saying "Oh yeah I'm going to build a rocket ship and fly to the moon."

   On the other hand, if you were to take the introductory/conclusory material and build a book about the same subject in music: Well- now that would be something.  Specifically, I would apply this mode of thought to popular music generally, specifically focusing on the "speeding up" of  popular songs in the first half of the 20th century within the United States.

  A great diversity of producers of recorded music has been a central fact of the American music industry since the 1940s, well before the rock and roll era.

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