Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition

BOOK REVIEW
The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition
by M.H. Abrams
p. 1953
Oxford University Press

  I'd wager that most of my artistic type friends would gladly cop to being called "Romantics."  After all, you kind of have to be Romantic to get involved seriously with Art.   But what does it mean to be a "Romantic?"  Romanticism, after all, is nothing if not slippery, conceptually speaking.  To understand the Romantic tradition you need to go back to the 18th century.

  The main players are the English poets Wordsworth and Coleridge.  They weren't just poets, they were critics, and it's fair to say that in terms of the conceptual development of Romanticism, understanding it requires firmly grasping three main points:

 1)  The state of pre-Romantic (i.e. 17th and 18th century) neo-Classic aesthetic theory.
 2)  Developments in German aesthetic theory in the mid 18th century.
 3)  The transmission of those developments into English critical theory, as adapted by Wordsworth and few other people who were writing in scholarly/popular journals in London in the mid 18th century.

  First off, it's easy to forget how important an art form poetry was back in the 18th century.  Before the novel, literature was either poetry or epic poetry, more or less.  Thus, when people wrote about literature before the mid 18th century "rise of the novel" they wrote about poetry and prose.

  The main metaphor that Abrams uses to describe the "neo-classical" orientation of criticism before the rise of Romanticism is "ART AS MIRROR."   In the neo-classic orientation, Art reflected reality, and therefore Art was "like a mirror" in that it reflected the real.  This metaphor was "neo-classic" in that it derived from Plato's theories about Art.  In the words of Abrams:

   The perspective afforded by more recent criticism enables us to discriminate certain tendencies common to many of those theorists between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries who looked upon art as imitation, and more or less like a mirror.  For better or worse, the analogy helped focus interest on the subject matter of a work and its models in reality, to the comparative neglect of the shaping influence of artistic conventions, the inherent requirements of the single work of art, and the individuality of the author.

   Romanticism evolved as a criticism of that metaphor, more or less.  Where the neo-classicists saw ART AS A MIRROR, the nascent Romantic movement of the 18th century saw ART AS A LAMP- as something that came from within and shed light on the world.   The essential shift that occurred was to re-focus critical attention on the Artist, and away from the Audience- as was the case in neo-classical aesthetic theory, where the question was always whether a specific work of Art had satisfied the "rules" that produced pleasure in  the audience.

    This shift towards the irrelevance of the audience and the central role of the Artist had the effect of creating different strands of Romantic theory that maintain adherents up until today.   Specifically though, it turned criticism towards a consideration of the relationship between the Artist and his work- with some writers finding explanation for the work in biographical detail, and others claiming that the work was the Artist.  The search created canons of artistic criticism that are still important, Romantic critics then began to judge not just the work but the Artist, and correspondingly disregarded the Artist.

  This critical orientation has so convincingly triumphed that the focus on the Artist to the exclusion of the Audience has no competition- all critics are Romantic critics.  Neo-classicism is a relic of the past, but my perspective is that this is a mistake, since neo-classic aesthetic theory is concerned with Artist/Audience relationships, what better way to consider the impact of the internet on Art and Artists.



Thursday, February 02, 2012

LEONARD COHEN & COLUMBIA RECORDS

         I saw that a new Leonard Cohen record came out this week, and that there is an attempt by Columbia "more relevant" to youngsters by having bands like CULTS cover Cohen songs, which seems a-ok to me.  I thought I'd share the story of how Leonard Cohen signed to Columbia, from the epic  The Label: The Story of Columbia Records, by Gary Marmorstein (MY REVIEW)(AMAZON PRODUCT PAGE):

   In the months before the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and [Clive] Davis's ascension to the presidency, [John] Hammond's most recent discovery was probably the Canadian poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen.  The previous year Hammond had seen a documentary film, Ladies and Gentlemen...Mr. Leonard Cohen and, impressed, asked him to come to New York and play for him.  Cohen recorded his first Columbia album, which included "Suzanne," on May 19, 1967, at the 30th street studio, with Eric Weissberg on guitar and Felix Pappalardi on Fender bass.  There was a tremendous push by the legal department to have Cohen sign with its publishing unit April-Blackwood because, of course, the songs would be more expensive if the album became a hit.  With memos from Dick Asher and Walter Dean flying back and forth, Cohen and his producer Hammond felt the pressure.  Fortunately, Cohen responded postively to incoming publishing chief Neil Anderson, and the deal was made.
   Cohen's career was an illustration of the move away from Tin Pan Alley, in which songwriters sold their wares to publishing companies, who connected the songs to singers or "artists." At Columbia, Cohen wasn't the first songwriter to record his own music the way he wanted to.  Oscar Brown was probably the progenitor of the practice, Bob Dylan the prime mover, and Paul Simon no less an orignal than Dylan.  Cohen's style, however, was unique- his druggy, susurrant parlando backed by guitar and voices- and appealed to record buyers who surrounded themselves with books of poetry, incense and macareme.  In Dylan and Simon, as with so many novelists, their content was said to be their style; in Cohen, his style was the content.  This was true even after Hammond, extending the old pattern, was pulled away from producing Cohen- apparently at Cohen's request-- and young Columbia producer John Simon brought in to provide a more elaborate, cathedral-like sound.
  Check out that book- The Label: The Story of Columbia Records, by Gary Marmorstein, if you are serious about the music business. REQUIRED READING

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

NEW BAND PINS MANCHESTER UK

NEW BAND PINS MANCHESTER UK. (A SHOW REVIEW SOME GUY WROTE LAST MONTH)

PLEASE NOTE THIS BAND IS NOT PENS FROM LONDON

DIRTY BEACHES ANNOUNCES GERMAN & ITALIAN 7"S











































DIRTY BEACHES TARLABASI 7" BRONSON ITALY VINYL
one from local Italian promoter Bronson in Ravenna.










































DIRTY BEACHES DUNE WALKER 7" GERMANY SLOW BOY
and the other one is from Slow Boy label in Cologne.


Good luck getting copies of either: LET ME KNOW IF YOU FIND THEM FOR SALE.

THE MIRROR AND THE LAMP CLASSIFICATION SCHEME

MH ABRAMS THE MIRROR AND THE LAMP CLASSIFICATION SCHEME.

UNIVERSE
{}
WORK ----  AUDIENCE
{}
ARTIST

Monday, January 30, 2012

THE EXPEDITION OF HUMPHREY CLINKER BY TOBIAS GEORGE SMOLLETT

BOOK REVIEW
The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker
by Tobias George Smollett
Introduction by Robert Gorham Davis
Published by Hold, Rineheart and Winston
this edition 1967
originally published 1771

  I can honestly say that I've read every major novel of the 18th century, and several of the minor ones.  It's been whatever the opposite of a "wild ride" is- every other great 18th century novel is 500 pages long, they are written in a style of English that is almost as foreign as a novel written in a different language entirely and the novels of the 18th century lack many of the characteristics of what the modern reader considers to be integral to a novel.  Oh- and you know what was popular in 18th century Novels? The epistolary novel.  That's a novel composed entirely of LETTERS.

 Sooo...  In terms of "what's left" of the 18th century canon of literature I'm down to minor works of English authors and almost all of the books written by French guys.  Tobias Smollett was Scottish born- who worked from about 1750 to 1770.  Smollett is the primary go-to guy for the picaresque novel.  Picaresque novels have more then the average amount of appeal to the modern reader because they deal with roguish adventures- much in the same way that people will watch a COPS episode on basic cable.

  The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker is both a picaresque AND an epistolary novel, which is why it took me this long to get around to it.  ALSO- not as cheap as you would think- turns out the minor classics often cost more then the major hits because they aren't as popular with modern readers.  Like other picaresque novels, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, is basically a tour of different places, with lots of adventures and what today we would call "travelogue."

   The narrative is split between three people- the rich old guy who is paying for everything, his... nephew? And a quasi-illiterate servant woman.  The plot, such at is revolves around a couple of marriages and a false arrest (of the title character, Henry Clinker, who is a servant of the rich old guy.)  I believe there are many reasons why this book is a minor classic: It's interesting that Smollett has multiple narrative perspectives, but it basically boils down to two white guys basically talking about the same thing over and over again for 400 pages- not really necessary.

  There's about 100 pages of Scottish travelogue- wouldn't you know that Smollett was Scottish? He was! It makes for fun reading, but it's hardly "great novel" material.  Characters in picaresque novels do not learn lessons, nor is there a concern with depicting events "realistically"  what IS there:  PLOT TWISTS, FUNNY CHARACTERS AND DETAILED SCENERY.

  Ok, so maybe Smollett isn't the biggest 18th century novelist out there, but his books are still widely available in print 250 years ish after he wrote.  That is an impressive accomplishment, and in my opinion, it's worth the time to see what kind of art stands up to 250 years of scrutiny.   Classic art, that's what.


Blog Archive