Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Xerox Theory of Literature

The key to art is the natural talent-- the Original-- the striking, pioneering vision and voice doing what no others have done before. In understanding art one has to always go back, and back, to locate the original source. Too much art and writing are mere Xerox reproductions-- copies of copies of copies, each one increasingly blurred.

I saw this in an office in which I once worked. My disorganized boss had lost the original typed "master" of a certain document, and so made copies of a copy, then misplaced the first copies and had to make copies of one of the copies, and so on, until the document we ended with was a freakish, unsightly mess. I scoured cabinets and drawers searching for the original, but never found it.

What makes much (not all) contemporary music, of any genre, depressing is that the products are blurred imitations. Jazz, blues, rock, classical-- it's all been done, and done better.

It would be better if new practitioners were handed acoustic guitars, put in the woods away from recorded music, and asked to come up with something. Whatever they'd create, it might be new.

For rock, we have to go back to the roots of roots music; the great originals-- the Carter Family; Leadbelly; Robert Johnson.

What gave Elvis Presley the "shock of the new" was that he presented styles of music which stuffy affluent Americans had scarcely heard before-- country, blues, gospel-- mixed together with pop motifs in a way that'd never been done, in raw-boned fashion. He created his synthesis on his own, with no training or premeditation. It just happened, like a crack of lightning, a spontaneous act of nature. Elvis was able to duplicate the original impulse OF a Leadbelly. (The Presley movie vehicle "Jailhouse Rock" in its prison scenes pays homage to the legend of Leadbelly. Listen to Elvis sing "I Want to Be Free" in this movie and you'll hear his voice still uncorrupted, before the long years of recording and fame.)

These truths also apply to literature. The writings of an Eggers or David Foster Wallace are overwhelmed by the implicit and explicit references in them to the authors' schooling and to layers of other authors and interpretations of those authors. Any spark of originality was lost eons ago. They can only wink and nod, with irony, at "truth" (a concept with little meaning to them) as they pay homage to the most recent imitator before them. (In Eggers case, the copy he copies is Foster Wallace, who copied Pynchon, who is himself jaded, overwhelmed with learning and mediated influences.) The ultimate extreme is academy novelist Curtis White, whose writings are a mishmash of received wisdom filtered through texts of Lacan, Derrida, Kierkegaard, and countless others; a jumble of dropped references and dropped names, allusions to lectures he sat through; a maze of intellectualism blocking any narrative flow. Such a novelist becomes a sad case, a mutant weighed down with the burden of a thousand implanted thoughts from modern and postmodern "philosophies"-- too many for anyone to coherently sort through. Unfound among the verbiage is a fresh viewpoint.

The strength of zeendom is that its practitioners are naturals. A Wild Bill Blackolive is well-read-- he's studied forerunners Melville, Hemingway, Bukowski, and Kerouac. The perspective he gives on them is his own. His writing embodies more the grittiness of his rugged east Texas life than of any seminars on literature he may have attended (none-- unless one counts the discussions about lit he had with Jeff Potter, myself, and others when part of ULA shows in New York and Detroit).

Much the same can be said about a variety of ULA writers, whether Jack Saunders, Lisa Falour, or the unspoiled Urban Hermitt, whose chief literary influence is the one-of-a-kind punk-zine folk hero Aaron Cometbus.

AUTHENTICITY: In the processed, plastic, virtual world in which we live, this is a rare and wonderful value.


Jeff Potter said...

Give em a guitar and send em to the woods. I like that.

Metaphorically, anyway. Send em to the woods, to their job, down an alley. Stick em on their own porch.

Mix em in with all the generations of their family, friends, neighbors, coworkers. No one is ever really alone. But they can still be 'in the woods.'

And you don't really need to keep them away from recorded music. No, maybe you do. With the emphasis on recorded. But an even bigger emphasis on poserism. Live music easily creates copycattism.

But our 'woodsy' art never exists in a vaccuum. Its ears are open. It pays homage. --While it attempts to raise the bar even higher. There's never any sense in just spinning a wheel.

You mention indulgent insider references in today's irrelevant lit---it's the indulgence and cliqueishness that gets them, not the references per se. Good work stands on shoulders and actively benefits its readers as a result. Jack Saunders throws everything he's ever learned into wherever it fits---and he brings it to life in so doing. He uses the ideas in his own life and reports on it. These are living references. Good stuff.

They say the best jazz players 'woodshed'---that's kind of going to the woods. I think it means that they go out back and plug their ears and work it out, what they have to offer, til it's done, then they practice that sucker til it's gleaming, only then do they let it out or even try to get creative with it. It's a time of sweat and noninterference.

But your woods are of course where all our roots work comes from. Blues and bluegrass music. Real country music (goodbye Nashville). Folk art like Howard Finster and folk writers like Jack Saunders. I believe that the establishment still says that folk writing doesn't exist by definition---there are several academic/gallery 'outsider' and 'art brut' art journals. No folk writers in em. What, the folk can't read?

chilly charlie said...

Hey, what about Dean Haspiel?

Tim Hall's buddy?

What a loser.

What a lousy artist.

chilly charlie said...

I heard that Dean Haspiel's brother died.

Boo hoo