Friday, March 24, 2017

some links for the weekend covering the ever-present death of the novel, the anime remake on the way and the ambiguous meaning of "American" music

The novel is always dying, isn't it?

As Peter Boxall and Bryan Cheyette observe in their introduction to The Oxford History of the Novel in English, Volume 7: British and Irish fiction since 1940, in every decade of the twentieth century (and now the twenty-first) the novel has been dismissed as “an irretrievably exhausted and dying genre”. By 1970, it was possible to find at least one book-length study in Britain – The Situation of the Novel by Bernard Bergonzi – examining the history of authors and critics who had declared the end of the novelistic tradition. Bergonzi himself argued that one was forced to conclude (“inescapably”) that the formal possibilities of the novel had been used up somewhere between 1910 and 1930. Once the golden age of modernist experimentation was over, the novel was left in a condition of “fluctuating stasis”, endlessly recycling itself inside “an extensive but closed system of cultural references”. The paradox was that this stylistic dead-end was accompanied “by a constant increase in the number of novels written, published, and read”.
Any number of critics since Bergonzi have regurgitated the idea that the novel as we know it today persists in a kind of zombie state, stripped of whatever vital essence it once had (and this in spite of the fact that novels are being published and consumed in unprecedented numbers). But the argument for the novel’s demise has its own kind of ghoulish quality to it by now. Another observation made by Boxall and Cheyette is that every post-war jeremiad about “the death of the novel” – from Lionel Trilling’s study The Liberal Imagination (1950) to Will Self’s essay “The Novel Is Dead (this time it’s for real)” (2014) – tends to draw on the same limited set of ideas. The novel is said to be dead or dying either because it has been made obsolete by new technology, because it has become radically out of sync with the values of the culture around it, or because it has no further capacity for innovation (or some combination of the three). At this stage, what bears thinking about surely isn’t – or isn’t just – how the novel carries on in the face of these old claims, but why the argument about its life or death keeps reappearing.

Oxford's got an interest in death narratives.  Taruskin's sprawling but readable Oxford History of Western Music is so obviously and embarrassingly an obituary for the entire art form that it's interesting to see how he presupposed the death of what we colloquially call classical music at the start of Book 1 and by Book 5 has worked out that it wasn't dead yet and maybe is just going to be marginal (like it's been for some time, really).  There may be an axiom out there that when scholars or critics bemoan the death of an art form they're very often bemoaning not the mortality of the art form itself, which is often continuing (if in a form they no longer revere), so much as their own mortality. 

Speaking of revered and continuation ...

Seeing as there's a live-action take/remake on Ghost in the Shell, and seeing as there was some controversy about the casting of the star ... the director of the original (and in my opinion wildly over-rated) anime cult classic has sounded off for the record to IGN.


"What issue could there possibly be with casting her?" Oshii told IGN by e-mail. "The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name 'Motoko Kusanagi' and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply."

Even though I think the original anime was seriously over-hyped I don't see SJ playing the Major as being a problem.  There had better be fewer long tracking shots of thinking heads in this new one, though. 

Oshii's comment about how a Patlabor reboot might be a more natural fit with an American re-launch makes some sense.  But the Patlabor franchise, fun though it is, hardly has the brand recognition Ghost in the Shell has. 

If Hollywood seems out of ideas in peddling a Ghost in the Shell remake it's worth noting that, as a friend of mine likes to put it, Hollywood NEVER had its own ideas.  We've been adapting and pilfering the cultures of others since before we were officially a United States of America.

Bernstein's Mass got a rocky start because it's more a work of musical theater than a Mass and it doesn't quite come off as either a Mass or as a compelling work of musical theater.  In other words, it's well-made but kinda lame.  Bernstein's Chittchester Psalms are fantastic, though.  The problem with trying to assimilate Broadway or rock elements into "classical" music is trying to do this while at the same time engaging in a theatrical work can force a composer to balance too many elements at once.  The classical side tends to falter on these things just as the pop side tends to falter because the syntax and vocabulary may overlap but often the balance between the syntax and vocabulary tilts so far toward one the other gets neglected.  So pop stars write forgettable stabs at classical music and classical composers can tend to write embarrassing attempts at rock or Broadway.  It may be the problem is as simple as a failure to synthesize both idioms because you don't truly live in both of them, your bread and butter comes from one or the other but rarely both.  That doesn't have to remain the default status quo, however.

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