Friday, January 23, 2004
More Bourbon than Blather...While my dog is getting to know his shadow, and Sue is lamenting her lack of fried chicken from Ooohs and Aaahs—a soul-food diner, so good it warrants italics, just past the crackhouse on my corner—it's come to my attention that Dave Eggers & co. are peddling a new book, called "The Haggis-On-Whey Word of Unbelievable Brilliance." (Not even underlining.)
Now. Because it's my birthday, I just made Sue listen to all this, and I'm subjecting you to it too. And we're going to talk about postmodernism, and plenty of you will say I'm a snob, or that I'm drunk, or just close the window—all of which are available, reasonable, and correct responses.
When I saw Martin Amis speak a few months ago, he was asked about the impact of postmodernism on fiction and the direction fiction has taken after the end (abandonment? oversaturation?) of postmodernism. Amis gave what I thought was a safe and weak response: That writers were in a sense retreating or returning to the craft of telling a story. (He then followed with much more compelling evidence from his own work, describing how he experimented with what the kids are calling "self-reflexivity" in Money, in which the narrator meets the character Martin Amis. With characteristic charm, Amis then recounted how Money was a book that his father, novelist Kingsley Amis, seemed to enjoy—right up to that pomo moment, at which point KA threw the book across the room.) Amis (Martin) articulated, I think, a tendency with art—a need, in unsettling times, after periods of experimentation, to return to comfortable forms. We have all seen or heard or read about the expiration of postmodernism, but we don't know what succeeds it—yet I think I can safely say that the lineage won't read, 'Modernism --> Postmodernism --> Regular Art.' In Amis's defense, because, you know, Martin Amis needs me to come to his defense, I imagine he was describing what was happening rather than what was very good, theoretically sound, canonizable, what-have-you.
I wonder whenever I hear this argument, especially with how it's employed against art, if sometimes we mistakenly dismiss art only because it appears to be involved with a vanguard we've discarded. The thought occurred to me at the Hirshhorn museum when I was looking at a piece by Ron Mueck.
Ron Mueck, Untitled (Boy), 2001
I saw this very large and very impressive sculpture in Venice, at the 49th Biennale, but it was only a few days ago did I ever run across anything printed about Mueck. Flipping through a book in the museum store, I found that n an interview about his hyperreal sculpture, Mueck focused on, of all things, Renaissance concepts—Renaissance poses, R. ideas about how bodies move through space, R. formulations about how figures are sculpted from materials. Accompanying the interviews were paintings and sculptures that bore great resemblance to Mueck's work, which, in turn, did not bear great resemblance to the Renaissance—if that makes any sense.
So it seems to me that when art is amazing it is so because it always falls in line with the rest of art, accepting and adapting to or adopting the questions that make up the linear, cyclical evolution of good art. I don't think there is such a thing as stepping outside of the latest tangent and going back to a purer time—and it helps to have guides, and, yes, theory to recognize these trends in art. To wrap up this indulgence—did I mention, it's my birthday, my unimpugnable birthday?—it seems to me that Dave Eggers & co. aren't doing anything that, far as I can tell, fits into or improves upon what has come before them. And much as the fanciness seems novel I think it's all more-or-less explored territory, but honestly, I wouldn't bet on it were it not for the fact that Dave Eggers's craftmanship is terrible and doesn't prove to me in the slightest that he's done his homework.
So, January 23rd: Happy birthday to me, and fuck you, Dave Eggers—I'd forgive you were you not you. Fuck all of you, actually, I'm not posting again.
And sorry if you've read to here.