20 September 2004

Faux garde, faux mo

From the introductory column covering the avant garde in the New York Times, titled Pushing Boundaries in Search of Vision:

Postmodernism ... drives artists to mine the past constantly - and flagrantly.

And from an article in the Sept/Aug 2004 issue of the cinephile magazine Film Comment (thanks for the subscription!):

Following the copyright controversy surrounding The Grey Album--in which DJ Dangermouse [sic] remixed The Beatles' White Album [Amazon] with Jay-Z's Black Album [Amazon]--paranoia has reared its ugly head. The fear, in some quarters, has been akin to the horror of miscegenation, as "white" mingles with "black," and record-industry lawyers attest to the sullying of the purity of the original (among other things). It's a fertile time, then, for Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky) to premiere his spin on D. W. Griffith's 1915 Birth of a Nation [IMDB], a film that glorified the birth of the Ku Klux Klan in the face of a cultural/genetic remix sanctioned by the end of the Civil War. Miller calls Rebirth of a Nation a deconstruction of the film, but it's unclear what he means [emphasis mine].

The NYT article presents a fresh, honest, and refreshing view on the most difficult of the arts. Or, should I be PoMo and say "difficult"? The connection that struck me in the article, and with the well-timed Film Comment article, was a connection that I had when I previously discussed DJ Spooky's work. It feels like he's falling into the trap of referencing postmodernism (an aesthetic of reference) without providing any of the emotional content (as I would argue that Dave Eggers does).

The Times author, Margo Jefferson, keenly categorizes all of the pitfalls, internal uncertainty, and artistic reward that comes with appreciating the avant garde in art. Her honest observations (Playing for maximum market value can turn a fresh form into pablum. Too much of what is called new music or world music now sounds as blandly mellow as the synthesized pop that calms impatient telephone customers) are paired with honest admissions (I don't want to canonize, but to explore. And I'm not sure what I'll discover.). With those admissions are the warnings of wearing the clothes of style: When innovations become habits, prescriptions, they must be imagined all over again, made new.

The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory emphasizes that deconstruction does not advocate 'subjective' of 'free' interpretation but that the wandering of meaning is the condition of the production of meaning. In other words, free-form collages on existing texts don't produce deconstructed texts. Film Comment argues that DJ Spooky's work is this free interpretation, and Ms. Jefferson rightly points out the frequent desire of mainstream--relatively mainstream--avant garde artists to label as style and forget content.

[ via BoingBoing -> New York Times ]

[ posted by sstrader on 20 September 2004 at 12:20:24 PM in Culture & Society ]