Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gimme the old guys with the cigars...

It's not as though it's a well thought out or deeply researched position – mostly it's a sweeping, cranky generalization of the sort I am prone to – but I've often thought that one problem with publishing is that the money-mindedness gets mixed up with the concern for art, muddying both and weakening both. Some people complain that publishing has become all about money – ahem – but really, it's the mixing of aesthetic concerns with economic ones that ruins it for everyone. It's one reason why contemporary Canadian fiction hews so closely to a middlebrow sensibility that is sellable while smelling just enough like literature to make everyone involved believe they are doing well by the art form. Rather than make clear distinctions between literary fiction and outright commercial fiction, we produce awkward hybrids that aren't literary enough to last, and aren't commercial enough to entertain. I believe that excellent literary/commercial hybrids can exist, and do, but they have to be considered happy accidents.

Thus, the problem isn't that publishers abandon notions of literary value in the pursuit of profit, it's that they cling to them. Art should never be asked to make a profit. If it does, great, but you can't put prior expectations on it, because that leads to a kind of funneling effect wherein the definition of art gets narrower and narrower. Companies need to pay their employees, so they should feel free to put out the slickest commercial crap they can, while leaving a little room for the arty stuff that makes them look good but rarely makes a dime.

There's more to this argument, but really, all I wanted to do was set up this short interview clip with Frank Zappa below, wherein he makes a similar argument. ("The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the art form than the old guys with cigars ever were.")



(I'm hoping it's intentional that later in the clip, when he talks about censorship, words such as "masturbation" and, um, "the white stuff" get bleeped.)

2 comments:

Ross McKie said...

Indeed. Same concerns in Canadian television and film, Mr Whitlock. Unbelievable self-sabotage, as cronies attempt to "configure" the product for already sleepy eyes, relying on insubstantial claims about viability, claims based on anything other than the (true?) dynamics of good storytelling. Aargh. Believe me, I miss the world of prose...

I'm really only discovering Zappa now-- beyond "Sheik Yerbouti" that is. I bought "Lumpy Gravy."

Ross McKie said...

Speaking of "fun with words"...the word verification for my comment was "facktte." Love it. Here's the pitch: disgruntled, misunderstood young novelist works as a proofreader at a notable House-- the imprint's name: Facktte.