Monday, 31 December 2018

Delany on Writing AND New Year's Eve Music Countdown

I finished Samuel R. Delany's On Writing, a compendium of essays, articles, and tipsheets by the science fiction writer and critic. In this collection, he sometimes comes across as a cranky old man, but he has important things to say, and his varied career makes him worth listening to.

The following excerpts are from "A Poetry Project Newsletter Interview: A Silent Interview."

A communal task that art accomplishes--particularly the verbal arts of fiction, poetry, and criticism--is to help with the all-important shifts in discourse that must occur for there to be meaningful historical change.

Because it is a communal task, because no single work of art can accomplish such a discursive shift by itself, the artist (responsible only for her or his own work) doesn't  have to worry abot preaching. It does no good; don't waste your time. It's far more effective to look at a situation and dramatize, in however complex allegorical terms you'd like, what it is you've seen. (300)
I like the way he insists that a single work in itself can't be burdened with the responsibility of "changing the world," but that a collective action can do that. Delany rephrases this idea in terms of censorship against an individual text:
For the same reasons that poets and artists don't have to worry about preaching, the general public doesn't need to worry about imposing censorship. "For poetry makes nothing happen," W.H. Auden wrote in his elegy for Yeats. That priviledged lack of power of the single work of art--the single poem, say,--is precisely what, I feel, Auden was getting at.

Many works of art taken together, however, through the very process by which we learn to read them, establish discourses--discourses of the possible, discourses of the probable, discourses of desire.(301)
An attack on a single work is not enough to weaken the discourse from which the work arises.

Delany doesn't care for utopias,  he says, but he knows something about utopian and dystopian fiction. He mentions three utopian/dystopian pairings (he calls them "image clusters"): The New Jerusalem versus Brave New World, which he says is an urban love/hate pairing, Arcadia versus Land of the Flies, which is a rural pairing, and the Techno-Junk City versus the Empire of the Afternoon (302-03).

I have a good sense of the first five of these categories, but I don't know what Empire of the Afternoon might be. Perhaps someone can enlighten me? Post me something.

Finally is a statement that reflects on my series on light and shadows:

Since Wagner at least, silence has been considered the proper mode in which to appreciate the work of art: Wagner was the first major artist to forbid talking in the theater during his concerts and operas. He began the custom of not applauding between movements of a symphony, sonata, concerto, suite, or string quartet. Also, he was the first person, during performances of his operas at Bayreuth, to turn off the house lights in the theatre and have illumination only on the stage.
Silence.
Darkness.
For better or worse, this aligns art more closely with death: it moves us formally toward a merger with the unknown. (309)
Artists must turn away from the known, the day, that which is immediately perceivable.Art, in its association with the unknown, the night, that which is not visible, frightens some people.

_____

Here are my favourite songs of 2018:

BlocBoy JB feat. Drake, "Look Alive"
Leon Bridges, "Bad Bad News"
Florence + the Machine, "Hunger"
Parquet Courts, "Wide Awake"
Janelle MonĂ¡e, "Make Me Feel"
Rosie and the Riveters, "Ms. Behave"
Erin Costelo, "All in Your Head" 
Shad,"The Fool Pt. 1 (Get It Got It Good)" 
Melissa Laveaux, "Nan Fon Bwa"
Jeremy Dutcher, “Mehcinut"

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