Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Preliminary Thoughts

I would not want to judge all works of art by how well they “make strange” because doing so would exclude a portion of the art that I enjoy. To judge art in such a manner would be too harsh. Sometimes we like a piece of art because it reminds us of something. I would call this “nostalgia.” We could enjoy a certain kind of movie because it reminds us of the first time the genre made something strange for us, or because the movie reinforces images that we just like to have reinforced. Noir would be my example of this. It is an extremely limited genre, yet it only takes a small variation to make it interesting. L.A. Confidential is a typical noir film, yet it is a great film as well. Ultimately, I would like to use these theories to show that repetitively viewing formulaic movies and sitcoms is a bad thing because they reinforce automization, but by doing so I will be condemning some of my own tastes.

I am fascinated by these views because I think they have implications that extend well beyond literature and poetry. I think we are constantly fighting the process of “automization,” and it is a losing battle. Anything that can make us stop and begin to enjoy and appreciate our existence is invaluable. I think reading this stuff has made me realize why I watch movies, read books, or listen to music. Repetition is painful to me. The same reason why I found answering phones at the Art Museum excruciating is the reason why I cannot abide formulaic action movies. My mind rebels. I remember as a kid my father getting mad at me because every time he took me to play baseball I wanted to make up new games or variations on the game.

Variation also does not have to be extreme. The formalists like to point to a lot of extreme examples such as Trsistam Shandy or Finnegans Wake. While these examples are helpful to describe what the formalists stand for, they are extreme examples that are not the norm. Perhaps the best variations are the subtle ones; the variations that occur almost without us noticing them.

The question I ultimately want answered is whether these theories really can set a standard for what is good art. Am I being a snob by calling out people who can watch the same action movies with different characters over and over again? Is their taste any better or worse than mine?

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