Art and Anti-Art

The collision of art and the modern world has not been such a happy one. As progress in science exploded, artists became infected with progress envy, and that turned out to be a problem. Nobody could write better symphonies than Mozart and Beethoven, nobody could sculpt better than Michelangelo, and nobody could paint better than those old Dutch guys. This prompted a bunch of experiments challenging the old forms, some of which managed to be interesting, but most of which turned out to be trash.

For my money, music and literature got the worst deals, with guys pounding a keyboard with dead fish and calling it music in the one case and postmodern literature in the other.

Jay MacInery, reviewing Infinite Jest in the NYT, noted that at about page 480 one might get the urge to shoot the author, or oneself. OK, I'm at 527, and homicide is a little beside the point, since the author took care of that business himself, but this book really does seem to be sort of a nasty joke on the reader.

The books many fans praise the author's humor, but to me very little of it is funny. There are a great many shaggy dog stories culminating in lame country. I am genuinely puzzled what it is that these fans like about it. Of course I felt the same way, if less strongly, about Gravity's Rainbow and Ulysses.


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