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Posts tagged ‘tastes’

REPRINT: New Yorker On When Literary Fiction Was King and Genre Was For Dolts

A CRITIC AT LARGE

EASY WRITERS

Guilty pleasures without guilt.

by MAY 28, 2012

May 28, 2012 Issue

ABSTRACT: A CRITIC AT LARGE about guilty pleasures and genre fiction. When Matthew Arnold keeled over, in April, 1888, while hurrying to catch the Liverpool tram, Walt Whitman told a friend, “He will not be missed.” Arnold was, in short, “one of the dudes of literature.” Whitman probably figured that his own gnarly hirsuteness would save him from becoming a dude. He was wrong, and therein lies a lesson for all hardworking scribblers: stick around long enough, develop a cult following, gain the approval of one or two literary dudes, and you, too, can become respectable. Commercial and genre writers aim at delivering less rarefied pleasures. And part of the pleasure we derive from them is the knowledge that we could be reading something better. For the longest time, there was little ambiguity between literary fiction and genre fiction: one was good for you, one simply tasted good. In 1944, Edmund Wilson published an article in this magazine that contained some disparaging remarks about the mystery genre. Nonetheless, it was a senior literary dude, W. H. Auden, who pointed the mystery writer Raymond Chandler canonward. It was Chandler’s blend of stylish wit and tough-guy sentimentality that made it easier for the commercial writers who followed. If you were good, you could find a booster among the literati. Indeed, scores of novelists in a variety of genres—P. D. James, John le Carré, Donald Westlake, Dennis Lehane—routinely receive glowing writeups in major newspapers and literary venues. In 1995, Martin Amis dubbed Elmore Leonard “a literary genius who writes re-readable thrillers.” Skilled genre writers know that a certain level of artificiality must prevail. It’s plot we want and plenty of it. Basically, a guilty pleasure is a fix in the form of a story. Mentions Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan of the Apes.” The guilty-pleasure label peels off more easily if we recall that the novel itself was once something of a guilty pleasure. Hence Dickens was considered by many of his contemporaries to be more of a sentimentalist and a caricaturist than a serious artist. Mentions George Orwell. Today, the literary climate has changed: the canon has been impeached, formerly neglected writers have been saluted, and the presumed superiority of one type of book over another no longer passes unquestioned. So when Terrence Rafferty, in the Times Book Review last year, expressed disappointment with a novel that tried and failed to transcend the limitations of its genre, he caught some flak. Mentions Ursula K. Le Guin, Lee Child, Harold Bloom, and Stephen King. Compares Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” with Ford Madox Ford’s “Parade’s End.” Christie’s language wants us to settle in; Ford’s demands that we pay attention. The typical genre writer keeps rhetorical flourishes to a minimum, and the typical reader is content to let him. Readers who require more must look either to other kinds of novels or to those genre writers who care deeply about their sentences.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/05/28/120528crat_atlarge_krystal?printable=true#ixzz1vjQIqhqu

Everybody Hates Rap And Opera

Not really. I like one of ’em. NPR article on why some of the same people can’t listen to rap music and opera music.

 

Why Do People Hate Rap And Opera?

link: Why Do People Hate Rap And Opera? : Deceptive Cadence : NPR.

So what’s wrong with rap and opera? Not much, really. Except that last week when we asked readers to name their musical blind spots (genres or bands they ignored, either by choice or neglect) a distinct refrain emerged within the responses. Two examples:

“Oh, and by the way, rap is not music. It is mostly a bunch of meaningless drivel by people with no real talent and who certainly should not get paid.”

“Very little of opera is worth bothering with and even then only as instrumental music rather than as the sounds of tortured cats.”

It was clear that opera and rap, more than any other genres, hit some kind of nerve with people. And it’s a fact that seems to hold true far beyond our highly unscientific social media polling. But why?

 

For some people, taste — why we dislike one thing and prefer another — is complicated. It’s connected to self-esteem, personal branding and creating social divisions based on things like class and education. In a 1996 article for the American Sociology Review, Bethany Bryson attempted to show that people use their musical tastes to erect what she calls “symbolic boundaries” between themselves and others.

There’s little doubt that both rap and opera have traveled with significant prejudicial (if stereotypical) baggage: Opera is for rich, white, elderly snobs; rap is made by poor, young, black thugs. Some people reject both groups, while others relish degrees of perceived inclusion. Bryson would say perceptions help determine musical choices and vice versa.

On a less academic level, I asked a couple of my NPR Music colleagues to weigh in. For Bob Boilen, creator and host of All Songs Considered, social structures, he says, have nothing to do with it. It’s all about communication. The languages of rap and opera just don’t speak to him. “If the crux of the music is focused on the words and if the words don’t relate to the listener then it’s all is a big disconnect,” he says. But he’s willing to admit exceptions, including the mournful strains of Portuguese fado: “I don’t care what they’re singing about, I’m with them.”

Frannie Kelley, who swims in the world of rap like I do in opera, agrees that at first glance the two genres would appear to have little in common. Digging deeper, one can argue that there are many connections, not least of which is the obsessiveness of each genre’s most dedicated aficionados.

Opera fanatics incessantly evaluate all aspects of singers, conductors, directors, composers, set designers and opera companies. True geeks know the intricacies of how the human voice works, and how it should work in any given operatic role vis-à-vis any given singer. Opera roles are like clothes, which singers “try on” to varying degrees of success. Certain voices fit certain roles perfectly, but singers often try on roles a size or two too big. Not pretty.

In the higher realms of rap, Frannie says, you have to navigate the interior social strata, the subtleties of sampling and layers of meaning behind the braggadocio and how it relates to selling records. Rap, like opera, also has complicated “cast lists.” Keeping up with who appears on whose singles, mixtapes and remixes can be as confounding as keeping track of who sang what on the famous Knappertsbusch Ring cycles. And with rap, like opera, there are a huge amount of regional variety, from Compton to Atlanta to the Bronx, London and Istanbul.

And then there’s the language, as Bob mentioned. Both the actual language that each genre uses in performance and the cryptic vernaculars each has engendered (click here for a handy Bay area hip-hop dictionary, and here to decode some opera jargon). Opera and rap rely heavily on words, many of which are not immediately discernable. Rap can have complex poetry (and profanity) zipping past at indecipherable speeds (especially theturbo rappers). Opera often has foreign tongues and high flying phrasing, requiring CD listeners to run to their printed librettos and opera houses to install supertitles.

Opera and rap take work to appreciate — perhaps more effort than many of today’s music consumers are willing to expend. In an age when more and more music is available to anyone’s ears, are we turning into lazy listeners? Is it too easy to download too much, to acquire everything but actually hear nothing? Does any time remain to fully appreciate a complete hip-hop album, let alone an entire opera? It also takes work to enjoy music that’s as in-your-face as opera and rap are. With all the melodrama, social consciousness, violence and intense vocal styles, they certainly are not musical wallpaper.

Opera and rap. Who knew they could be so far from each other and yet so close? And who really knows exactly why they both act like lightning rods when it comes to musical preferences? Is it deeply rooted in social psychology, elitism, racism, self-image? The discussion has already been interesting around the NPR Music water cooler. Need to weigh in yourself? Have a story about opera, rap and the reasons why like and dislike what we do? Let us know in the comments section.