RARA-AVIS: Public Acclaim

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 19 Apr 2000

Anthony wrote:

"And of those "masterpieces" have a large group saying they are not just one person ... they also have a large body of "experts" in their respective areas saying they're masterpieces. As far as public acclaim goes ... the public know its a master piece ... it's accepted by the public as a masterpiece. It's not nonsense. Joe blow doesn't just decide that something's a masterpiece because they think it is."

You seem to be saying that the opinion of a bunch of people who believe it is a masterpiece simply because they have been told so, who define masterpiece as "some book that has no appeal to me, but was assigned in English class and I read the Cliff Notes" is a sufficient criteria. Sure, "Joe Blow" knows Moby Dick, for instance, is a masterpiece because a bunch of experts and English teachers have said so. It doesn't come from reading the work, but from reputation, deserved or not, and is ultimately irrelevant, just a rumor, in effect.

"What the work was met with initially is irrelevant ... it's the history of the work that matters."

Wait a minute, you said masterpiece is defined by "public acclamation"
-- so how can the work's initial reception not matter? Under your stated theory, shouldn't it be completely contingent upon that reception, shouldn't bestsellers ("the greatest public acclamation") be considered masterpieces while they are on the charts, but cease to be if they go out of print? So Clancy and Grisham write masterpieces, but those same books may or may not continue to be masterpieces? And unpopular books that later meet with acclaim (like much of the accepted canon) do not become masterpieces until they meet with that fame? So, you're saying that "masterpiece" is wholly defined from the outside, by reception (but evidently not initial reception), and has nothing whatsoever to do with internal merit?

So the list of masterpieces changes day to day along with the bestselling lists. And as far as that goes, no "classic" book is ever on those lists, even with sales inflated by school requirements, so theirs are never the masterpieces that the books by the day's most popular writers are?

"Besides in the past "the public" wasn't the general population ... for one, they couldn't read and for two, they rarely had access to the works. Only in our time has there been such a wide public access to the arts."

General literacy is well over a century old -- Dickens, for instance, was distributed through the popular press and was wildly popular during his time; people waited at the newstands for the next instalments, as if it were a new CD by the Backstreet Boys. As a matter of fact, two centuries ago, the novel was greeted with cultural disdain simply because it appealed to the common person (Moll Flanders, Pamela, etc.).

To bring it closer to home, what about the pulp writers, themselves? That's before the current time and they were certainly widely available and consumed by a general and varied audience. Very few of these very popular authors were considered masters at the time, but we base much of our discussion here on the fact that we believe many of them were and remain such. So those that still sell are masterpieces, but those that aren't are not, simply because their sales have declined?


# To unsubscribe, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to majordomo@icomm.ca.
# The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 19 Apr 2000 EDT