RARA-AVIS: Public Acclain & "Masterpieices" & Classics

From: Keith Alan Deutsch ( keithdeutsch@earthlink.net)
Date: 27 Apr 2000

Dear Bob,

A brilliant critic can show us why a work is a great work of art. Public acclaim can over time lead us and critics/academia to re-evaluate why a work endures in popularity.

In the end, I believe that all we can do as individuals is use our own judgment--based on our interests, experience, sensibilities, and so on. To my mind there is an additional frame that complicates this whole process of judgment. Some "masterpieces" are the highest examples of a work of art within a tradition. Other masterpieces are sui generis, or break with tradition. Moby Dick, in American literature, really had no predecessor form. this made it less accessible and acceptable than the greatly popular travel works like Omoo and Typee which made Melville a celebrity.

Actually, i think it is more interesting, and probably less difficult to address the problem of "What is a classic?" When we try to define a classic, there is already an implication that the mold or category has been accepted. A classic represents some historical lineage. A tradition. It connected with the past. It has a time frame. A masterpiece may be a classic, But a masterpiece is not necessarily a classic--and often breaks new ground. Picasso, Joyce, Miles Davis, Melville's Moby Dick....some of their greatest masterpieces are not classics because they stand outside a tradition, and although they may have left influences on the continuing development of traditional art, their great works are beyond creating a new tradition.

In my opinion, Carroll John Daly single-handedly invented the first person, tough guy, vernacular avenging private eye with violence exploding at every turn. Spillane said that Daly and Race Williams (along with comic books) were his greatest influence.

But Hammett wrote the masterpieces. And Chandler used language in the tough guy form so wonderfully, that his often lyrical first person narrator can be read again and again just to have that marvelously inventive voice in your ear.

Hammett's work does not resonate with lyrical imagery. His third person narration in the Maltese Falcon is a cypher in comparison to the wonderful plot, and the magnificent dialogue.

I think Chandler wrote terrible plots, but whether in first or third person, his narrative voice--at least for me--is where all the pleasure and the masterwork lies.

Race Williams and Three-Gun Terry by C. J. Daly were sui generis acts of creation that created a mold. The hard boiled detective is born fully developed in Daly's work--a vigilante, hard drinking, tough talking, criminal slang, mafia intrigue, violence at every turn. A great accomplishment. In this sense they are classics. But I would not call any of his works "a masterpiece."


Bob Toomey wrote:

> Keith argues the point and then:
> > And what is the value of Public acclaim in the standards by which we judge a
> > work of art?
> Leaving us where? If neither critical nor public acclaim count in
> identifying masterpieces, how is the determination made?

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