Re: RARA-AVIS: Public Acclain & "Masterpeices"/Street 8

From: Juri Nummelin (
Date: 28 Apr 2000

Keith Alan Deutsch wrote:

> I think Moby Dick was a masterpiece when
> written, and is a masterpiece today---and I'm not sure that there is another
> American work that has been written in the same "form." By that, I mean that
> despite the fact that Moby Dick is generally acknowledged as one of American
> literature's greatest achievements--I do not believe that it served as a model for
> any tradition that grew up around it. That is, it still does not fit into any
> "canon." (As I understand canon.)

This is not the canon I meant. I meant the canon that has been put up by the academic circles and literary expertise and not the canon that predetermines the books in it.
"Moby Dick" is in the canon because it fits the modernist paradigm of literature (and now it seems to fit the postmodern paradigm.. so it's a classic). And with modernist paradigm I mean that there can be discontinuities in storytelling, in character development, the book can contain text examples of different genres, and so forth.

> And certainly Chandler and Hammett are part of the fabric of American Popular
> culture. And because this is America, popular culture has a way of becoming (often
> after the French analyze it to death intellectually) comes back to us as "art" and
> for other reasons, our American popular culture forms seem in time to emerge as part
> of our mainstream intellectual heritage. Look what happened to Rock & Roll.
> Dylan's got honorary degrees from Princeton, one of Frances highest artistic honors
> (forgot the name of the honor) etc., etc.

Yes, but being "part of mainstream intellectual heritage" is different from being a masterpiece. I've been studying quite closely the academic literature circles here in Finland and have noticed that even though they like to think they know popular culture, are interested in it, study it and no longer think of it only as popular culture, they still know next to nothing about it. They don't go seeing the Hollywood blockbuster action movies, they don't listen to Madonna or Britney Spears, they don't read paperback crime literature. In Tampere university, where I studied, popular literature was taken in as a part of the Master of Arts education program. In the Romance section, there were books by Simone de Beauvoir and Raphaele de Billetdoux, and not by Barbara Cartland and Victoria Holt! So there was your popular literature. (Now my friend, who knows these things and runs the job, has put up a different list. Included are Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, Hammett etc.) Bob Dylan and some of the other sixties guys and girls are included in the masterpieces canon, but is Little Richard there? Is Ramones there? What about John Lee Hooker? Or Sex Pistols? These popular culture things tend still to be regarded only as sociologically interesting or as milestones, not *textual masterpieces* (with "textual", I mean also the texture of music, and I believe Ramones's
"Blitzkrieg Bop" is a masterpiece).

> I liked much of what you said, but I think you err by implication when you say
> "they're still popular culture and not masterpieces. I suggested that Chandler and
> Hammett probably each wrote "a masterpiece of popular culture" and that American
> popular culture tends to become mainstream, particularly after it is acclaimed by
> the rest of the world--that probably doesn't know about or care whether Americans
> consider our own works mere popular entertainments, or great artistic achievements.

I tried to imply that there are different canons for each culture. Homer's Iliad and Pound's Cantos are masterpieces in different one, "Farewell My Lovely" and "The Maltese Falcon" are in different one. Each subculture (we are a subculture, reading these books and commenting them on the e-mail list and *making up a canon*) has a different canon of masterpieces. The more extreme example could be the canon of trash/camp film buffs. John Waters and Herschell Gordon Lewis are directors of masterpieces back there, but not in any other subculture.

William, try to bear with us. In this message I at least mentioned couple hardboiled novels!


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