Pointing the Way, Obscurely
I’m fascinated by artistic movements whose seeds are found in earlier genres or works that, on the surface, do not resemble those movements at all. One example is from pop culture. The original Star Trek series is thought of (at least by me) as ringing in the modern era of science fiction, but take a look sometime at those old episodes with Kirk and Spock: the clunkiness of their futuristic gadgets, the papier-maché look of the rocks and boulders on the distant planets, and the high heels worn by female crew members bring to mind nothing so much as 1950s sci-fi “B” movies.
But there are also examples in areas under the purview of this here blog:
LITERATURE. Think “New Journalism,” which brought dialogue, short-story-like description, metaphors, intrusion of the author’s viewpoint, and other elements of fiction to reporting, and you think of Tom Wolfe. But Wolfe himself cites a magazine piece by another writer — one that today remains interesting but hardly seems revolutionary — as pointing the way toward New Journalism: a 1962 Esquire article by Gay Talese, “Joe Louis: The King as a Middle-Aged Man.” The piece begins with (gasp) dialogue between Louis and his fourth wife, which is followed by a kind of flashback, a description of his first wife’s living room — leading Wolfe, raised on a diet of who-what-when-where-why-how news stories, to wonder in his Wolfean way, as he wrote in The New Journalism, “What inna namea christ is this?”
ART. I learned in an art-history class that the paintings of Cezanne, those wonderful still lifes with their occasionally playful approach to perspective, had a large influence on Cubism — an idea that seemed to me more abstract than visual. And then, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, I saw Picasso’s “Carafe, Jug and Fruit Bowl,” from 1909. Here, plain as day, was the link between the overwhelmingly — if eccentrically — representational style of Cezanne and the multiple-angles-at-once craziness of Cubism most strongly associated with Picasso:
JAZZ. To listen hard enough to the piano work of Duke Ellington is to realize that Thelonious Monk, revolutionary though he was, did not in fact come from outer space. The dissonance with which Ellington often spiced his playing served as a point of departure for Monk’s keyboard style, described best by Frank Rich, who called it “splintery.” For a truly interesting listening experience, then, check out Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington.
Tradition dictates that I write something pithy here, sagely revealing the larger point of what you’ve just read. I’m not coming up with much, though. I leave it to you — feel free to build on my ideas . . .