The Red Shoes and the Hunger for Beauty and Art
REFLECTIONS ON THE START OF 2021
In 1948 when the film “The Red Shoes” was made, much of Great Britain was still in ruins, the country near bankruptcy, rationing in place. The population existed in what was by all accounts a gray, dreary world. This was the context for the movie’s opening scene when a crowd of college students eagerly rush up the stairs of Covent Garden to the cheap seats– there to imbibe the wonders and beauties of art. To receive an assault on the senses of color, costumes, scenery and music.
Filmed in glorious three-strip Technicolor, “The Red Shoes” is a tribute to beauty and magic in art. An ideal which has been eroded and lost over the ensuing decades, so the culture now is devoted to death, darkness, and zombies– to grovelling in the mud and saturating itself in the worst of mankind and society, instead of the best. The past year of gloom and lockdowns accentuated this trend, but didn’t create it. Darkness exhibits itself even in the literary world. Perhaps there most of all.
STYLES OF LITERARY ART
1.) Popular Genre. The dominant style according to sales and number of writers (given the number of ebook authors who adopt this style). Artistically it ranks at the bottom, because it’s unoriginal– generic– by definition. Imitations of imitations. To be artistically relevant, the style and its various genres need to change.
2.) Bureaucratic. The most admired style by both writers and the culture’s regulators of writers. This has three subcategories:
a.) Literary. The product of MFA writing professors and programs. It has itself become generic, manifested by emphasis on the well-written sentence and which includes an unselective mass of description and details.
b.) Postmodern. Taking literary writing one step further, with the added pretensions not so much of intelligence but intellectualism.
c.) Transgressive. This takes things one step further yet. Like postmodern writing, but darker, more negative and more solipsistic, with if anything even longer sentences and larger paragraphs. To break the hypnotic run of words is breaking the incantation of incoherent murmurs– the rhythm more important than sense or thought. The style fits with the bleakness of lockdowns and hospitals. With the depressing world of now. We don’t need to worry about a coming New Dark Age. Culturally, we’re in it.
What the three subcategories have in common is making words the prime value. Like a bureaucrat cranking out edicts and regulations, the bureaucratic writer produces mass amounts of words. The writer is prioritized over the reader, like a bureaucrat giving priority not to the consumer or citizen, but the regulation, and behind that, the system– the accepted, acceptable way of doing things.
2.) Polemical/Political/Religious. The “novel with a purpose.” Works for which the theme or mission or ideology is of prime importance. A style much frowned upon with the onset of the Cold War after World War II. Examples can be found on the left and the right. Two of the better novels in this vein are The Octopus (1901) by Frank Norris, and The Fountainhead (1943) by Ayn Rand. Many current novels are written in a polemical style, with themes either of social justice or the climate, or both. As it’s a difficult style to master– the author has to either be balanced in viewpoint or go completely over the top– few are worth reading from the current crop.
3.) Art for Art’s Sake. Aestheticism– or, a romantic pursuit of beauty. More seen in 19th century poetry from the likes of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, but aspects of this style permeated many of the period’s novels. The works of Alexandre Dumas, for instance, among the plotting, pay homage to beauty and art. The best later example is F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his beautifully-written and controlled stories and novels, which express the tragically romantic– the pursuit of an ideal, a “green light” at the end of a dock. As in “The Red Shoes,” to live and die for beauty and art.
Any such art movement, thrust into the gray world of today, would give the shock of the new. That would be truly transgressive.
The question is: Which style of literature is most needed now?
-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS