November 4, 2003

High, Low

In the middle of Louis Menand's 1995 appreciation of film critic Pauline Kael, we find a passage with implications for literary hypertext that are, I think, interesting and important.

Kael's contention that "serious" movies should meet the same standard as pulp--that the should be entertaining -- turned out to be an extremely useful and widely adopted critical principle. For it rests on an empirically sustainable proposition, which is that although people sometimes have a hard time deciding whether or not something is art, they are rarely fooled into thinking they are having a good time when they are not. It was Kael's therapeutic advice to the overcultivated that if they just concentrated on responding to the stimulus, the aesthetic would take care of themselves. What good is form if the content leaves you cold
The academic term for the kind of antiformalism Kael promoted is 'postmodernism.' Postmodernism in the arts simply is anti-essentialism. It is a reaction against the idea, associated by academic critics in the postwar years with modernist literature, painting, and architecture, that the various arts have their own essential qualities--that poetry is essentially a matter of the organization of language, that painting is essentially a matter of composition, that architecture is essentially a matter of space and light.

First, obviously, that's a really interesting definition of postmodernism.

And, second, I was in a meeting with a bunch of really fine hypertext writers the other day. In passing, one of them remarked, "Of course, what we do isn't really entertainment." Why not? Could we?

High, Low