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Tony Grist

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Heartless [Dec. 30th, 2016|11:16 am]
Tony Grist
There's a speech in Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art- reported in his diaries (I haven't seen or read the play) where Humphrey Carpenter tells the elderly Britten and Auden that the public have had enough of their music and poetry and are waiting for them to die so that their respective oeuvres can be squared up and tidied away.

How heartless, how true.

The lives of artists can be very straggly. They produce juvenilia, then masterpieces- followed by a long period of decline. They outstay their welcome, keep on adding substandard appendices to the collected works, rendering the legacy untidy, compromising their former greatness, making final appearance after final appearance. Auden's a goodish case in point. His best years came to an end round about the mid-century- and the later verse- though never less than interesting- is no longer the work of a great poet (if Auden was ever a great poet which I sometimes doubt).

Bennett is very good at speaking out loud the thoughts most of us have and then shamefacedly censor. This has been a bumper year for celebrity deaths. Can we honestly say that some of those deaths haven't come as a bit of a relief?
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Comments:
From: cmcmck
2016-12-30 12:30 pm (UTC)
Although there's always someone like Dr Ralph who goes at it lifelong and constantly develops, producing some of his most awesome work in old age.
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2016-12-30 12:53 pm (UTC)
Yeats too. And Johnny Cash's last albums. But I agree, it's rare.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 01:04 pm (UTC)
Yeats was very conscious of what age might do to him- and worked hard at keeping his passions in working order. The other csndidate for greatest poet of the 20th century- T.S. Eliot- just petered out. His late love poems (which he wrote for his second wife and sensibly didn't publish) are embarrassing.
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2016-12-30 12:55 pm (UTC)
Sinead O'Connor is consistently good IMO, but in an industry saturated with female ageism, ppl won't acknowledge it in her lifetime.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 01:00 pm (UTC)
But she's only 50; old age hasn't kicked in yet. I agree about Cash. I think his last albums are his best.
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2016-12-30 01:16 pm (UTC)
I think you must surely know that the rules for women are different :)
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2016-12-30 01:59 pm (UTC)
I think you must surely know that the rules for women are different :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 12:56 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, certainly.

Writers usually go down hill but musicians and visual artists often don't.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2016-12-30 02:15 pm (UTC)
Writers, physicists, squash players...

On the other hand, Stephen Potter defined "Miltoning" as the art of not writing Paradise Lost until you are fifty.

Then there are the late starters, who perhaps fall into a different category, having spent much of their lives doing something else (either a career or bringing up a family): Lucy M. Boston, Gwen Raverat, and more lately Diana Athill. They tend to be female, I suppose, because on the whole women have less time for writing.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 02:40 pm (UTC)
But you could argue that Milton's best work is the work he did in his youth.

I keep going back to Comus and Lycidas, but Paradise Lost defeats me.

Again 50 isn't exactly old- or at least doesn't seem so from where I'm sitting.

Mary Wesley is another novelist who didn't get going until late in life. Perhaps the creative longevity of these writers has something to do with not having used up all their material as youngsters.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2016-12-30 02:43 pm (UTC)
Well, 50 is fairly old in a 17thC context, I suppose? (Though Hobbes was in his sixties when he produced Leviathan.) I share your love of JM's early work especially the two you just mentioned, but PL is pretty damn impressive too, in my opinion (and of course I'm not alone).
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 02:46 pm (UTC)
I should have another go at scaling Paradise Lost. I don't like being defeated by major works of Eng Lit.
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2016-12-30 04:40 pm (UTC)
Stevie Wonder was particularly blessed by the Muse.

But when she finally deserted him, Christ she deserted him good and proper.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 06:01 pm (UTC)
The Muse can be very flighty. It must be a terrible thing to identify as a professional artist- and be recognised as such- and then have the Muse bugger off.
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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2016-12-30 01:18 pm (UTC)
Strange enough that it is so, but often enough it develops into a case in reality.
I'd say, this keeps happening because anytime when the big money is involved in all that shit, it fucks things up because you have a lot of people telling you "try this and this and this out", but you don't follow your own path anymore. What you think is right, what you think is what intersts you. They want you to ride each wave of a newly-created craze and sound like the others just to make a quick buck that wanders into their pocket. - And just that is the artistic error then.
Needless to say, when big money is involved you get access to a lot of stuff that can cloud and distract your brain. Until most people realize, they're down again at what they've started from. But creativity may be gone too.

Well, it also may depend on the character of the artist himself. Lots of people which enter show business or produce art have a narcisstic vein, or are total introverts that can be manipulated by naricissists from the outside easily - which exist a lot around them when they start to attract a bigger audience with their art.
Narcissists want to be admired, they don't develop further because they want to keep going from an artistic point of view. They only develop further if it's nessecary, until then they try to pull the same trick over and over again and make a buck with it.
People with different kind of characteristics, which do everyday what they can't spare, and this is producing some art product, those you can rather expect to keep their guideline going over long-time periods without that big quality losses. 'Cause they aim for getting better. Coming up with new stuff perhaps.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 02:28 pm (UTC)
Success can also remove an artist from their subject matter.

You make a big hit writing about street life and then you move into a mansion on a gated estate and lose touch.

I've always thought there was something faintly ridiculous about the old and very wealthy Mick Jagger still belting out songs about how young and angry he is.
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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2016-12-30 04:10 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't know if some people managed to remain the angry disadvantaged child inside themselves and it doesn't matter how safe their economic situation is, they still feel the same inside and they still see that world existing which always made them angry.

Not living in a gated and guarded community I find the probability to do so higher than if you fall into the trap of big cash and big fame. Why? 'Cause you still have to make your way to Aldi and just buy your groceries. You still get to know if suddenly nobody's on the streets anymore at the time of sunset because the knife-fighters crawl out of their beds.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 06:06 pm (UTC)
Some people are better at resisting the trappings of fame than others. George Michael had more money than he knew what to do with but still chose to live in a fairly unstarry area and carry out his sexual adventuring with the common herd on Hampstead Heath.
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[User Picture]From: tagryn
2016-12-30 02:03 pm (UTC)
I think what we recognize as "greatness" is sometimes an artist's creativity and society's needs coming together at a particular point in time. What we see as a decline can be as much that society has moved on so that the artist's work is no long in sync with other's interests, as much as that the genius is producing substandard work as they get older.
If anything, we'd expect their work to get better as they gain increased experience, but a lot of times, they're left behind.

From what I understand, Stephen King finds it frustrating that he's remembered mostly for works that are decades old, when his more recent books reflect all the learning he's done from his earlier works (and presumably that he regards as 'better' writing). But, society has moved on from King, and there's no longer the intense interest there once was in his stuff (as compared to, say, Rowling).
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 02:15 pm (UTC)
With hindsight the perspective can change.

Rembrandt, for instance, ceased to be fashionable in middle-age and his contemporaries found his later works old-fashioned and clumsy. Now we think his late works are his best.

I've recently been reading Rider Haggard. He had a big success early on- and then kept on writing the same sort of novel for the rest of his life. His later books aren't inferior to the early ones- they may even be subtly better- but people were familiar with his shtick and didn't see the need for any more of it- and by the time of his death- as late as the 1920s- he was yesterday's man.
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[User Picture]From: tagryn
2017-01-03 12:18 pm (UTC)
I also see this in the self-help/psychology/mysticism fields. Many times, an author has One Really Good Idea that they explore and expand upon in a book which then becomes a best-seller. Unfortunately a writer can't build a career on one book, so they begin writing books which either try to apply the One Good Idea situationally ("Type XII Matching IN THE WORKPLACE!" "Type XII Matching FOR LOVE!") and/or into areas where it really isn't appropriate ("SPIRITUAL AWAKENING through Type XII Matching!"). Which can be embarrassing for their readers who want to recommend the first book with the One Idea, since they also have to warn their friends away from the dreck that the author's career devolved into afterwards.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-01-03 12:55 pm (UTC)
This can apply in any field. They say everyone has a book in them- and that has some truth in it- but very few of us have more than one.
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[User Picture]From: angiereedgarner
2016-12-30 02:10 pm (UTC)
Painters thankfully have a different trajectory. It's not uncommon for their latest stuff to be their best if less popular or accessible, until death or disability stops work.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 02:21 pm (UTC)
Yes indeed.

I suppose the part of the brain that deals with imagery must hold up better than the part that deals with words.
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2016-12-30 02:59 pm (UTC)
It's not the words that are the problem, it's as tagryn said, society moves on and it's harder for a novelist to tap into the zeitgeist like they once did. Genre novels are particularly prone to this. I don't read a lot of the stuff young people read because all the post-Harry Potter stuff doesn't chime with me and I couldn't write the sort of thing that young people want to read.
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[User Picture]From: angiereedgarner
2016-12-30 03:12 pm (UTC)
I think I agree. In graphic design certain symbols/styles/palettes get overplayed and dated but artists tend to move on anyway.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 03:28 pm (UTC)
You'd think fantasy novels would be largely immune to social change but, I suppose if you're dealing with modern young people you need to get the slang right.

This has to be a reason why so many novelists set their stories in the past- even if it's the recent past. The immediate present is very hard to get a handle on. Manners and fashions are changing even as you write. And a major world event- 9/11 for instance- could seriously impact on your narrative.
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[User Picture]From: artkouros
2016-12-30 04:03 pm (UTC)
I chose a lifetime of mediocrity over leaving a handsome corpse.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-30 04:08 pm (UTC)
Very sensible.
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