Pursued

March 12, 2010

I fell in love with Jamie Cullum, a contemporary British jazz singer, because of his clever lyrics and his unconventional sound (no Harry Connick or Michael Buble), when I saw him on the Today Show promoting his album Twentysomething (“I’m an expert on Shakespeare and that’s a hell of a lot / but the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought”).

His new album is The Pursuit, and I’ve really been enjoying it. At very first listen I wasn’t sure because it opened up with the sort of smooth, big horns sound that he usually avoids, but mostly it’s an energetic, driving sort of album. And he continues his unconventional choices for cover songs: on The Pursuit, the big ones are a really sexy cover of Rihanna’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music” and “Not While I’m Around”, from Sweeney Todd. Yes, from Sweeney Todd. If you don’t know the musical, I’m sure it’s a lovely song in and of itself. If you do, I think Cullum gets across some of the weirdness, even in the seemingly lovely song…it’s in a strange key, and notes are held just a little too long and creepily.

Very strong.

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Questions of Canonicity

March 12, 2010

Grey Borders recently sent around this question to ponder:

“In this point and click bloggersphere of literature how can readers be expected to be able to decipher what literature holds true importance and what literature is simply filling a niche in non-existent cyber-space. How is the reader to find the truth in a world where literary truth by nature has become opinion of the one, no longer the opinion of the group or mass? When the great schools of thought have been forgotten and replaced with a point and click world where the right answer is the option that has been clicked on the most, how are we to find the great works of our time? Or will it be left to our children to sort through the mayhem of the great bloggsphere to find the real truth?”

We were all asked to respond if we liked, so this is what I sent back:

“I wonder that myself, with my preference for what some call “classics” of literature rather than more contemporary fare. Is there something that has actually changed about the way writers write and the sorts of things being written, or is it just that the literary canon has already “trimmed out” the sorts of things that we haven’t yet decided about in contemporary literature? You folks should know…are more novels being published now than, say, 100 years ago?
Of course, self-publishing and online publishing do contribute to that, in good ways and in bad. But I think the second part of your question is contradictory: “How is the reader to find the truth in a world where literary truth by nature has become opinion of the one, no longer the opinion of the group or mass? When the great schools of thought have been forgotten and replaced with a point and click world where the right answer is the option that has been clicked on the most, how are we to find the great works of our time?”
“Become the opinion of the one” makes it sound like elitism, which I think is exactly the opposite of what’s happened (and what you say in the second part: that “the right answer is the option that has been clicked on the most”). It’s true that on the internet, we’re more likely to just find people who share exactly our opinions (in that sense, literary truth becoming the opinion of the one), so maybe what we need are some real tastemakers…some real literary critics. Even if you disagree with a Harold Bloom or a Nick Hornby, at least their thoughts are engaging and require more than a “like” button.
Cheers!”