Rather than mourning the loss of the classic canon of literature, music or film, we should be embracing an age where those interested can create and share their own ideals of beauty and art more easily.
Reading an article on the death of the novel by Will Self, followed by a reflection on Britpop and the anniversary of Blur’s Parklife, both seemed fueled by the end of gatekeepers rather than the end of great literature or music. It’s all too easy to mourn the loss of the past when you’re getting older.
The fact is that it’s never been easier or cheaper to immerse yourself in beautiful or thought-provoking art. Or to stumble across something thought provoking. And to find what speaks to you.
Although it’s best to look for yourself or get human recommendations rather than rely on the primitive suggestion attempts that big data is still providing. One day a data scientist will figure out that someone can like and loathe films by the same director or albums by the same band.
Pinning Will Self’s term of a ‘serious novel’ down is difficult, but you could probably go by the standards of English teaching throughout the years. And while Jane Austen is justifiable as an example of a writer, I struggle to recall anything except boredom from studying her work.
Whereas George Orwell, Douglass Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller etc have stayed with me. And they’ve been joined by the likes of William Gibson. Re-reading some of his books recently (Pattern Recognition onwards), I still find myself utterly captivated by the way he weaves his otaku obsession with the detail of inanimate objects into his stories. He can open with the idea that jetlag means your soul isn’t capable of flight and is still traveling to catch up with you, and inspire an interest in researching Curta digital mechanical calculators.
At the same time, I also re-read Cory Doctorow’s Homeland. If the concepts of mass demonstrations, unlawful arrests and technology-based conspiracies doesn’t provoke some interesting thoughts, it also includes afterwords written by the likes of Aaron Swartz, and links to starting a Hackerspace, building 3D printers and more.
Given the current technological issues impacting on the world alongside economics and politics, there’s a ‘serious’ argument to be made. Or for those of a more historical bent, I remain fascinated with Hagakure – Book of the Samurai and Letters from a Stoic.
Not all novels, granted. But the breadth of mediums, formats and styles underlines my point. My serious reading comes from blogs, websites, eBooks, printed books, graphic novels, comics, cartoons and more.
But besides the delivery mechanism, what has changed is that it can be a completely individual and multifaceted canon. And one which I can explore and share. And by exploring, I can easily also find people who appreciate even just one of the same choices.
I’m still discovering music today from genres I loved, bought and obsessed about 20 years ago which I didn’t get to hear at the time due to the availability of American alternative music in Kent in the early 90s, or my limited budget to risk on metal bands I’d never get to sample on the radio. As much as friends could provide some recommendations, it’s amazing how much was shaped by watching specialist music shows on at 2am in the morning.
And I could never have had enough teenage friends to cope with my desire to listen to classic 60’s soul, 80’s hiphop, 90’s grunge and thrash metal, and a few folk and country songwriters, often in the space of an afternoon.
The internet hasn’t caused the end of mass youth trends. It’s simply accelerated the process started by television, radio and access to history which meant Britpop and Grunge in the UK largely led to questionable clothing and hairstyle choices rather than attempts to try and change the world. It also means I can create a playlist of songs that make me happy that includes Alphabeat, Jimmy Cliff and The Cure. And not only potentially meet other people that somehow arrived at a similar list, but even use it to find dates or love.
If the loss of mass consensus is the cost, I’m happy to pay it. And it”ll be interesting to see how that applies to politics, for example, as parties finally realise that for every one issue which I might align with, they have several that repel me. In the meantime, I’ll be exploring the history of pirates and vikings to share with my son, the latest marketing and technology news for work, and the most beautiful writing and music for myself.