Saturday, October 15, 2016

That paper based ideology. On the thesis: Songs aren't poems or music.

It is interesting to me that so many writers who hate Dylan winning are talking about paper. The whole dispute about songs and poetry comes down, really, to the material substrate. But the idea that a song lyric written down doesn't work as poetry surely works two ways. I've heard a fair number of writers read their works, and rarely - in my experience, never - do the words work coming out of their mouths. Joyce who wanted in some ways to be a singer is great partly because the words work outside the paper. A song isn't a poem. The difference of the substrate is a real difference. You can sing certain poems, but in the singing, they become songs. That is only confusing if you ... well, if you have never read Grammatology, I'm tempted to say. Or if you have an idea that literature is defined by its material substrate. Now of course those writers who are so ardent about the paper test will protest that no, reading is somehow deeper, by which is meant that the paper substrate interfaces with the non-material mind substrate. Humanism is, when all is said and done, white magic. Myself, I think that this is bad metaphysics and a misunderstanding of the possibilities of literature. The art song has been around a long time: Brecht learned if from Karl Valentin in Munich cabarets. In France, it was Berenger under Louis Philippe - who Baudelaire hated - who mixed politics and song. Baudelaire, incidentally, is a key figure here, both pro and contra the fetish of paper.

 I sorta like the way Dylan's voice paved the way for the do it yourself era of voice. Again, though, this is nothing new - the popular song in 1830s France, or the voices in the Threepenny opera, were that same kinda raucous. Ca ira I guess is the mother of the raw song. I think that the distinction of song as a type of thing that is not poetry and not music is probably rooted in the raw voiced song. I wonder what Robert Burns sounded like? He was a great supporter of chopping the heads off kings. Was there a connection between the Jacobin sympathies (that his victorian fans bowdlerized) and the rawness of the sound he must have heard - since French revolutionary songs definitely penetrated the British isles? This interests me professionally, as a writer. I read the chapters of my novel to Antonia, or she reads them to me, because I am really interested in the sound, the sounds. I'm after sounds that I have heard in the street, in bars and restaurants and offices. Many of them I can write down, but I can't do myself. They won't come out of my mouth. This is the undervalued part of writing prose. The idea that you can simply read your stuff seems to point to this neglect rather than otherwise. Really you would have to bring a troupe with you. 

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