Thursday, October 26, 2006

On the role of the author

A ponderable for the comments section on a busy Thursday morning: Is literature considered so much more powerful than other art forms by its aficionados (and I count myself among their number) simply because it returns so much of the work of the artist to the audience?

Let me explain.

(And not to make this blog some weird "philosophy of art" site for the last few days, but you know how it goes.)

Art has two components, of course, the artist and the audience. Even in the case of collaborative art (like film or television), there's usually the vision of one person at work, being filtered through the collaborators. The artist tends to determine a lot of things for an audience, but the artist determines more things for the audience in some artforms than in others.

(And, before I get too full of myself, the visual arts, which I know little to nothing about, ask the audience to bear more weight in the carrying of interpretation than any other art form. Visual arts are simply a single image that the audience can take or leave or interpret as they will. You're invited to experience them at your own pace and perceive them -- at least in the case of modern art -- as you will.)

Literature, though, relies on the audience to a greater degree than, say, film does. An audience can interpret a film as it will, but it still needs to sit still to watch it for a pre-set amount of time and the director controls EXACTLY what the audience perceives on screen (whether or not that is perceived correctly is another matter). Someone who writes literature, however, has the freedom to let the audience conjure up the world in their own mind and read at their own pace. In essence, when you read a book, the book becomes a screenplay you're directing for your own movie version of the story. Yes, of course, pacing plays a role -- I don't think that anyone is going to zip through Proust like they might the climax of a Stephen King book -- but, by and large, the audience directs a book as they read it.

Music doesn't allow this freedom -- we're tied in to the composer's idea of pacing (or at least the conductor's). Neither does the theatre or television (though the advent of TV on DVD gives the viewer the ILLUSION of control -- I can watch as much or as little of this story as I want -- if not ultimately providing it).

That's why video games excite me. I don't play games a lot, but once they find a true visionary to make them sing, they can completely eliminate the line between artist and audience. Imagine playing a game where you, yourself, completely invented the storyline -- a game, perhaps, that understood Western narrative structure and warped itself into shape to respond to your actions. I know that advances have been made in these regards in many games, but the whole package hasn't arrived yet.

When it does, is there any doubt it will be a hit?

2 comments:

Tram said...
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Tram said...

"That's why video games excite me. I don't play games a lot, but once they find a true visionary to make them sing, they can completely eliminate the line between artist and audience. Imagine playing a game where you, yourself, completely invented the storyline -- a game, perhaps, that understood Western narrative structure and warped itself into shape to respond to your actions. I know that advances have been made in these regards in many games, but the whole package hasn't arrived yet."

I believe the word you're looking for is "interactive" :)

I'm sorta a 3/4ths of a postmodernist. I do believe that there is a blurring between the author and the spectator. But I'm not gonna be all Barthes-esque and proclaim that there is no author - there is... There's an original author and then, there is the secondary author, the audience.

I think that's the main reason why film criticism is simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating for me - it's all mirrors. You have the mirror of the artist (for all conventional purposese, I'll just say the director). And then you have the mirror of the spectator. Long story short: we all see what we WANT to see.

On a related topic, isn't this and this cool?! I think the digital boom has expanded upon our once confined notions of authorship. It's not just in the interactive programs I've just linked - it's everywhere. You can see it in YouTube, in those countless homages fans have made of their favorite movies.

I would like to ramble on and on about this, but I have to do my stupid homework. But we are like ESP soulmates?! Okay... well, actually, not so much - I've been thinking about this, too, but mostly because of a DX Arts class I'm taking.