Category Archives: popular

Introducing The World of Kane

The World of Kane (founded in 2005) is a pop culture blog I happened upon this morning while researching Robert Bonfils:

Anna Karina sings “Roller Girl

The World of Kane seems to be especially keen on French pop culture, his Serge Gainsbourg category testifies. His site is retro-futuristic. In his own words Will Kane says he”feels a nostalgia for an age yet to come,” best illustrated by his post on French designer Pierre Paulin (1927- ). Pierre Paulin is similar to Olivier Mourgue.

As a present to World of Kane:

Serge Gainsbourg-France Gall :: Dents de Lait/Dents de Loup

From the French tv show of 1967 directed by Maurice Dumay & Pierre Koralnik

Coffeetablishness

GillesNeret

Gilles Néret (1933 – 2005)

In answer to my recently asked question regarding the publishers of 20th century counterculture Taschen came to mind, an international publishing powerhouse with its roots in 1980s Germany. Taschen started out by publishing Benedikt Taschen’s extensive comic book collection and then basically conquered the world with its ‘coffeetablishness’.

Taschen is the best alternative to countless hours of internet browsing and a much better reading experience than the web itself, but buying the books remains more expensive than the internet.

Taschen also illustrates the lack of political subversion in contemporary culture. Countercultural publishers such as Grove in the 1960s also published pamphlet-like tracts. Taschen does not have a politics section; however I like to think that Benedikt and Laure have opinionated views on these matters.

Carlo Chiostri

carlochiostri.jpg

African child in tree with snake () Carlo or Sofia Chiostri

Image sourced here, from a series entitled ‘Modernism from the masses‘ dedicated to art deco postcards.

“It appears to me that Topor is the last representative of the great illustrators who, like Blake and Daumier, Doré and Carlo Chiostri (1863 – 1939), are capable of creating complete universes described in minute detail.” – Fellini quoted in Topor (1985) – Gina Kehayoff and Christoph Stölzl.

More on the notion of ‘modernism for the masses’ and the notion of modernism itself:

The very definition of Modernism has always been contentious. Did it begin with the advent of photography, which liberated the visual arts from the obligations of realism, or was its starting point the experiments in the application of color by such Post-Impressionist painters as Cézanne, van Gogh and Gauguin? Did Claude Debussy’s gradual abandonment of tonality, the cornerstone of Western musical composition since J.S. Bach, lead inevitably to Arnold Schoenberg’s polytonality and the sound experiments of Webern, Stockhausen and Cage? Do the honors of introducing non-representational theatre belong to Pirandello, to the German Expressionists or to the Italian Futurists? And where do Kafka, Musil, Svevo and Joyce fit in? –Anthony Guneratne via http://www.co.broward.fl.us/library/bienes/postcard/modernism.htm [Nov 2006]

See also: modernismlow modernismmass culture

Is Stephen King the 20th century Sue or the 20th century Balzac?

There are two contradictory views of culture. The first holds that culture is the very best that a society produces, the second holds that culture is everything a society produces, even ordinary and ugly phenomena. In my opinion, both views are right.

Matthew Arnold says culture is the best of culture, providing the definition of high culture. But his view of greatness is a social construction influenced by trends and fashions, conditions of power, intrinsic characteristics of the work, historical accidents or a combination thereof.

The opposite view is taken by Raymond Williams who states culture is ordinary; culture is what is popular as defined by sales and mind share.

If we apply these two views of culture to 20th century English language literature we get:

  • Arnoldian writers: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ian McEwan, Samuel Beckett and J. M. Coetzee
  • Williamsian writers: Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland (source: index translationum)

In both views, these writers are successful. The Williamsian writers’ success can be measured by calculating the number of times they have been translated. The Arnoldian writers’ success is not that easy to measure but it can be done by using lists of ‘lists of novels that have been considered the greatest ever’ and other literary canons. I have largely based my shortlist of writers on the recently published books 1001 Books You Must Read Before you Die.

It would be interesting to find out if there are writers who sold well — even very well — but are still critically acclaimed. The answer according to the index translationum is William Shakespeare. He is currently the 7th most translated author in the world. This was not always the case. Lawrence Levine remarks that “By the turn of the nineteenth century, Shakespeare had been converted from a popular playwright whose dramas were the property of all those who flocked to see them, into a sacred author who had to be protected from ignorant audiences and overbearing actors threatening the integrity of his creations.”

So Shakespeare is both popular and critically acclaimed. Other writers in this category include, in order of appearance in the top 50 list of the index translationum:

If the history of literature excludes popular literature — as it does in the Arnoldian view — it cannot be taken seriously, it is no more than a case of historical revisionism, an historical falsification, an illegitimate manipulation of literary history.

But then again, one can probably think of enough interesting things to say about Stephen King, Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton. But what on earth is there to be told about writers such as Danielle Steele and Barbara Cartland? Although I must say that The Myth of Superwoman (1990) by Resa L. Dudovitz did a good job at explaining and defending women’s fiction.

Are writers of the Williamsian category culturally significant? Is this category of literature one we wish to preserve or forget?

Coming back to Stephen King, who I consider central in this discussion regarding cultural significance and ephemerality, will King’s name really be forgotten in 100 years? Not if we believe Petri Liukkonen, the author of Kirjasto, a site I’ve mentioned before. She writes: ” Like Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens or Balzac in his La Comédie humaine, King has expressed the fundamental concerns of his era.”

Balzac and Dickens are certainly not forgotten, they respectively rank number 38 and 26 on the index translationum. So is King really the Balzac or the Dickens of the 20th century?

Still, a final question remains. We’ve mentioned Balzac and Dickens, but we left out Eugène Sue (I’ve previously mentioned Sue in relation to Stephen King ). Both Balzac and Sue were very popular. Balzac is remembered and Sue not. Is it the Arnoldian dynamic at work that has given eternity to Balzac and oblivion to Sue? Is King the 20th century Sue or the 20th century Balzac?

Stephen King and Eugène Sue

My previous post which mentions Eugène Sue got me thinking about Stephen King. Sue was one of the most popular novelists of the 19th century, yet he is now forgotten. King is one of the more popular novelists of the 20th century (according to the Index Translationum he is currently the 10th most popular novelist). Will his work be forgotten 100 years from now? Googling for “Stephen King” and “Eugéne Sue” brings up this quote on the best literature site on the net: Kirjasto:

Thomas M. Disch has noted that “readers of such current melodramatists as Stephen King or Anne Rice ought to be highly receptive to Sue’s grand excesses” (Horror: The 100 Best Books, ed. by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, 1988). —http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/esue.htm [Dec 2006]

Even if Anne Rice or Stephen King are forgotten in 100 years, horror fiction does not need ‘great‘ writers to survive. Horror is perpetually re-written. Horror and sex are at the center of the death-of-the-author-theories. Just as Faust was a reproduction of Don Juan, the writings of King and Rice are reproductions of The Mysteries of Paris and Dracula. Such is the nature of intertextualness. What some people perceive to be “great literature” is often no more than fanboyism and fashion. [Dec 2006]

P. S. Doing the same search “Stephen King” and “Eugéne Sue” brings up Dumas and John Grisham. The context is the serial novel as it was published in two Parisian cheap, advertising-based newspapers in 1830s France: La Presse and Le Siècle. “There was serious money to be made: the papers would pay up to 100,000 francs for the exclusive rights to a novel by a top-ranking author. The most popular and highly regarded of these were not necessarily writers who have held on to their places in the literary Pantheon: who now reads (or has even heard of) Frédéric Soulié or Eugène Sue?”

Exploitation culture by region


Hank Janson pulp cover

American exploitation culture is well-known throughout the world, European exploitation culture less so.

The previous posts on Stewart Home and Richard Allen led me to Hank Janson [Google Gallery] and Reginald Heade [Google gallery], the latter two examples of 1950s British exploitation culture.

Exploitation by region: By region: American exploitationBritish exploitationEuropean exploitationFrench exploitationGerman exploitationItalian exploitationJapanese exploitation

My interest in regional pulp culture is what it tells about the region where it is produced. In search of national stereotypes by way of their exploitation culture; regional stereotypes deduced from regional fears and desires (horror and eroticism).

The Black Dahlia (1987) – James Ellroy

The Black Dahlia (1987) – James Ellroy
[Amazon.com]
[FR] [DE] [UK]

The Black Dahlia is a neo-noir novel by James Ellroy based on true events. It is considered the book that elevated Ellroy out of typical genre writer status and with which he started to garner critical attention as a serious writer of literature. One of the first essays to come to the defense of crime fiction as a serious form of literature was Leslie Fiedler’s 1969 Cross the Border — Close the Gap.

The Black Dahlia is currently being filmed as a movie by director Brian DePalma.

See also: James Ellroy1987hardboiled crime fictionneo noirAmerican literature

The boing boing effect

Vintage Italian pulp comix cover art

Curt of Groovy Age of horror says:

Thanks to FLOG!, Groovy Age just got its first BoingBoing hit so traffic’s through the roof. If you’re here from one of those links, looking for all those Italian pulp comics covers, HERE THEY ARE (indexed links to the relevant posts). For related sites, check out the “fumetti” links in the sidebar (I can also recommend Arboles muertos y mucha tinta).

Boing Boing’s post said:

Sites like The Groovy Age of Horror showcase a lot of [Italian pulp comics cover art] and link to other galleries of pulp art masterpieces.

Boing Boing, which according to Technorati is the 5th most popular blog in the world (66,490 links from 20,790 blogs), has put Groovy Age of Horror in the spotlight. Its traffic shot up from an average of 250 daily visitors to 1,100. I’ve been a fan of Groovy Age for over a year now. In a kind of mission statement in 2005 Curt described Groovy Age of Horror as follows.

“My real ambition, a large part of what I want to achieve here, […], is the creation of the Groovy Age of Horror as a kind of escapist fantasy world, sort of like the Hammerscape. In a sense, I’d like the story-worlds of all these novels I review to melt into one grand, sleazy, sexy, monster-haunted, cult-ridden, distinctly 1960s1970s world of groovy horror. And I’d like the images I post–whether paperback covers or fumetti or movie posters or screenshots–to serve as windows on that world. When you come here, I want you to feel like you’re going to that place, and when you click away, I want you to feel like you’ve been somewhere dark, fun, and fascinating. That’s the experience I’d love to evoke.” –Curt via http://groovyageofhorror.blogspot.com/ [Jun 2005]

Groovy Age of Horror is your best point of entry for a very lively internet community (another center of which is the Yahoo! group Euro Trash Paradise) dedicated to 1960s and 1970s pulp culture.

Also watch out for Curt’s upcoming novel.

Money in Literature (1880) – Emile Zola

“I must also add unless a book is very popular, it never enriches the author. Also, three or four thousand copies sold is a good sale.”

Quoted in Resa Dudovitz’s excellent 1990 The Myth of Superwoman : Women’s Bestsellers in France and the United States, the best study on the economic aspects of publishing since my reading of Robert Darnton’s work. Her chapter on the bestseller is recommended.

See: “Money in Literature” (1880) – Emile Zola