Saturday, 20 April 2013

Who the heck is Brian Maxine?

I think it was my nuliakuluk who bought me the book by Umbero Eco called, On Literature (2002) - she bought a bunch of books for me online and she knows I'm a huge fan of Eco.

This particular book is an anthology of his essays, and in one called, On Style, he talks about this thing I've never heard of before: New Post-Antique Criticism, in talking about the difference between "the semiotic theory of literature" and "criticism that is semiotically oriented" - I'm not going to get into it but suffice it to say, like much of what Eco writes, it is insightful and thought-provoking. He writes:

...criticism is being leveled down to the rhythms and rate of investment of other activities that have proved to guarantee a profit. Why bother with reviewing, which forces one to read the book, if it sells more copies of a paper to have the literary section comment on the interview given by an author to a rival paper? Why put Hamlet on television, as the much-criticized TV of the 1960s used to do, when you can obtain higher ratings by putting on the same talk show, and treating the village idiot and the academic idiot on the same level? And why on earth read a text year after year if you can achieve the ecstasy of the sublime by chewing a few leaves, without wasting your nights and days discovering the sublimity of leaves in the sublime workings of chlorolphyll and photosynthesis?

For this is the message that is propagated daily by the high priests of the New Post-Antique Criticism[my emphasis]: they repeatedly tell us that whoever knows about chlorolphyll and photosynthesis will for the rest of his life be insensitive to the beauty of a leaf, that whoever knows anything about the circulation of the blood will never be able to make his heart palpitate with love...

This is a life-or-death battle between those who love text and those who are simply in a hurry. (pp. 174-5)

I read and watch a lot of politics (I love the discourse). Recently, there was a blog on the Huffington Post website that upon my first and second reading I didn't quite understand - something to the effect that "we tend to agree with those who agree with us". So I posted a comment. The author's reply made a bit more sense, but I still came away thinking: have we attained such a degree of polarization between "left" and "right" that everything we see is either "left" or "right"?

As a maturing reader and thinker, I try and check strands of thought to the sources if and when possible. The sources rarely if ever label such thoughts and ideas as "left" or "right", nor do they write of "right" or "wrong" ways of interpreting their ideas: they just write something interesting and insightful. It is usually those "New Post-Antique" critics who come up with such pat labels. And, I suspect strongly, that this is the point that Eco is trying to make in his essay I quote above.

Now, who the heck is Brian Maxine? He is a wrestler from Britain who, in 1972, recorded an album on EMI's budget label, Starline. The reviewer for MOJO magazine writes:

"Although we should...consider the cabaret style of wrestling in the early '70s and realise that Brian would have had the ability to entertain, prance about with confidence and hold the attention of a crowd - essential skills for a performer, but can Brian actually sing? If his vocal talent is anything like the Jackie Pallo family (another wrestling LP) then there will be little of merit here apart from the cover. However, a quick scan of the back cover makes this album instantly more exciting. Brian has a backing band with a sprinkling of Fairport Convention (Dave Swarbrick, fiddle and mandolin; and Dave Pegg, drums) but no explanation as to why or becomes immediately apparent that there is no folk here at all. It's a country album. And You Can't Housebreak A Tom Cat is a surprisingly tame opener for something that should sound a little wild...But even though I found the whole Brian Maxine experience drab, the album must have faired well, as shortly afterwards Brian and the gang recorded another (Ribbons of Stainless Steel, 1975), but with even more members of Fairport Convention, a guest vocalist called Sandy Denny and not a picture of Brian in tight trunks to be seen. Apparently it's worse." (MOJO, October 2011, p.26)

I think at some point in his writings, Eco admits admiration for literary criticism in the Anglo tradition...I would tend to agree given a well-written review such as above. But, seriously: I do agree with Eco's assessment of the best of English literature and literary criticism. I'm a great admirer of Northrop Frye whom I've quoted here in this blog as often as I can. And, perhaps I have a bias here since I grew up reading English, some of the greatest literature (of all genres) and commentary that I've read is written originally in English.

That is not to belittle or undervalue world literature not originally written in English: most of my heros are long-long-dead and would have never even heard of the English and their literature (let alone its traditions), but I think in the very best exemplars these long-dead poets and philosophers would have recognized their influence.


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