Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pulling back The Curtain

When I was a teenager I randomly chose to read The Book of Laughter and Forgettingbook of laughter and forgetting by Milan Kundera. It was a random choice in that I had no intention of reading anything in particular but had recently read the slightly disturbing book The Dice Man by Luke Reinhart (in which the protagonist - if I can describe such a vividly amoral character that way) makes choices with the roll of the dice. My intention was to read the first book whose cover I liked. From memory the cover of 'Laughter and Forgetting' showed an illustration angels dancing on the head of a pin.

The book made quite an impression on me at the time. My knowledge of the history of Czechoslovakia and the Russian occupation was virtually nil and so much of the political context and back story of the book was utterly lost on me. But wading in the shallows was impressive enough. I simply liked the way the stories were told - which may or may not be the consequence of having been translated from Czech to French and then into English.

I have been reading an essay by Kundera about the art of the Novel called The CurtainMilan Kundera - The Curtain. Learn more at Amazon (A magic curtain, woven of legends, hung before the world'). It is quite scholarly but enjoyable for its insights. Tucked neatly into the last page is this comment, headed "Eternity" which I found fascinating and thought provoking:

There were long periods when art did not seek out the new but took pride in making repetition beautiful, reinforcing tradition, and ensuring the stability of a collective life; music and dance then existed only in the framework of social rites, of Masses and fairs. Then one day in the twelfth century, a church musician in Paris thought of taking the melody of a Gregorian chant, unchanged for centuries, and adding to it a voice in counterpoint. The base melody stayed the same, immemorial, but the counterpoint voice was a new thing that cave access to other new things- to counterpoint with three, four, six voices, to polyphonic forms ever more complex and unexpected. Because they were no longer imitating what was done before, composers lost anonymity, and their names lit up like lanterns marking a path toward distant realms. having taken flight, music became, for several centuries the history of music.

All the European arts, each in its turn, took flight that way, transformed into their own history. That was the great miracle of Europe: not its art but its art become history.

Alas miracles do not endure for long. What takes flight will one day come to earth. In anguish I imagine a time when art shall cease to seek out the never-said and will go docily back into the service of the collective life that requires it to render repetition beautiful and help the individual merge, at peace and with joy, into the uniformity of being.

For the history of art is perishable. The babble of art is eternal.


This thought reminded me of Russell Davies' video piece about polyphony, relative to brands- rather than having a militant brand structure that demands every aspect of communication be repeated in a singular form - he uses the Intel audio sting as an illustration. I would add that it is unnecessary that every message issued by the brand share a common form it can be varied depending on the audience's needs and characteristics. The history of branding is littered with dogmatic brand guides developed by designers, which are simply manuals for the application of logos. Polyphony is an idea that does make very good sense and is reiterated in the introduction of Living Brands by Raymond Nadeau - though the metaphor in Living Brands is that communications of the future will be more biodiverse - more like Harare than Canberra or Brasiia.

I realise my association with the Kundera extract and brands is a little tangential.
It also made me think about the nature of creativity and communications. I have submitted a column to Matt Cooney, editor of Idealog magazine that is critical of the calibre of ideas that emerged in the end of year shows from Auckland's design schools. Rather than see much work that was the product of significant research I felt much of it was an expression of an orthodoxy of the moment - "In anguish I imagine a time when art shall cease to seek out the never-said and will go docily back into the service of the collective life that requires it to render repetition beautiful."

I am travelling to Wellington early tomorrow to visit and lurk about the attractions and sights. Particularly interested in the Whales exhibition at Te Papa. I'll keep you posted.

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