Previous: Post-It Dept.

Old (And Busted) School Dept.

Within seconds of closing the covers on The Count of Monte Cristo I was already ruminating on how a book that widely imitated must have inspired at least a few people to revisit not just the plot but the very style of the book itself. Click the Way-Back Machine toolbar on your word processor, set it to 1840, and out comes a period literary artifact.

Such things are fun, and they are often the product of someone who's done a lot of homework about their subject ... but the original mindset responsible for that kind of work is as gone as the Roman senators. It's useful to try and imagine how we used to think and dream, even if only to measure the distance we've put between ourselves since then — but less useful to pretend that it's something we can resuscitate let alone get to stand up, walk around, pour drinks and break the ice at parties.

There are many things about TCoMC I would not want to deliberately recapitulate, like the way coincidence and convenience are part of the story's plot engine. This was respectable once upon a time, but has gradually been seen as contrivance if not outright authorial cheating — and I wonder how much of that was due to, for instance, the likes of S.S. Van Dine setting down rules for what was considered out of gamut in a detective story. Example: Nailing the suspect because of the brand of cigarettes he smoked was a cliché and to be avoided at any cost. Ditto coincidence and convenience.

The reason these things worked in the older stories was because they were the product of an age that had not yet declared such things to be bankrupt. It's why I didn't mind King Kong's shifting fur, or the matte lines around the TIE fighters in Star Wars: those things marked those works as a product of their moment in time. Today, the hallmarks are shabby CGI (or overblown, overdone CGI) and out-of-the-box Photoshop / AfterEffects plugins. In twenty years, we might well be trying to recreate those things for the sake of evoking nostalgia for this particular moment. (When the movie Galaxy Quest unveiled its official web page, it was the spitting image of a bad GeoCities fansite, complete with broken hit counters, animated divider bars and misaligned text. I laughed, very hard.)

Everything we do is a product of its moment in time, and that may explain why the best works transcend the limitations of their period and evoke timelessness. In the presence of something that compelling, we train ourselves to see something other than a copyright date.

Tags: dharma writing

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Previous: Post-It Dept.

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2010/08/23 18:07.

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