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A Good One of Those


A Good One of Those

Under what circumstances an iteration is valued rather than a departure from traditional practice? Put another way, when is it appropriate to treat an art object as ‘a good [not so good] one of those’? The two instances that seem obvious are those commonly regarded as performances -- plays, operas -- and objects that fall within long established conventional forms sometimes known as ‘genres’. But this still leaves plenty of room for curiosity. A 21st century play is still a play even though it differs markedly from a 17th century play, but saying it is ‘a good one of those’ does not make it much of a contribution to the history of theater. The same seems true of operas if one is taking about the writing rather than the performance. ‘A good one of those’ seems more fitting in a conversation about thrown pots, scene painting or Pavarotti, but why?

Here is a move review from a recent newspaper:

Here, the theme of ‘violent man in search of abducted female’ is taken as a form, since it has been repeated so many times, with the repetition taken as establishing the form rather than as an occasion for negative criticism. On this basis one can say that it’s ‘a good one of those’ rather than ‘oh no, not again!’

In the case of operatic and classical music performance repetition is required; acolytes are expected to know the canon and every performer wants hers to be ‘a good one of those.’ But in the case of the movie review above, it is not the highest of compliments. Why not? Is the difference the status of the underlying class of objects? A good pot is still just a pot, whereas a good performance of the Rach 3 is, well, something else.

This possibility can begin as a routine puzzle: the object may
What happens when the performance is recognized as such ‘a good one of those’ that it alters the prevailing standard? Is it still one of those, or is it more like an O’Neill play: still a play, but altering the contours of the form? As I understand it, this can happen in pottery as well.

This possibility can begin as a routine puzzle: the object may be ‘a good one’ but of what? The Simpsons, long regarded as one of the funniest shows commercial TV ever produced, consistently failed to be awarded because, not being a live show, it did not fit with sit-coms, and there was no ‘animated comedy’ category. More classically, silence was difficult for some to include within music; Ornette Coleman was not silence but, for some, not jazz either; and the term theater may not be bold enough to include Waiting for Godot and Hello Dolly. In these instances we are challenged to decide whether the creation is in the game at all or just junk. If such instances are admitted to the game, there may be a strong suspicion that the game has changed.

Some people, I am told, wish to live their lives in the potentialities of this gap.

These questions began with a putative distinction drawn by cultural anthropology between the highly ritualized forms of traditional cultures and the elaborative creations of civilized artists. On the one hand, the honoring of dance, song and decorative performances that were now as they had ways been; on the other hand, the invention of perspective and Picasso. But it really ain’t so, and the part that interests me is the distribution, within the huge cultures of modernity, of rewards for performances and rewards for departures, elaborations, shifts of direction.













©Al Katz • Prof. of law SUNY, Buffalo, 1969-1989 (ret.)