Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Artsy Wednesday: Bootlegs and Biographies; Dylan and Shakespeare

Ron Rosenbaum has an interesting, meandering article on Slate right now. It starts out with sixties bootlegging and a collection of about-to-be-published Bob Dylan poems, winds its way through the debates of Shakespearean attribution, and ends up with the author begging (but maybe not seriously)?) Dmitri Nabakov not to go ahead with the publishing of his father's final unfinished work.

Sounds all over the place, but it follows the rules of logic, I promise. (Though I'm pretty sure it also offers some insight into how Rosenbaum's mind works.) It's worth a read if you have any interest in Dylan, Shakespeare, Nabakov or literary drama.

Two points were of particular interest to me. The first involves the idea of bootlegs. Those dorm room staples - mildly illegal tapes of jam bandy concerts. Rosenbaum reports on a lunch he had with Clinton Heylin, Dylan biographer and author of a new book on a hotly contested collection of Shakespeare sonnets published in 1609. It seems that Heylin puts forth the theory that the 1609 collection is actually a bootleg - authored by Shakespeare but published without his knowledge. Rosenbaum bites and it's an interesting use of modern pop culture language to explain historical questions.

The second point, though a short part of the article, addresses a big idea. Rosenbaum gives some column inches to the late David Foster Wallace:
Last Sunday in the New York Times' Week in Review section, A.O. Scott reminded us of the late, lamented David Foster Wallace's complaint about biographical criticism of another great artist, Jorge Luis Borges—whose stories, Wallace once wrote, "so completely transcend their motive cause that the biographical facts become, in the deepest and most literal way, irrelevant." Yes!

Rosenbaum gets here by mentioning that a number of women have claimed to be the inspiration for particular Dylan songs...probably because Dylan told them himself that they were. The same could be true for Shakespeare - the argument over to whom certain sonnets are dedicated might be more complicated than we thought, since it's possible that the old bard was also an old dog, throwing "inspiration" around whenever it suited.

But then, DFW asks, does it really matter? If the work itself is that good, can't we just take it on it's own merit and let the biographical details fall where they may?

I think this is one of those questions that keep art history (or music history or English) departments funded. In fact, just yesterday, my friend Mark and I were having a semi-political discussion when he invoked the "can you separate the art from the artist" question. It's eternal. is this about food? Well, originally I was going to try to find some convoluted way to define bootleg food. But instead I'm going to focus on part 2 of the poast - the art/artist debate.

The idea of food as real art, not just craft, is a fairly modern one. One of the things that comes with that is the elevation of chef from craftsman to artist. It seems that we've just hit the point at which the chef/artist's biography does inform the end product. I can imagine, for example, that the experience of eating at Babbo is heightened by knowledge of Batali's personal culinary experiences and history.

So maybe the separation of artist from art is a characteristic of an evolved medium? And regarding food-as-art, we're still in the early stages of evolution?

Or...maybe I'm trying to hard to find a food connection. But still - interesting article, even if it has nothing to do with food.

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