Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fairytales, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Fashion, Fetishes, Kate Bernheimer

I was just teaching a class on the fairytale, which included a discussion of Kate Bernheimer's "Complete Tales of Merry Gold, and these things:

What I started thinking about as I talked to the students was this: Desolation Row as the fairytale dramatizing the space/time where/where high/low divide collapses - literary modernism joins fairytales and folk songs on the hit charts. The version I played in my class was actually the Royal Albert Hall version where he is famous booed and called "Judas." Also, notably, where he wore what came to be called "the sellout jacket." It is as if the high-low collapse is embodied in Dylan and the reason it happens is - like in fairytales - through a magical object: the sellout jacket. It is as if history is changed by Dylan putting on a piece of clothing.

This of course harkens back to Ron's dismissal of "fashionist" poetry in favor of a more ontological "structure adequate" to the historical period. Dylan was Patti Smith's favorite; and she became a rock star, according to her recent memoir, largely by getting an "androgenous" haircut (she doesn't know what the word means, the meaning is lost in translation, resulting in an exotic, magical, fetishized signifier). And throughout the memoir (as I pointed out in a previous post), clothes participate in huge shifts. They are as important to Smith as art.

And this of course explain why when I read Smith's memoir I kept confusing it with Bernheimer's "Merry Gold" to the point where now they seem to be part of the same story, I can't tell them entirely apart.

Another thing I thought about: The common idea of low culture is that it's populist, readily available. But as Daniel Tiffany shows in 'Infidel Poetics,' low culture is frequently cryptic, encoded, "filled with secrets" (in Twin Peaks talk). And indeed in the final verse of "Desolation Row" the speaker claims that indeed "Desolation Row" is real but that he's had to "rearrange" the "faces" of its inhabitants - ie creating a code.

Codes, secrets are often associated with elitism and moving away from social/political action. But in the 1960s it's precisely the secrets of Dylan's mid-60s albums that causes (or at least partially causes) a huge social shift with youth dropping out etc. Many of them because of their interpretations of Dylan's cryptic songs, the result of which many end up at his (supposedly secreted) doorstep in Woodstock claiming to be the real face behind the "rearranged" faces.

Just some post-class thoughts.


Blogger Danielle said...

I also = teaching class on fairy tale, including Kate, but we're reading Ketzia.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Doesn't the "Judas" comment occur before they play "Like a Rolling Stone"?


6:58 PM  

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