Friday, March 10, 2006

Wanting an Audience

I think a lot of us as writers exist in a kind of paradoxical relationship with readers. We want a large audience, we want to sell thousands of copies of our slim volumes. We want to be "famous writers", and we want to be loved by the public.

But we also don't want to "give the public what they want." We want to challenge their expectations, perhaps, alter their perceptions of the world etc... We want to be original, originality being the big idol of art since at least the Romantic movement. The more post-avant, modernist, post-modernist we are, the more we want to disrupt expectations, disorient readers, challenge them to, as it were, write their own meanings into our poems.

But then we don't want to disorient them so much that they don't come back, and so we're constantly torn with between the desire to be original, challenging etc. and the need to find an audience to read what we write. So we write for the kinds of people who will like the kinds of things that we like to write. If you write rhyming doggeral, you will find a willing audience who like that stuff; if you write viso-poetic works, you will find a willing audience for that too. We group ourselves into camps because we all like to be accepted by people, at the same time as we like to think of ourselves as challenging others. We create our own "us" and "thems".

I was listening to a Gang of Four compilation recently and reading about how they put together songs according to certain rules of democracy. They were trying to resist the consumer society's demands to please the audience; but they were also acutely aware of being part of it. They were purists aware of their own impurities, unlike those rock and roll heroes who think that a guitar solo is, by itself, an act of rebellion, rather that something that lots of perfectly unrebellious folk expect from rock and roll. As the phrase about turning "revolt" into "style" has it, it's not something any of us can escape. Even the most uncompromising follower of Prynne needs an audience, and will probably find one.

Gang of Four made paradoxically moving records by using what is on one level a very cold and calculated method, because through them, they expressed their own frustrations with the process, their own uncertainties. Too self-aware to be fooled by the rock and roll hero stances of other bands (like the Clash) but also wanting to rock out themselves. Wanting an audience and wanting to disorient the audience. Wanting to be original, and knowing that complete originality is a chimera. Wanting to defamiliarise, and wanting to bring the audience into your world.

I suspect that those of us who want to be "serious writers" all find ourselves in this dilemma, or maybe a series of dilemma. We'll find different solutions and positions along that spectrum; and that's why I find the whole avant-mainstream fascinating.

2 comments:

IRISH POETS said...

Did they sing "I love a man in a uniform"? My sister had a gang of four LP when I moved into her gaffe in 1982 and I remember playing that song over and over

"To have ambition is my ambition..."

Does it mean you think you're clever listening to them Steven?

There certainly seems to be more activity over in the other place now that Crazy Jane's on board.

Steven Waling said...

Listening to post-punk makes one clever? Maybe I should get hold of a Wire album.