The Curse of Wanting the Novel

There’re days when you latch on to one performer, one type of music, and you don’t know why. It consumes what you think about; you dance to silence, the sounds you hear only for yourself, the people looking in from the windows thinking you’re listening to something coming from the speakers in the living room: but no, what you hear is so powerful it lives in your mind alone. Sometimes the sounds do come from speakers, the crappy ones on your laptop, but you conjure the pair of membranes into the instruments and voices from whence they came.

For me today the band is Arcade Fire.

Those of you who know the indie rock scene will probably sneer, reminding me that Pitchfork called this one a couple of years ago. “2005 called and wants its darlings back.” But I don’t care right now. It’s 2007, and it’s doing something for me now, and critics and condenscending scenesters be damned.

What I’m also thinking about, while listening to something like “Rebellion (Lies)”, is how great the song is as a whole: the instrumentation just works, the strange chord changes happen exactly when they should. Thousands have heard this song, on the album or live, thousands have had the same powerful experience that I’m having right now. And I think… if I wrote this song, if I played violin on this track, would I be satisfied?

Sadly, the answer is likely no.

What’s wrong here? There’s something in me that pushes me towards the avant-garde for satisfaction, a drive that always points towards the novel and never heard (or seen or written or thought) before and not the beautifully-polished-already-existing. Whatever makes me go requires that what I do is always on the cutting edge (or at least tries to be). I have to be at the most forward-thinking place doing things that nobody else has thought of, that nobody else cares about (because they’re new and not common).

I wonder why I couldn’t be content just being good at whatever I do, even if tons of other people do it. Like maybe I could just be a really good violinist in a band, not someone who’s trying to think of a completely new way of making sounds (not music) with his violin. Or maybe I could just make some really interesting crafts instead of trying to think about what is the future direction of interactive artworks.

This is definitely not to demean the work of all of the wonderful crafters on etsy or tinyshowcase or the members of Arcade Fire. It’s more me just wondering why I personally can’t be happy on that level. Why I always have to be going for something more “novel”. Not that novelty or newness (if originality can even be said to exist) is necessarily better. Of course it’s not. I just don’t know why I think it is.

It really worries me when I think about my current future of being an academic, and the abysmally small audience that I’ll have. (Getting a thousand people to read your 200 page book is an incredible success.) Why am I choosing a direction where what I do will be the concern of so few people? And in such an insular community? And if I want to reach more people, how do I do that? And am I prepared for the variety of things I’ll hear? And is there a way for me to be comfortable with being in the beautiful-but-already-there?

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