Popular Culture and Spontaneous Order or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Tube

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This
essay appears in Philosophy
& the Interpretation of Pop Culture
edited by William Irwin
and Jorge J. E. Gracia, published by Rowman
& Littlefield
, reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Preface
to LewRockwell.com Edition

This essay
is my first attempt in print to develop an “Austrian” theory of
culture, drawing chiefly upon Friedrich Hayek’s theory of spontaneous
order. Austrian economists naturally reject Marxist theories of
culture, which are inevitably determinist and collectivist in their
approach. Austrians tend to be attracted to Romantic aesthetics,
which puts the emphasis on the creative individual and his freedom
to shape the work of art into a perfect, organic whole. But the
Romantics typically rejected commercial art and popular culture,
condemning the corrupting influence of the marketplace on creativity.
Austrians should be suspicious of the anti-commercial bias of Romantic
aesthetics. While accepting its validity in some realms of art,
such as lyric poetry, Austrians need to question its universal applicability.

In this essay
I show how one of the most despised forms of popular culture –
television – actually illustrates some fundamental Austrian
principles about the way markets work. In opposition to Marxism
and neoclassical economics, Austrians recognize the inescapable
role of chance and uncertainty in human life. Hence Austrians should
not be surprised to find an element of contingency in artistic creativity.
The fact that television shows are not perfectly planned in advance,
but are often improvised as they go along, is not in the Austrian
view an argument against their sometimes achieving high artistic
quality. In their understanding of the entrepreneurial function,
Austrians have long acknowledged improvisation as a creative force.
Similarly, Austrians should have no objection to forms of art that
do not result from a single individual’s vision but instead involve
collaborative effort. Contrary to Marxists, who see the marketplace
as the locus of exploitation, Austrians view it as a site of cooperation,
where the give-and-take between market participants leads to positive
results. For example, Austrians can understand why audience feedback
in television production, far from corrupting the process, may lead
to improved artistic results. Contrary to Romantic aesthetics, even
in art the customer is not always wrong.

In sum, the
seeming chaos in television production, with no one person fully
in control at any given moment, is just one example of the spontaneous
order Austrians celebrate in economic activity in general. This
essay develops ideas that I began to formulate in my Mises Institute
lectures on “Commerce and Culture” in the summer of 2006. The ideas
will be further developed in print in the collection of essays I
have edited with Stephen Cox, Literature and Economics: Studies
in Spontaneous Order, to be published by Open Court in 2007.

Shakespeare
and The Simpsons

In studying
popular culture, especially when working on my book Gilligan
Unbound
, I quickly ran into hermeneutical difficulties.
I wanted to discuss television shows as works of art, to demonstrate
how they present a meaningful view of the world in a skillful and
sometimes even masterful manner. I was interested in how a sequence
of television shows expressed changes in the way Americans perceived
their place in the world, and, more specifically, the way their
attitudes toward globalization evolved. This project involved making
statements such as: u201CThe Simpsons portrays the national government
negatively and celebrates a turn to the local and the globalu201D or
u201CThe
X-Files
suggests that modern technology is at war with the
power of the state.u201D In short, like many of my colleagues, I surreptitiously
imputed intentionality to something inanimate and truly unconscious
— a television series. One could claim that in such circumstances
saying u201CThe Simpsonsu201D is simply shorthand for saying u201Cthe
team that created The
Simpsons
,u201D but I suspect that something more is at work
here, an attempt to elide and evade the difficult questions about
intentionality and artistic purpose that analyzing a television
show raises.

Our
basic model of aesthetic intentionality in literature is the lyric
poem. When Yeats sat down to write u201CSailing to Byzantium,u201D we like
to think that he was free to shape the poem any way he chose. Thus
we want to say that the resulting poem was wholly the product of
Yeats's intentions and his alone, and that means that every word
in the poem is aesthetically meaningful. [1] One can therefore
in good conscience worry over the most minor details in a poem like
u201CSailing to Byzantium,u201D and make something of the fact that Yeats
chose to use one particular word rather than another. But is this
kind of close reading appropriate to television shows, when we know
that they are not produced the way lyric poems are? No television
show is created by a single author. Scripts are typically the product
of a team of writers, and even the list of people officially credited
with writing a given script does not include all those who had a
hand in it. Writing for television resembles committee work rather
than what we normally think of as artistic activity. Scripts generally
involve compromises and may end up embodying different conceptions
of the work in question and sometimes even contradictory ones.

Moreover a
script is only the rough blueprint for creating a television show.
In the process of actually shooting the show, the director, and
sometimes even cast members, will modify the script, perhaps because
it has led to problems in production or simply because on the spur
of the moment they think that they can improve it. A show has not
taken its final form even after it has been shot. Network executives,
censors, and potential sponsors may well demand further changes
in the show before it can be aired. The result of the complicated
production process of a television show is that the work that finally
reaches the screen will never correspond exactly to the idea of
the person who first conceived it and will usually in fact be quite
remote from the initial conception.

It thus becomes
problematic to speak of intentionality in the case of television
shows when it is difficult just to identify whose intentions one
is talking about. Moreover, the nature of television production
is such that an element of contingency is inevitably introduced
into the final product. As an interpreter, one might, for example,
try to make something of the darkening of the light in a particular
scene, and claim that it was intended to achieve a darkening of
mood. But if one asked the producer about this particular u201Ceffect,u201D
he might say something like this: u201CIt was two days till airtime,
we needed to finish the lakeside scene; I knew I was running out
of light, but we were also running out of money, and I hoped nobody
would notice the difference.u201D So much for any attempt to find the
changed lighting of the scene aesthetically meaningful. In the course
of researching Gilligan Unbound, I found many cases where
developments in a television program could not be explained in terms
of purely aesthetic considerations. In the second season of The
X-Files, for example, Agent Dana Scully was abducted, possibly
by aliens, and for several episodes the audience was wrapped up
in the question of her fate. One might marvel at the ingenuity of
the show's creators in mapping out this dramatic turn of events,
until one learns that, far from planning it in advance, they were
scrambling to cope with the fact that the actress who portrayed
Scully, Gillian Anderson, had become pregnant and was going to be
unavailable for shooting in the middle of the season. For all that
The X-Files managed to make of Scully's abduction, at root
it was a plot device to cover over a production snag.
[2]
The more one reads about the history of shows like
The X-Files, the more one realizes that this kind of improvising,
rather than careful planning in advance, is typical of television
production.

With considerations
such as these in mind, I grew uneasy in the course of working on
Gilligan Unbound. Was I wrong to look for artistic unity
in television shows, when so many aspects of their creation point
to a disunity of conception and an even greater disunity of the
ultimate product? I had come to the study of popular culture with
the training of a literary critic, and had devoted much of my career
to analyzing Shakespeare. Thus it was natural that when I viewed
television, I was looking for masterpieces, for shows that used
traditional artistic techniques to convey important truths about
the world we live in. But can masterpieces be produced on a weekly
schedule and a tight budget, and also please sponsors? My Gilligan
Unbound project was haunted by the fear that I was illegitimately
using categories derived from high culture in my study of popular
culture.

And yet, despite
everything I learned in the course of researching television shows,
I could not ignore what had originally drawn me to some of them
— what looked like a high level of artistic achievement. In theoretical
terms, the application of the concept of intentionality to television
shows seems dubious, but I could not help seeing signs of artistic
intentions at work in some of them. Despite the general messiness
of the medium, some of the shows seem extremely well crafted and
appear to make coherent statements when carefully analyzed. Even
the best of the shows do not achieve the artistic coherence of a
perfect Yeats lyric, but that does not mean that one should label
them incoherent. I began to ask: is it fair to judge television
programs by the standard of artistic coherence achieved in lyric
poetry at its best?

On reflection,
it does seem inappropriate to use standards of artistic coherence
derived from one medium to understand an entirely different medium.
A sixteen-line lyric poem is at least in material terms much easier
to produce than a one-hour television program, and one can imagine
the poem issuing from a single consciousness in a way that seems
impossible for the television show, which must necessarily be a
cooperative effort. Notice that this distinction is not simply one
between high culture and popular culture. [3] A lyric poem may not be the appropriate
model for understanding a Shakespeare play either. Shakespeare was
of course a great poet and there is much that is poetic in his plays.
Nevertheless, their conditions of production more closely resemble
those of a television show than those of a lyric poem. As a dramatist,
and specifically a commercial dramatist, Shakespeare was working
in a cooperative medium, and no doubt the finished form his plays
took on the stage involved the kind of compromises we can observe
in television production today. We do not have the detailed information
about the production history of Shakespeare's plays that is available
for television, but historical research has uncovered elements of
contingency even in Shakespeare.

For example,
we know something about the casting in Shakespeare's theater company.
Its principal comedian was originally a man named Will Kempe, who
specialized in comic dances and little dialogues with himself.
When Kempe left Shakespeare's troupe — like a television actor today
leaving a successful series — he was replaced by a man named Robert
Armin, who excelled in different forms of comic business. Armin
evidently sang well, and he also specialized in playing the part
of a fool. This change in personnel in Shakespeare's company helps
explain the fact that in roughly the first half of his career, the
chief comic figure in his plays was a clown, such as Launcelot Gobbo
in The
Merchant of Venice
, whereas in the second half, Shakespeare
switched to a fool, such as Touchstone in As
You Like It
. [4] This may seem relatively insignificant,
until one realizes that one of Shakespeare's most distinctive strokes
of genius — his inclusion of a fool in his greatest tragedy, King
Lear
— was not a move he pulled out of thin air, so to speak.
It is indeed a good question: if Robert Armin had not replaced Will
Kempe in Shakespeare's company, would the dramatist have come up
with the brilliant idea of counterpointing Lear's tragedy with the
Fool's comedy? We have reason to believe, then, that much like television
writers today, Shakespeare wrote with specific actors in mind and
sometimes tailored his plays to their peculiar talents.

Organic
Form and Romantic Aesthetics

Thus my efforts
to reassure myself about the legitimacy of what I was doing in Gilligan
Unbound led me to more general reflections about the nature
of culture. Perhaps contingency is a more important factor in the
artistic process than the example of lyric poetry would lead us
to believe. Perhaps in this regard popular culture may provide a
better model for culture in general than the relatively elite activity
of poetry. The domination of lyric poetry as our model of artistic
creation is itself a historically contingent development. Poetry
is one of the oldest of the arts, and certainly had a considerable
headstart over television in offering a model of artistic activity.
Already in Aristotle one can observe the tendency to think of all
art as a form of poiesis, and his Poetics
introduced the organic model of poetry and art more generally —
the crucial notion that a true work of art must form an organic
whole. Given Aristotle's conception of organism, that means that
in a true work of art every part has a function to play in the whole
(Poetics, 1451a). That in turn means that every part of
a true work of art is there by design, and not by chance. Aristotle
was the first to try to theorize contingency out of the realm of
art. [5] His organic model of art proved to be extremely
durable and powerful, especially as a heuristic device. Precisely
because critics were guided by the conception of the work of art
as perfectly designed, they were impelled to study the often hidden
ways in which art works hang together. Elements that might at first
look anomalous in a work proved on closer inspection to have a role
to play in its overall aesthetic logic. Aristotle's organic model
of art was so useful that it even survived one of the great revolutions
in criticism — the shift beginning in the late eighteenth century
from classic to romantic aesthetics. However much the Romantics
revolutionized our conception of artistic form, they still maintained
that it is organic in nature. In fact they tended to make their
argument against classic conceptions of form by insisting that they
are mechanical and only the new romantic conceptions are genuinely
organic. The Romantics opened up the concept of the organic unity
of art, allowing for more complex forms of unification and for more
heterogeneous elements to be unified, but they still remained true
to the Aristotelian ideal of the artwork as perfectly designed.
The difference is that the Romantics introduced the idea of artistic
genius. The art work takes organic form, not because the artist
follows patterns inherent in the nature of the genre (as in the
Aristotelian tradition), but because the artistic genius shatters
old models that have become mechanical and divines new forms that
restore life to his art. [6]

The Romantic
reconception of organic form was developed in Germany, but reached
England chiefly in the writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge
did much to establish the organic model of poetry in particular
and art in general in the English-speaking world, and was especially
influential on the development of one of its chief incarnations
in twentieth-century aesthetics, the New Criticism.
[7]
Our tendency to think of organic form in poetry as
our model of art in general is largely the result of the way the
New Criticism dominated American academics in the 1950s and 60s.
The New Critics did not simply take lyric poetry as their model
of art; more specifically they operated with a certain kind of poetry
in mind — basically the modernist lyric of Eliot and Yeats. They
came to read not just all poetry but eventually drama and fiction
as well on the model of works like u201CThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrocku201D
or u201CSailing to Byzantium.u201D
[8]
It is remarkable how many genuine insights the New
Critics were able to produce, even though they were generalizing
from a small sample of what actually constitutes literature. But
the very specific nature of their model of artistic form leads to
misperceptions when one tries to apply it to the realm of popular
culture.

This is especially
true because the New Criticism and the Romantic/modernist aesthetic
out of which it grew were biased against popular culture from the
start. In fact, both Romantic and modernist aesthetics defined themselves
in opposition to popular culture. The very idea of a split between
high culture and popular culture is basically an invention of the
late eighteenth and the early nineteenth century. Given economic,
social, and political developments in the late eighteenth century,
the Romantic generation was the first group of artists to confront
mass commercial culture in the modern sense. The Romantics found
themselves competing in a newly developed cultural marketplace,
in which commercial success was replacing aristocratic and ecclesiastical
patronage as the chief support for the arts. The ideal of organic
form became a weapon in their struggle with their competitors in
the cultural marketplace. The Romantics identified organic form
with what they now defined as high or true culture, and cordoned
off a lower realm of popular or mass culture, which fails to measure
up to the exalted standard of organic form. As Alvin Kernan formulates
their position: u201CIsolated from society, exiled from and hostile
to the world of industrial capitalism, they have spoken in poetry
the truth and beauty known only to the imagination, defended the
authentic human self with its ancient ways of thinking and feeling
against science and crude utilitarianism, and created perfect works
of art, organic in structure, crystalline in form.u201D [9] Whereas the Romantics
as geniuses could remain true to the purity of their inspiration
and achieve perfection of organic design in their creations, they
deemed the products of commercial culture imperfect because artistically
impure. [10]
Motives other than the purely aesthetic supposedly corrupt works
of art produced for commercial markets. This Romantic attitude linked
up with the idea of the autonomy of art, developed by Kant in his
Critique of Judgment. The Romantics claimed that true art
could be produced only by the artistic genius operating in total
independence and splendid isolation. The artist has to be relieved
from the demands of the commercial world in order to be free to
pursue his artistic vision and produce works that will be completely
faithful to his own design and hence genuinely organic in form.
[11]

If, on the
other hand, the artist is forced to work with commercial success
as his motive, his vision will inevitably be compromised. He will
have to introduce elements into his art to please others, rather
than himself, and thereby corrupt the organic purity of his creations.
One can see the thrust of Romantic aesthetics in the way that nineteenth-century
critics tended to look down upon the novel as a popular form, hardly
a form of literature at all. [12] Since it was created
with a commercial market in mind, the novel was not viewed as authentic
art, but rather as an impure form, filled with aesthetically extraneous
elements whose only function was to please the public and sell copies.
According to Romantic aesthetics, in a poem every word has an artistic
function to perform in the work as a whole, but in a novel, many
words are there simply because the novelist was being paid by the
word.

In short, an
anti-commercial bias was built into the Romantic aesthetic from
the start, and hence it is hardly surprising that when we apply
a late form of that aesthetic, the New Criticism, to popular culture,
it looks suspect to us as an artistic realm. We need to recognize
how the Romantic heritage in our aesthetics has prejudiced us against
popular culture. We assume that only if an artist is given complete
autonomy will he be able to achieve anything great. Unity of design
demands a single designer, who out of his own inner depths molds
his material into pure organic form. Many of the institutions in
our culture today are designed to shield artists from external pressures
and particularly commercial ones. This is especially true of universities,
foundations, and government granting agencies, which pride themselves
on providing artists with financial support and thus freeing them
from any need to please the public.
[13]
Supposedly this freedom will make their art better.

This glance
at the historical development of our aesthetic assumptions helps
clarify what is at stake in the debate over popular culture. When
we find that the conditions of production in television are not
the same as in the writing of poetry, we assume that this is a bad
thing and will make television less of an art form than poetry.
It is the Romantic ideal of the solitary genius that makes us wary
of multiple authorship in television writing. We are also put off
by all the elements of contingency involved in television production.
We think that great works of art must be carefully planned in advance,
and are suspicious of any work improvised on the spur of the moment.
And we are right to have these suspicions. Much of our greatest
art was produced by individual geniuses, working according to the
Romantic aesthetic and with an organic view of form in mind. Many
great artists have complained about interference with their aesthetic
autonomy, and have been particularly bitter when commercial demands
have intruded into what they hoped would be the self-contained world
of their art. This attitude prevails even in the realm of television.
In researching Gilligan Unbound, I noted how frequently television
producers railed against network executives who had interfered in
the production process.
[14]
Like all artists, these producers crave a free hand
to create their shows as they see fit. They do not want network
executives or censors or sponsors telling them how to do their job,
and they view outside interference as a source of corruption in
their work. And in many cases they are justified in this view. Network
executives often failed to understand what these television creators
were trying to do and would have ruined their shows if the producers
had not stood their ground and maintained their integrity as artists
in the Romantic understanding of the term. If the most creative
talent in television distrusts conditions in the medium, surely
critics trained in traditional high culture can feel justified in
their doubts about it. And television spews out enough garbage every
year to make anyone with taste wonder if there is not something
inherently inartistic about the medium.

And yet I keep
coming back to the fact that somehow amongst all this trash television
manages to produce works of genuine artistic quality. How is this
possible? We have been talking about the distinctive production
process in television, but implying that insofar as it is distinctive,
it has a negative effect on what is produced. But perhaps there
is something in the process that is positive, that actually contributes
to the artistic quality of the resulting product. To put the question
in the simplest terms: Is commercial art necessarily inferior to
non-commercial art?

In Praise
of Multiple Authorship and Improvisation

Consider the
issue of multiple authorship in television. It is certainly true
that too many cooks can spoil the broth in art as well as life.
The result of continually rewriting scripts is often to make them
bland, to take out any originality and assimilate them to familiar
patterns. But there is no reason why several minds coming together
to write a script could not in some cases improve the final product.
Different writers may bring different talents and strengths to the
task, and help to inspire each other and spur each other on. And
no writer — not even Shakespeare — is so great that he never makes
mistakes and cannot benefit from some criticism and correction.
Most television writers, far from wishing to be left alone, speak
positively about script conferences and look forward to continual
feedback on their work. The writers of The X-Files, for example,
in their accounts of the genesis of their script ideas, talk about
how helpful Chris Carter, the creator-producer of the show, was
to them in refining their original conceptions and making them work
in the context of the series.
[15]
Upholders of the autonomy of art insist that in
creation, the individual artist knows it all and does it all. But
this is not always true even in the most rarefied realms of high
culture. In fact multiple authorship is not as uncommon in serious
literature as the Romantic aesthetic would lead us to believe.
[16]
I am not just thinking of famous teams of authors,
such as the English Renaissance dramatists, Beaumont and Fletcher.
In fact, we now know that multiple authorship was quite common in
English Renaissance drama — another parallel between Shakespeare's
medium and television.
[17]
From what we know of the rewriting of plays such
as Marlowe's Doctor
Faustus
, it seems that the Elizabethan Age even had its
own script doctors.
[18]
Shakespeare himself may have served as one — we
see his hand at work at a few points in a play called The
Book of Sir Thomas More
— indeed in the only dramatic passage
we may have in Shakespeare's own handwriting, he is to our eternal
frustration evidently working on somebody else's play.
[19]

Even in the
very bastion of the Romantic aesthetic — the writing of Romantic
lyrics — artistic collaboration is not unknown. Wordsworth and Coleridge
are among our models of the Romantic solitary genius, and yet they
worked together on the volume of poetry that made them both famous,
Lyrical
Ballads
. And, although today each of the poems in this volume
is credited to one author or the other, their handiwork was not
distinguished in the original edition, and we now know that some
of the poems were in effect joint productions — that some of the
lines in the poems credited to Wordsworth were in fact written by
Coleridge and vice versa.
[20]
Wordsworth and Coleridge were constantly commenting
on each other's work and willing to take advice from each other,
much to the benefit of the published work. Perhaps the most famous
modernist poem is The
Waste Land
and it is of course ascribed to T. S. Eliot.
But the publication of the original manuscript has revealed that
Ezra Pound's editing played such a role in the finished form the
poem took that he might as well be credited as co-author.
[21]
The degree to which Eliot was willing to accept
Pound's editorial suggestions seems incredible to us, raised as
we are on the Romantic aesthetic. And yet we must also admit that
much of what we think of as the distinctively modernist character
of The Waste Land is the result of Pound's efforts to edit
the text down from Eliot's original inspiration.

Someone might
object that these are cases of solitary geniuses working together,
and thusquite different from the kind of collaboration characteristic
of television, which often more closely resembles the case of a
writer working with a commercial editor rather than a fellow artist.
But even in this case, studies have shown that editors at commercial
publishing houses have sometimes played an important role in the
shaping of certain literary masterpieces. One of the most famous
editorial collaborations in American literature involved the novelist
Thomas Wolfe and the editor Maxwell Perkins of Charles Scribner's
Sons. As Jack Stillinger writes: u201CPerkins's most publicized accomplishment.
. . was the virtual creation of Look
Homeward, Angel
(1929) and Of
Time and the River
(1935) out of huge masses of manuscript
that Wolfe had brought him in despair.u201D
[22]
Thus the issue of multiple authorship does not allow
us to draw a sharp line between high culture and popular culture.
And although multiple authorship may introduce contradictions into
a work of art or result in a kind of u201Clowest common denominatoru201D
effect, it may instead, through the benefits of synergy or feedback,
improve the ultimate product. The demands of the marketplace, far
from always ruining literary works, have in many cases improved
them. Commercial pressures can exercise a disciplining effect on
artists, if nothing else forcing them to finish a work by a certain
date or to keep it at a reasonable length. The record of art produced
with foundation or government grants does not offer convincing evidence
that being released from having to please the public is a sure path
to greatness for an artist.
[23]
Thus the fact that a popular medium such as television
does not afford complete autonomy to individual artists is not an
effective argument against it.

Rethinking
the issue of contingency in television production leads to a similar
conclusion. When we see producers scrambling to finish shows by
a deadline, rewriting scenes up until the last possible moment and
jerry-rigging special effects, it is hard for us to believe that
what they are creating can be genuine art. This is especially true
because of the way critics tend to approach art works. They are
generally looking to uncover a plan in the work, a pattern by which
it is structured, and they assume that the artist had this plan
fully elaborated in his mind before constructing it. What the critic
discovers retrospectively, the artist must have divined prospectively. [24] It is natural for
such critics to question the artistic potential of television as
a medium when it does not seem to allow for this kind of advance
planning.

But, once again,
our knowledge of high culture does not support this critique of
popular culture. To be sure, we know many cases of artists who did
in fact plan out their masterpieces well in advance, sometimes down
to the smallest details. But for every example of the advantages
of advance planning in the arts, we can find counterexamples of
the corresponding advantages of improvisation. Many great literary
masterpieces have been churned out with deadlines fast approaching
and the authors desperately struggling to finish them in the quickest
way possible. Some artists seem to need the pressure of deadlines
to produce their best work. [25] And some arts have incorporated
improvisation as one of their fundamental principles. Think of the
importance of improvisation in the careers of such musical geniuses
as J. S. Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. In short, many creators in
the realms of high culture have had to come to terms with an element
of contingency in their art and have even learned to turn it to
their advantage. Consider the role of the found object in surrealism,
for example. [26]
The Slavics scholar Gary Saul Morson has argued that
certain authors have even made contingency the fundamental principle
of their literary art — chiefly, in his view, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
He shows how Dostoevsky, for example, allowed breaking stories in
newspapers to alter the plot lines of a novel in the course of publication:

In The
Idiot
, real crime reports that first appeared between installments
are read by the characters, who seem to be following the press along
with the readers and the author. These real crimes shape characters'
imagination, discussion, and future actions. Because those crimes
took place after some sections of the work had appeared [in print],
the reader recognizes that they could not have been part
of an original plan, and that forces outside the author's control
shape his work as it goes along. [27]

This case is
analogous to the way television shows often incorporate references
to contemporary events at the last minute. [28] Morson shows how Dostoevsky deliberately created
open-ended narratives, in which he himself did not know in advance
in which direction the story was headed.
[29]
He in effect left the course of the action up to
his characters, waiting until the last minute to see what decisions
the characters would make and thus shape the outcome of the story.
Morson argues that contingency becomes an aesthetic value in the
novels of Dostoevsky; the open-ended narrative is a way of celebrating
the reality of human freedom.

Thus dealing
with elements of contingency turns out to be something popular culture
has in common with many forms of high culture. It may be possible
to eliminate all elements of chance from a brief lyric poem, but
it is much more difficult to do so in a long novel. Some novelists
have failed to catch minor changes in their works when typesetters
accidentally introduced them in the printing process.
[30]
The larger the work, the more likely it will admit
imperfections by the rigorous standards of tight, poetic form. But,
for critics such as Morson, what looks like imperfection from the
perspective of the Romantic aesthetic of organic form, may be a
higher kind of perfection according to a different aesthetic. The
famous bagginess of the novel, which makes it seem loosely organized
and even shapeless by comparison with lyric poetry, can also be
viewed as a virtue and indeed seems to be related to the novel's
greater realism and above all its ability to capture a wider range
of ordinary human experience. Insofar as contingency is an important
element of human life, any form of art that strives to eliminate
it risks becoming untrue to the way we actually experience our existence. [31]

Recognizing
that contingency is an inevitable component of both life and art,
many artists, even in high culture, choose not to sketch out their
plans in advance and prefer to develop them as they go along — to
try a variety of possibilities and see what works and what does
not. The alternative to a u201Cperfect planu201D model of artistic creation
is a u201Cfeedbacku201D model, in which the imperfections of a work of art
are gradually corrected in a process of trial and error (or sometimes
even left in place to achieve a variety of effects, according to
Morson). The feedback model is far more common in high culture than
the Romantic aesthetic would lead us to believe. Many artists crave
contact with their audience precisely because of the valuable feedback
it can supply. [32] Sometimes an artist's
audience is able to judge when he is doing his best work more easily
than he himself can. For this reason, the way contemporary artists
are shielded by institutional grants from the need to please an
audience may actually have a deleterious effect on their art. Being
free of the public's demands may be every artist's dream, but it
can easily turn into a nightmare of aesthetic isolation, cut off
from all sources of guidance and legitimate criticism, and perhaps
even from the ultimate source of artistic inspiration itself.
[33]
There are many cases of artists who did their best
work when they still felt a need to cater to their audience, and
lost their way artistically when they began to feel that pleasing
the public was beneath their dignity as autonomous geniuses.

If feedback
from an audience is actually valuable to artists, popular culture
has certain advantages over high culture (especially in its more
elite forms). In particular, many of the aspects of the production
process in television that look dubious from the viewpoint of the
Romantic aesthetic may turn out to work to the benefit of those
who labor in the medium. What from one angle looks like harmful
interference with the integrity of the artist in television, from
another angle looks like helpful feedback. Not all the advice from
network executives is wrong-headed; although their primary consideration
may be the infamous bottom line, their very concern with audience
reaction may sometimes make their suggestions improve a program.
One of the things that struck me in my research on Gilligan Unbound
was the way successful television producers actively seek out feedback
from all sources and look to it for guidance.

In the case
of The X-Files, the producers discovered a new feedback mechanism
— the Internet. They carefully monitored the many web sites that
sprung up to discuss and celebrate the show and learned a great
deal in the process. For example, when in a first-season episode
entitled u201CE.B.E.u201D The X-Files introduced a new set of characters
called the Lone Gunmen — three paranoid conspiracy theorists and
computer experts who help the hero of the show, Fox Mulder, in his
struggle against the government — the writers who thought them up
(Glen Morgan and James Wong) felt that they were a failure and were
ready to drop them from future episodes. But the Lone Gunmen caught
on immediately with one of the core segments of the X-Files
audience. As technological nerds, they appealed to precisely the
fans who were among the first to take advantage of the Internet.
Because of the popularity of the Lone Gunmen as judged by the X-Files
web sites, the producers decided to bring the characters back.
[34]
If the rest is not exactly television history, the
quirkiness of the Lone Gunmen certainly contributed something to
The X-Files, especially an element of humor that helped lighten
the prevailing dark mood of the show. Somehow the show's audience,
or a segment of it, was better able than the producers to sense
the potential long-term contribution these characters might make
to the series. The Romantic aesthetic tells us that giving in to
audience demands can only corrupt an artist's vision. But the customer
may occasionally be right, and artists who listen to their audience
may learn to improve their art.
[35]

As this example
from the history of The X-Files reminds us, unlike many forms
of art, a television series cannot be created all at once, but must
of necessity be produced over long stretches of time — weeks at
first, but over years if the series is successful. This is one reason
the television series does not fit the u201Cperfect planu201D model of artistic
creation, but it is very well suited to the feedback model. Creating
episode after episode, and unable to go back and alter earlier efforts
in light of subsequent developments, television producers often
find themselves in the embarrassing position of having introduced
lapses in continuity into their shows, if not outright contradictions.
[36]
A devoted fan may have fun pointing out such inconsistencies,
but they mark television shows as failures according to the strict
demands of coherence imposed by the organic model of poetic form.
But what a television series loses in coherence over the years,
it gains in its ability to experiment with new possibilities and
find out ways to improve the show and expand its range. As the case
of the Lone Gunmen demonstrates, in its long run a successful television
series will often introduce new characters, and see which ones click
with its audience. Characters who prove to be unpopular will be
dropped, and characters who are popular will see their roles expanded.
[37]
Although the addition of a popular character may
not always improve a show artistically, it often does and can sometimes
revitalize the whole series. And in the serial character of much
television production, it yet again proves impossible to maintain
a strict division between high culture and popular.

For television
did not invent the mode of serial production. It goes all the way
back to the eighteenth century, when novels were first published
serially. This method of producing novels reached its peak in the
Victorian Era, when Charles Dickens led the way in making the serial
novel the most popular and financially rewarding form of entertainment
in England. [38] The novels we now
study reverently in universities as masterpieces of fiction and
hence high culture were at the time of their creation serially produced
and consumed, much like the weekly installments of shows on television
today. And we can observe the same feedback process at work in the
Victorian novel. Novelists often killed off or otherwise disposed
of characters who were proving unpopular with their audience, and
devoted more pages to those who were evidently increasing weekly
or monthly sales. [39] Jennifer Hayward
has argued that the serial in its many incarnations — the serialized
novel, the comic strip, the movie serial with its cliffhanger endings,
the radio soap opera, the television soap opera, and other forms
of serialized television — is the distinctive form of modern culture.
[40]
The fact that serial production, by allowing for
all sorts of audience feedback, facilitates communication between
artists and their public may go a long way toward explaining the
prevalence of the form.
[41]
Serially produced works will usually be looser in
form and fail to achieve the level of artistic coherence possible
in lyric poetry, but, on the positive side, they can be more experimental
and pursue a wider range of possibilities in terms of both form
and content. And this is just as true when one compares a Victorian
novel with a lyric poem as when one compares a television series.
[42]
Observing the similarities in the way serial production
functioned in the nineteenth-century novel and in twentieth-century
television is a good way of seeing how much high culture and popular
culture have in common.

Feedback
Mechanisms vs. The Perfect Plan

To place my
argument about popular culture in a larger context, I want to examine
briefly the broader implications of the contrast I have been drawing
between the u201Cperfect planu201D model of artistic creation and the u201Cfeedbacku201D
model. The u201Cperfect planu201D model of artistic creation has its deepest
roots in Western theology and the teleological understanding of
the universe to which it is related. To think of the artist planning
out his works perfectly and in advance is to think of him on the
model of God creating the universe, especially as understood in
Christianity. According to this view, for any kind of meaningful
structure to come into being and function, it must be the work of
a single designer, who can bring all its elements into harmony.
This way of understanding the world long dominated thought in a
wide variety of areas. It seems natural to human beings to trace
order anywhere they find it to some kind of orderer, someone who
brings the field into order. [43] In politics, this way of thinking produced the
theoretical support for monarchy — the claim that a country is ruled
best when a single authority is in place to give it order. In economics,
this way of thinking leads to the belief that the government must
intervene to introduce order into the marketplace, to set prices,
for example, or, more generally, to impose restrictions on commerce
in order to make the common good prevail. In biology, this way of
thinking leads to what is called creationism, the idea that the
perfection of form we observe in biological phenomena can be explained
only as the work of a single divine creator. To borrow a term from
economics, all these approaches to understanding order celebrate
the virtues of u201Ccentral planning.u201D Given the prevalence of this
kind of thinking, it is understandable that it came to dominate
aesthetics — the traditional idea of organic form in poetry is another
way of celebrating central planning as the only route to order.
Indeed, as long as people thought that only a single, divine creator
could be responsible for the order we see in the biological realm,
it was logical to view order in the aesthetic realm as having a
similar origin. [44] The ideal of central
planning is actually more plausible in aesthetics than in any other
realm. In poetry, we can in fact observe poets at work and watch
them achieve perfection of form by carefully designing their poems.

It is therefore
not surprising that the central planning model of order survived
in aesthetics long after it began to be challenged in other areas.
Probably the most famous challenge to this way of thinking came
in Darwin's theory of evolution. Darwin showed how the perfection
we observe in the structure of animals and plants can be explained
without recourse to the notion of a divine creator of that structure.
His idea of natural selection is basically what we have been calling
a feedback model of order. Evolution proceeds by what we now call
random mutations, which lead to a proliferation of biological forms
— experiments in life forms, as it were. In Darwin's view, the environment
provides the feedback in this system, selecting out new forms that
work and rejecting those that do not. If this sounds like my description
of how a television series develops, that is just my point. [45] What looks anomalous from the
viewpoint of traditional poetics fits the Darwinian model of how
form can be perfected in a system that does not have a central orderer
or planner. Darwin in fact provides a way of questioning traditional
poetics by questioning its fundamental conception of organic form.
Both Aristotelian and Romantic poetics stake their claims on the
principle of organic form. But since Darwin we have come to understand
that organic form need not be the result of conscious design or
pre-planning. Franco Moretti and Gary Saul Morson have led the way
in showing how Darwin's ideas can help us rethink our notion of
literary form. [46] Drawing upon the
work of Stephen Jay Gould, both have stressed how Darwin, as opposed
to Aristotle, allows for an element of contingency in biological
form. [47]
The truth of Darwin's theory in fact hinges on our ability to find
evidence of imperfection in biological form — elements of an organism
which do not fulfill the Aristotelian criterion of being integral
parts of the whole and which therefore do not appear to be the result
of divine creation. The presence of vestigial organs in animals,
for example, can be explained, not by any theory of perfect design
(since they in fact have no function) but only by reference to an
animal's evolutionary history, and history is the realm of the contingent.
As Gould writes:

If feathers
are perfect, they may as well have been designed from scratch
by an omnipotent God as from previous anatomy by a natural process.
Darwin recognized that the primary evidence for evolution must
be sought in quirks, oddities, and imperfections that lay bare
the pathways of history. Whales, with their vestigial pelvic bones,
must have descended from terrestrial ancestors with functional
legs. . . . If whales retained no trace of their terrestrial heritage,
. . . then history would not inhere in the productions of nature.
[48]

If the biological
realm allows for contingency of form, then, according to Moretti
and Morson, literary form can admit contingent elements as well.

Darwin's revolution
in how to conceive order was preceded by a revolution in economic
thinking that we associate with Adam Smith and classical economics.
Darwin himself admitted to being influenced by classical economics
in the person of Thomas Malthus, and indeed in retrospect we can
see that Malthus' theory of population was crucial to Darwin's understanding
of natural selection.
[49]
Smith and his followers attacked central planning
in its root economic form, the idea that only government intervention
can achieve order in markets that would otherwise, if left to themselves,
break down into chaos. Smith showed just the opposite — that markets
are self-regulating and self-ordering, and it is government intervention
that throws them out of balance and produces chaos. In Smith's analysis,
the pricing mechanism of free markets produces the feedback that
orders economic phenomena. Rising prices are a signal to producers
to turn out more of a good, and falling prices a signal to turn
out less. The price mechanism thus works to bring supply into line
with demand, and thereby to make the market move toward equilibrium.
When the government intervenes and tries artificially to raise or
lower prices, it sends the wrong signals to producers and that leads
to surpluses or shortages in the market, which is to say, economic
chaos.

Thus in both
Smith's economics and Darwin's biology, systems generate order from
within themselves and on their own. In the traditional theological
model of order, a force outside or above the system is necessary
to intervene and introduce order into what would otherwise be chaos.
In the Smith/Darwin model, a system becomes self-regulating through
a feedback mechanism. Such a system does not achieve perfection
all at once by an act of divine creation; rather it is always striving
toward perfection by a process of evolution; it is in effect self-perfecting
rather than perfect. The Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek has
popularized the use of the term u201Cspontaneous orderu201D to describe
this sort of system, and he did much to develop a general theory
of spontaneous order, showing how the concept is applicable in a
wide range of fields beyond economics and biology, from linguistics
to law. [50] What I have been trying to do
in this essay is to apply the concept of spontaneous order to popular
culture. The realm of popular culture looks messy and disordered
to us, and we have a hard time understanding how any kind of artistic
form could emerge out of this seeming chaos. The idea of spontaneous
order always seems counterintuitive to us; as human beings we evidently
are conditioned to attribute order to an individual orderer. That
is why the ideas of both Smith and Darwin (not to mention Hayek)
encountered so much initial resistance and are rejected to this
day by many people. But if one recognizes the various kinds of feedback
mechanisms at work in popular culture, one begins to see that it
is possible for it to lack a centrally ordering agent and yet be
self-regulating and self-perfecting.

To return to
my initial questions, if we find that authorship is as it were u201Ccorporateu201D
rather than individual in television production, that does not rule
out the serious study of television programs. As we have already
seen, even in high culture the concept of the single perfect author
is perhaps best understood as a heuristic device. We may never encounter
a work of literature actually produced entirely and perfectly by
a single author, but it is useful for us to read literature and
especially lyric poetry as if this were the case. We will find more
in a literary work if we are looking for perfection in it, and that
is why the New Criticism, for all the dubious aspects of its theoretical
foundations, proved to be fruitful in its application to analyzing
literature. Thus, when we turn to popular culture, even if we see
that single authorship is not the norm of production, we can still
u201Creadu201D individual shows as if they had artistic integrity, and this
will help us to find whatever artistic merit they may in fact have.

In short the
typical critique of popular culture is a version of the genetic
fallacy. By concentrating on how works of popular culture are produced,
it prejudices us against taking the products seriously. But, as
we have seen, in both high culture and popular culture the genesis
of a work does not necessarily tell us anything about its artistic
quality. A work produced by a seemingly haphazard process may not
turn out to be haphazard in form (by the same token, a perfectly
planned work may turn out to be lifeless and dull). Instead of focusing
on the original intentions of the creators in popular culture and
worrying whether they have been carried out faithfully, we should
dwell upon the intentionality of the finished produced — whether
in the end it has become, by whatever process, a work of art. And
we must beware of taking the perfectly unified lyric poem as our
only model of aesthetic achievement. As studies of the novel are
increasingly revealing, a work of literature may embrace various
forms of what would be regarded as imperfection in lyric poetry
and still have aesthetic value. Indeed, as Morson and Moretti have
argued, novels may make those imperfections serve new artistic purposes.
The same may be true of what are often considered to be the aesthetic
shortcomings of popular culture. We should be careful about judging
the new media of popular culture by the artistic standards of the
older media of high culture. We should instead be looking for the
unprecedented aesthetic possibilities suddenly opened up whenever
a new artistic medium comes along. In sum, we can take the artistic
forms of popular culture seriously without assuming that they will
conform to the norms of high culture in the past; indeed the genuine
excitement of studying popular culture may well be to discover the
new conceptions of artistic form it is developing.

The spontaneous
order model also helps us rethink our negative reaction when we
encounter the element of contingency in television production. We
have begun to realize that to eliminate all contingency from art
might well be to take the life out of it — especially now that Darwin
has given us a concept of biological form that includes contingency,
rather than banishing it, as the Aristotelian tradition tried to
do. Another way of saying that television production inevitably
involves an element of contingency is to say that it inevitably
takes place over time, sometimes long periods of time. [51] In the model of
a divine moment of perfect creation, time is seen as the great corrupting
force. The world is perfect at the moment of creation and can only
degenerate thereafter. A similar view is embodied in the idea of
the moment of perfect poetic creation. The poet's vision is at its
purest at the instant of inspiration, and his efforts to work out
his original idea over time and embody it in material form only
lead him away from its initial perfection. In the classic formulation
of Percy Shelley: u201CWhen composition begins, inspiration is already
on the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been
communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original
conception of the poet.u201D [52] By contrast, in the spontaneous
order model, time is the friend rather than the enemy of creation.
In both Adam Smith and Darwin, systems perfect themselves over time,
and, on a smaller scale, the same process can be observed in the
evolution of a television series. If Rome was not built in a day,
neither was The X-Files.

None of this
is to say that the conditions of television production guarantee
high artistic quality and the automatic evolution of every show
to perfection by its sixth or seventh season. Obviously from what
we observe on television, something closer to the opposite seems
to be the case. All I am claiming is that the typical conditions
of television production do not simply preclude artistic
quality, as some critics of the medium have argued. As Hayward writes:

The ability
to alter narratives in response to the success or failure of subplots
or characters is seen as negative because we have constructed ideologies
of the u201Ctrueu201D artist and writer as governed only by individual genius
and never by the demands of the marketplace. . . . There is no inherent
flaw in a kind of u201Cjust in timeu201D production of stories; neither
does this method preclude the inspiration of creative genius. Instead,
both market forces and artistic gifts can work together to produce
texts crafted by an individual or creative team but flexible enough
to respond to good and relevant ideas from outside, whether in the
form of audience response, news events, or other sources.
[53]

I have tried
to suggest some of the ways in which the various feedback mechanisms
in television production can help to improve the quality of shows,
but that still requires the talent of a creative producer to take
advantage of the circumstances. Because that talent is rare (although
perhaps no rarer in popular culture than in high culture), the overall
level of aesthetic quality of television programs may remain low,
even while oases of genuine art spring up from time to time in the
vast television wasteland.

My
main goal has been to identify and try to overcome the prejudices
we have inherited from the tradition of Romantic aesthetics. This
tradition has been anti-commercial since its inception; the Romantics
were the first to set up the autonomous creative genius in opposition
to the vulgarity of the marketplace. In trying to rethink our view
of popular culture, I have drawn upon the idea of spontaneous order,
particularly because in its economic form, it shows that commerce
can be an ordering and indeed a creative force. The ultimate objection
to popular culture among its many critics on the left and on the
right is that it is commercial culture, and in the Romantic tradition
commerce and culture are seen at odds. But once we begin to think
of popular culture — and perhaps culture in general — as a form
of spontaneous order, we can begin to understand how commerce and
culture can work together for their mutual benefit.
[54]
To put the matter in the most unromantic terms possible:
just because a television show is a commercial success does not
mean that it is an artistic failure.

Notes


[1]
. This principle was the cornerstone of the New
Criticism. See, for example, Cleanth Brooks, The
Well Wrought Urn
(New York: Harcourt Brace, 1947), where
he defends u201Cthe proposition that every word in a poem plays
its partu201D (221; italics in the original).


[2]
. For more on this bit of television history, see
my book Gilligan
Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization
(Lanham,
MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), xxxv–vi.


[3]
. For general discussions of the relation between
popular culture and high culture, see Herbert J. Gans, Popular
Culture & High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste

(New York: Basic Books, 1999) and Richard Keller Simon, Trash
Culture and the Great Tradition
(Berkeley, CA: University
of California Press, 1999). On this specific point, see Gans,
37 and also Jack Stillinger, Multiple
Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius
(Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1991), 163.


[4]
. See David Bevington, ed., u201CGeneral Introduction,u201D
The
Complete Works of Shakespeare
(New York: Addison-Wesley,
1997), lxvii.


[5]
. See Gary Saul Morson, u201CThe Prosaics of Process,u201D
Literary Imagination 2 (2000): 379.


[6]
. For a brilliant and concise account of these
developments in aesthetics, see Martha Woodmansee, The
Author, Art, and the Market: Rereading the History of Aesthetics

(New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).


[7]
. For examples of the influence of Coleridge on
the New Criticism, see Brooks, Well Wrought Urn, 7–8, 26–27,
258. For the idea of the u201Cstructure of the poem as an organismu201D
in New Criticism, see 213. See Woodmansee, Author,
Art, and the Market
, 98, for the more general connection
between Romanticism and the New Criticism.


[8]
. For further discussion of this point, see my essay
u201CThe Primacy of the Literary Imagination, or, Which Came First:
The Critic or the Author?,u201D Literary Imagination 1 (1999):
133–37.


[9]
. Alvin Kernan, Samuel
Johnson & the Impact of Print
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1987), 293. See also Gans, Popular Culture,
66 and Lee Erickson, The
Economy of Literary Form: English Literature and the Industrialization
of Publishing, 1800–1850
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1996), 104–105. For a thorough critique of the Romantic
ideology of the autonomous creative genius, see Jerome J. McGann,
The
Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation
(Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1983) and A
Critique of Modern Textual Criticism
(Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1983), 8, 40, 42.


[10]
. For one of the earliest attempts in English
to condemn the emergence of mass culture, see Wordsworth's preface
to the 1800 second edition of Lyrical
Ballads
.


[11]
. On the connection between the idea of genius
and the idea of organic form, see Woodmansee, Author,
Art, and the Market
, 53–54.


[12]
. For the critical hostility to the novel, see
Woodmansee, Author, Art, and the Market, 89–92. For further
examples of nineteenth-century critiques of novel reading, see
Jennifer Hayward, Consuming
Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to
Soap Opera
(Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky,
1997), 6, 26–27, and Erickson, Economy of Literary Form,
139–41. For a full treatment of the subject, see John Tinnon Taylor,
Early
Opposition to the English Novel: The Popular Reaction from 1760
to 1830
(New York: King's Crown, 1943). What is striking
in reading all these accounts is to see that in the nineteenth
century, reading novels was criticized for exactly the same reasons
watching television is criticized today.


[13]
. On this point, see Erickson, Economy of Literary
Form, 15, 105, 171–72.


[14]
. For some examples, see Cantor, Gilligan Unbound,
xxxvii and especially 214 (note 6).


[15]
. See Cantor, Gilligan Unbound, xxxvii
and 215 (note 8). For specific examples of X-Files writers
praising Chris Carter's intervention in their work, see Brian
Lowry, Trust No One: The X-Files (New York: Harper, 1996),
227–29 and Andy Meisler, The
X-Files: I Want to Believe
(New York: Harper, 1998), 122.


[16]
. Jack Stillinger has assembled a list of prominent
examples of multiple authorship in the history of British and
American literature (Multiple Authorship, 204–13).


[17]
. See Stillinger, Multiple Authorship,
164–69.


[18]
. See Michael Mangan, Christopher Marlowe:
Doctor Faustus (London: Penguin, 1989), 21.


[19]
. See G. Blakemore Evans, The Riverside Shakespeare
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), 1683–1700 and Scott McMillin,
The
Elizabethan Theatre & The Book of Sir Thomas More

(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 135–59.


[20]
. For example, Coleridge wrote the opening line
of Wordsworth's u201CWe are Sevenu201D and Wordsworth wrote lines 19–20
of the original version of Coleridge's u201CThe Rime of the Ancyent
Marinereu201D (lines 15–16 of the later u201CThe Rime of the Ancient Marineru201D).


[21]
. For a full account of Pound's contribution to
Eliot's poem, see the chapter u201CPound's Waste Landu201D in
Stillinger, Multiple Authorship, 121–38.


[22]
. Stillinger, Multiple Authorship, 146.
For further discussion of the Wolfe/Perkins collaboration, see
McGann, Textual Criticism, 53, 78–79. For further discussion
of the general issue of authors working with editors and publishers,
see McGann, Textual Criticism, 34–35, 42–44, 52–53, 75.


[23]
. Paul Delany offers a particularly trenchant
critique of government attempts to subsidize art under socialism
in his Literature,
Money and the Market
(London: Palgrave, 2002), especially
122, 172–74.


[24]
. See Stillinger, Multiple Authorship,
173.


[25]
. Samuel Johnson provides an excellent example
of an author who seemed to need deadlines to get him to write;
see Kernan, Samuel Johnson, 94–96. For the example of Thackeray,
see Alan C. Dooley, Author
and Printer in Victorian England
(Charlottesville, VA:
University Press of Virginia, 1992), 40. For a discussion of Dostoevsky
and deadlines, see Gary Saul Morson, Narrative
and Freedom: The Shadows of Time
(New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1994), especially 202–203.


[26]
. See Sarane Alexandrian, Surrealist
Art
(New York: Thames and Hudson, 1985), 140–50.


[27]
. Morson, u201CProsaics,u201D 386.


[28]
. For examples of these sorts of contemporary
references in television soap operas, see Hayward, Consuming
Pleasures, 187–88. Hayward discusses analogous contemporary
references in the serialized novels of the nineteenth century
(30, 44), including cases of Dickens working from newspaper incidents
(47).


[29]
. See Morson, u201CProsaics,u201D 381 and u201CSideshadowing
and Tempics,u201D New Literary History 29 (1998): 608–609.


[30]
. For some specific examples of authors failing
to spot textual changes introduced during the printing process
by mistake, see Dooley, Author and Printer, 40, 45, and
48 (George Eliot), 40 (William Makepeace Thackerary), and 41
(Charles Dickens).


[31]
. See Morson, u201CSideshadowing,u201D 599–600.


[32]
. For an example early in the history of the English
novel, see Lennard J. Davis' discussion of the procedures of Samuel
Richardson, Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 189–90.
For a later example of this kind of literary feedback, involving
Tennyson, see Dooley, Author and Printer, 21, 52.


[33]
. For a provocative discussion of the problematic
aspects of efforts by the Modernist movement to shield artists
from commercial pressures, see Lawrence Rainey, Institutions
of Modernism: Literary Elites & Public Culture
(New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), especially 40, 148–49,
156, 168. For further discussion of attempts u201Cto establish a modernist
literary economy in isolation from the literary marketplaceu201D (146),
see Delany, u201CPaying for Modernismu201D and u201CT. S. Eliot's Personal
Finances, 1915–1929" in Literature, Money and the Market,
146–71.


[34]
. See Brian Lowry, The
Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to the X-Files
,
140 and Cantor, Gilligan Unbound, 167–68.


[35]
. In the crisp formulation of Franco Moretti,
u201CThe Slaughterhouse of Literature,u201D Modern Language Quarterly
61 (2000): 219 (note 12): u201Cif it is perverse to believe that the
market always rewards the better solution, it is just as perverse
to believe that it always rewards the worse one!u201D


[36]
. For some concrete examples, see Cantor, Gilligan
Unbound, xxxvi and Hayward, Consuming Pleasures, 154.


[37]
. See Hayward, Consuming Pleasures, 170,
and 174–85 for a detailed study of the development of one character
in a television soap opera in response to audience feedback.


[38]
. For discussion of some of the aspects and implications
of serial publication, see Erickson, Economy of Literary Form,
158–68 and Morson, u201CProsaics,u201D 385–86.


[39]
. For examples of Dickens expanding the role of
his characters or killing them off in response to sales figures,
see Hayward, Consuming Pleasures, 58–59, 61.


[40]
. See Hayward, Consuming Pleasures, 2–3.


[41]
. For the various forms of audience feedback in
television soap operas, see Hayward, Consuming Pleasures,
165.


[42]
. See Hayward, Consuming Pleasures, for
examples of both discontinuity in Victorian serial novels (82)
and the greater potential for character development (37, 50).


[43]
. See Friedrich Hayek, Law,
Legislation and Liberty
(London: Routledge, 1982), 1:
9–10, 26–27 and The
Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism
(Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1988), 24.


[44]
. On the theological model in Romantic aesthetics,
see Woodmansee, Author, Art, and the Market, 18–19.


[45]
. Let me stress that I am talking about an analogy
here, not an identity. For the differences between biological
and cultural evolution, see Hayek, Fatal Conceit, 23–28.


[46]
. For Franco Moretti, see u201COn Literary Evolution,u201D
Signs
Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms

(London: Verso, 1988), 262–78; Modern
Epic: The World System from Goethe to Garca Mrquez
(London:
Verso, 1996), 20, 22, 94, 150, 177–78, 184, 188–91; and u201CSlaughterhouse
of Literature,u201D 207–27. For Gary Saul Morson, see Narrative
and Freedom; u201CSideshadowing and Tempicsu201D and u201CContingency
and Freedom, Prosaics and Process,u201D New Literary History
29 (1998): 599–624, 673–86; and u201CProsaics,u201D 377–88.


[47]
. For the element of contingency in Darwinian
biology, see Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful
Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
(New
York: W. W. Norton, 1989), especially 51, 283–91, 299–301, 317–18.


[48]
. Gould, Wonderful Life, 300–301. For the
application of these ideas to literature, see Morson, u201CSideshadowing,u201D
618–21.


[49]
. See the introduction to Origin
of Species
, where Darwin writes: u201CThis is the doctrine
of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdom.u201D
Quoted from the edition of Gillian Beer — Charles Darwin, The
Origin of Species (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996),
6.


[50]
. For Hayek's understanding of spontaneous order,
see chapters 1 and 2, u201CReason and Evolutionu201D and u201CCosmos and Taxis,u201D
of the first volume, Rules and Order, of his trilogy Law,
Legislation and Liberty, 1: 8–54. See also the essays u201CThe
Theory of Complex Phenomenau201D and u201CThe Results of Human Action
but not of Human Designu201D in his Studies
in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
(New York: Simon
& Schuster, 1967), 22–42, 96–105. For a brief but comprehensive
survey of the development of the idea of spontaneous order, see
Steven Horwitz, u201CFrom Smith to Menger to Hayek: Liberalism in
the Spontaneous-Order Tradition,u201D The Independent Review: A
Journal of Political Economy, 6 (2001): 81–97.


[51]
. For the importance of the time element in serial
forms, see Hayward, Consuming Pleasures, 136.


[52]
. From A Defence of Poetry; quoted from
Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers, eds., Shelley's
Poetry and Prose
(New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), 504.
For a critical assessment of this understanding of literary composition,
see Dooley, Author and Printer, 171 and McGann, Textual
Criticism, 102–103.


[53]
. Hayward, Consuming Pleasures, 62.


[54]
. For a comprehensive treatment of this possibility,
see Tyler Cowen, In
Praise of Commercial Culture
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1998).

December
22, 2006

Paul
A. Cantor [send him mail]
is Professor of English at the University of Virginia and author
of Gilligan
Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization
.
Hear and
see him on Mises
Media
.

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