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


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.


[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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