Why do Art Forms Get Old?

Viktor Skhlovsky -- "Each art form travels down the inevitable road from birth to death; from seeing and sensory perception, when every detail in the object is savoured and relished, to mere recognition, when form becomes a dull epigone which our senses register mechanically, a piece of merchandise not visible even to the buyer."

I found this Skhlovsky quote in Franco Moretti's Graphs, Maps, Trees. Moretti comments, "This journey 'down the inevitable road from birth to death' can however also be explained by focusing, not so much on the relationship between the 'young' and the 'old' versions of the same form but rather on that between the form and its historical context: a genre exhausts its potentialities -- and the time comes to give a competitor a chance -- when its inner form is no longer capable of representing the most significant aspects of contemporary reality. At which point, either the genre loses its form under the impact of reality, thereby disintegrating, or it turns it back to reality in the name of form, becoming a 'dull epigone' indeed."

An example Moretti gives is the dominance of Gothic novels in the 1790s and the early 1800s, after which readers suddenly lost interest in them, and historical novels became massively popular instead. ".,, a historical novel written in 1800, such as Castle Rackrent (or in 1805, like Waverley's abandoned first draft) simply didn't have the incredible opportunity to reshape the literary field that the collapse of the gothic offered Waverley in 1814." Are we tempted to try and explain this -- or, for example, why science fiction was "bigger" in the 1970s, horror in the 1980s, and fantasy in the 1990s -- by reference to world-historical events of the time?

3 thoughts on “Why do Art Forms Get Old?”

  1. The other Olga

    Shklovsky quote, I love it! Interesting that Moretti picks up on Shklovksy’s phrase, “dull epigone.” Shklovsky feels that newness of an art form has an intrinsic value (makes smth less dull), while Moretti’s trying to pinpoint what makes something new (“changing relationship between the form and historical context” is one such thing, for sure). I wonder though if the value of newness itself has not become suspect in some way. As a popular Russian saying goes, “something new is a well-forgotten old something.”

  2. You Russians — even your popular sayings go over my head.

    Are you perhaps frightened that the novel will go the way of the symphony?

  3. The other Olga

    and which way is the symphony way? :))

    the way I see it, more and more people are writing novels these days, not less.

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