Friday, August 17, 2012

Tim Parks Echoes Northrop Frye

Having been on the road for the better part of this week, I just got around to reading Tim Parks’ “Does Copyright Matter?” post to the NYRBlog. The first thing Parks does is lay the groundwork for why we have copyright law at all:
You will only have copyright in a society that places a very high value on the individual, the individual intellect, the products of individual intellect. In fact, the introduction of a law of copyright is one of the signs of a passage from a hierarchical and holistic vision of society, to one based on the hopes and aspirations of the individual.
While searching through this site to see what I had written about copyright in the past, I discovered that Parks had echoed an observation from Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. Here is how I summarized Frye’s position in that book:
I had forgotten that in this book Frye had coined the phrase "copyright age" to express how he felt our view of artistic creativity had been corrupted. This term reflected what Frye called "a tendency, marked from Romantic times on, to think of the individual as ideally prior to his society." His point was that all creativity takes place in a context of established conventions; and the problem with the priority he was considering was that all attention was focused on the individual creator, rather than the contextual influences of prevailing conventions under which creation took place.
The point I was making was that the very nature of creativity is in dialectical opposition to the concept of intellectual property, to the point that prioritizing property has a corrupting influence on creativity. Thus, in Parks’ observation, it is not just that the individual is valued but that the value itself has been reduced to material terms, namely the monetary value of “property objects.” Thus, while Niall Ferguson may have a point that money is a necessary element in the “ascent” of civilizations, the consequence is that, as a culture, that “advanced” civilization tends to address the concept of “value” only in terms of a monetary quantity. The result is a parallel “ascent” of “market-driven art,” most recognizable recently in the work of Damien Hirst. Whether or not this constitutes advancement is left as an exercise for the reader!

No comments: