Affinity, Empathy, and the Critic’s Dilemma

August 3, 2012

In the March 26th 2012 article in The New Yorker titled “The Song Machine” John Seabrook reports on the hit makers behind such contemporary singers as Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson. In it, Jay Brown the president of Roc Nation told Seabrook, “It’s not enough to have one hook anymore.” Ester Dean’s manager supported the idea: “You’ve got to have a hook in the intro, a hook in the pre-chorus, a hook in the chorus, and a hook in the bridge. … People on average give a song seven seconds on the radio before they change the channel, and you got to hook them.” (48) The “hook” is the practitioners’ word for a measure that establishes affinity with its audience as it may be in journalism, and perhaps fiction also. Though the word is a drug dealer’s word, it is now the link between “art” and capitalism: entertainment. A hook is the way to make money by playing to an affinity group who have money to spend and keep them coming back for more. However, isn’t art in general including fiction and screenwriting in a similar situation? Aren’t they pressured by the market to play to it and not challenge it?

A writer or audience member needs to be able to move away from the comfort zones of affinity and developed sense of empathy or the imagined perspective beyond himself before he can be open to the social and cultural criticism that could be offered in music, film, and fiction. Thus the critic’s dilemma, how much criticism will turn the audience away, is rarely truly experienced or approached by the writer. However, the banishment of the critic is enforced by the offended consumer who has been trained to personalize everything and are left with their comfort food, their favorite flavored lollipop (if a child). Any dilemma that may cause thought for an audience is left at the writing desk and here we have the definition of “mainstream.”



May 1, 2012

My book-length collection titled “Oops!” is unified around a theme of the fragmented self, a sort of response to Beckett’s “I shall not say it again, ever again, it’s too farcical. I shall put in its place, whenever I hear it, the third person, if I think of it” from The Unnamable. I use the theme to focus carefully crafted poems, as I have done with my two books Voyeur and The Apple in the Monkey Tree. However, I attempt to bring out the fragmentation via plumbing consciousness and the subconscious.

On an early version of this manuscript an editor “deeply appreciate[d] the craft, intelligence, and imagination on display in every page, as well as the often-stunning language and your consistent attentiveness to detail.” An earlier version was a 2011finalist in the Eudaimonia Poetry Review Chapbook Prize and later as a book manuscript was semi-finalist in such contests as Crab Orchard Series. The book’s audience is educated and reads poetry. I collaborate with a video artist to compose trailers for my books. Google will find them. I have a following on Facebook and Twitter reading my very short poems.

Reading “Frigid Air” from Voyeur

June 6, 2011

The Apple in the Monkey Tree

April 29, 2011

My first book The Apple in the Monkey Tree can now be purchased via SUNY Press.

Voyeur (poems) by Rich Murphy

April 16, 2011

The Minds of Europe

April 15, 2011

I am in the process of writing poems in reply to 20th Century European poets, writers, and thinkers. My continuing the conversation in which these writers have engaged is another way of keeping their conversation relevant and maintaining their voices in the contemporary world beyond the anthology, scholarship, and translation. I wish to read and re-read the work of each of these writers and compare translations for the integral nature of each voice and the elements of their contribution to the cultural conversation in which they engaged.

 My book-length manuscript titled “Minds of Europe” is a series of poorly scribed palimpsests, a bridge to the early 20th Century, a séance of sorts to channel poets and thinkers that Paul Valery called collectively “the mind of Europe:” “Every mind of any scope was a crossroads for all shades of opinion; every thinker was an international exposition of thought. There were the works of the mind in which the wealth of contrasts and contradictory tendencies was like the insane displays of light in the capitals of those days: eyes were fatigued, scorched….” Nietzsche, Freud, and Eliot all had something to say about the idea, enough to make it a core concept to Modernism.

The manuscript is broken into two chapters. The second chapter “Shell Shocked” begins with Eliot’s remark that “For our society, the improvement of ethics might require the decay of aesthetics.” The use of psychological language to understand WWI &II as the symptoms of a “disorder of the mind” is one of the topics from the cultural conversation in art of the period. Scholars suggest that the art produced during the 20th Century was an attempt at talk therapy.

Empty Buckets

March 20, 2011