A PULPable Preface

8 Jan

pulp (n.) […]

7. A publication, such as a magazine or book, containing lurid subject matter.

To attribute a single goal or philosophy to this blog would be foolish, since I would no doubt transgress any limits I placed upon its content rather quickly. However, as the name suggests, I will be trying to address only those things which (I believe) fall into the category of “pulp”—a concept in which I have become increasingly interested and which covers more ground than you might first think. Pray tell me more, you say?

Having attributed it a one-word philosophy in spite of reservations, a brief definition of the term (which is, naturally, ever-evolving) is probably required. Whether it is people, places, events or philosophies, “pulp” is a synthesis of high-brow and low-brow, entertainment and more intellectual musings; the intersection of these opposites is what interests me most.

A paragraph of generalisations: The advent of popular, mass culture created and distributed swiftly, from the “penny dreadfuls” of the late 19th century, through to silent film and then talkies, and on through to the bastard child of them all—television—meant that the high-brow elements of the arts, literature and culture were disseminated to an increasingly wide audience. Thus entertainment value was cranked up whilst the complexity was—in bastard-TV parlance—dumbed down.

But in its development as a genre—a style—all of its own, pulp has come to define much of what we now consider cultural modernity, precisely because of the intersection between ‘high’ and ‘low’. In its synthesis of all that was and all that is, it is a definitively modern (post-modern, neo-modern?) concept.

I shall no doubt cover many of the people, places and events (as well as more ephemeral things) in which I am interested. Perhaps a preview of sorts is in order. In Raymond Chandler’s novels, the ugly, modern cityscape and its isolated inhabitants are filtered through the eyes of an author who revels in the murderous underbelly of L.A. set against the almost epic-heroic protagonist. Andy Warhol’s iconography—famously his soup and his Mariliyns—makes increasingly secular consumerism into an ersatz religion. David Bowie’s dissemination of writers, philosophers and musicians feeds back into a rock and roll synthesis of Orwellian dystopias, Nietzschean supermen and modern paranoia presented in pop-friendly personas.

These are but a few examples of how pulp began to seep its way into the mainstream whilst maintaining its high-brow edge—and everyone I know will in turn know that Chandler, Warhol and Bowie are all people with whom I am fairly obsessed. I think there is a clear through-line, and one that can be seen both clearly, and not only in people like these. They synthesise old and new and varnish it with a populist sheen in their creative fields; but whilst we wouldn’t have a synthetic (in both senses of the word) world without such iconic figures, it is equally true that the synthetic world begat the Chandlers, Warhols and Bowies who have ridden the crest of the pulp wave.

And so I shall begin not with pulp people, but with pulp places—the cauldron for and origin of much of the cultural synthesis about which I am talking—the United States of America. With the current presidential primaries (which I have been following far too carefully) underway, finding the right synthesis between old and new, experience and populism, substance and style is paramount.

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One Response to “A PULPable Preface”

  1. Indy January 10, 2008 at 12:55 am #

    Smaht monkeh.

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