December 6, 2007

The Man Who Is Thursday takes the "Charles Murray Challenge"

Murray offered his challenge in an interview with me in 2003 about his book "Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950:"

"I think that the number of novels, songs, and paintings done since 1950 that anyone will still care about 200 years from now is somewhere in the vicinity of zero. Not exactly zero, but close. I find a good way to make this point is to ask anyone who disagrees with me to name a work that will survive -- and then ask, "Seriously?" Very few works indeed can defend themselves against the "Seriously?" question."

I collected readers' suggestions for potential survivors here.

Now, Thursday, who has much better taste than me, offers his list here.

You can make your nominations in the Comments.

Just remember, after each one, you have to wrinkle up your brow and raise your eyelids and say, "Seriously?"

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I wonder if Murray thinks this partly because the tremendous surfeit of art works in those areas makes it tough to decide what will be remembered in the future.

Steve, you seem to have Bonfire of the Vanities memorized -- remember the part where the bond trader/"Master of the Universe" is talking to his mistress and Christopher Marlowe comes up? If memory serves, she confuses him with the Chandler character Philip Marlowe. When she asks him who Christopher Marlowe was, he says what most of us remember about him: he was a contemporary of Shakespeare's, etc.

Was Marlowe really so great that he should be remembered 500 years later? Wouldn't he have gotten lost in the shuffle had he lived in the second half of the 20th Century, with so many talented writers (instead of one giant contemporary)?

Anonymous said...

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker.

Anonymous said...

Something of 1960's rock might survive. Hendrix?

Anonymous said...

From Thursday's list:


.....Annie Hall, Hannah and her Sisters, and Deconstructing Harry



I think that the Lord of the Rings may last for a long time. It is not only popular in english speaking countries, but in many other countries besides.

I'd lay odds that movies will be an antiquated art-form that almost nobody will watch in 200 years, so I don't think that any movie will hold up well. And certainly not the ever larger, and ever worse, output of Woody Allen.

There is of course the possibility that nothing that is worth while from our culture post 1950, or much of anything else for that matter, will survive, except in a form that's only of interest to scholars. It might be Brittany and Snoop Dogg everywhere, all the time.

Anonymous said...

There is plenty of great Rock. The Clash, X, the Who, Blondie, the Police, Peter Gabriel, James Brown, and so on.

Films like Taxi Driver will live on.

But I think Murray is on to something here, something wider. And more telling.

There seemed to be a great cultural collapse post-War. In some places and areas of artistic endeavor the collapse came later or sooner, but the collapse does seem to have happened. In almost every medium and in almost every culture. A sterile stasis as someone I know put it.

Europe's collapse in everything but working class Brit kids taking up popular music, and the remnants of pre-War Italian and French film-makers, is obvious. The Holocaust, guilt over collaboration, loss of Jewish intellectuals (all exterminated in the death camps) amounted to one massive and voluntary prefontal lobotomy that Europe has never recovered from.

It's noteworthy that places PC did not touch -- primarily working class Brit kids -- produced some good to great music. Gordon Sumner (Sting) is probably even more skilled a musician now than he was twenty years ago, but wealth and twenty years of political correctness and status-seeking have stifled any musical greatness he once had. Still that Brit working class scene produced an awful lot of great musicians and energy.

In American literature, collapse came sooner, wrapped up in PC and status-seeking as it was. In films it came around the mid-nineties or so.

Fred it is not a lot of good to great artworks now. It is a total artistic collapse as PC and status seeking have stifled all art forms to the point of Byzantine icons in "flatness."

Anonymous said...

1/ Don't all these lists contradict the theory behind 'Idiocracy'? They all assume the Flynn effect will continue, or at lest that humnity will be just as intelligent as it is now. What happens if Idiocracy is right? Then the Three Stooges will be all that is remembered.

2/ If the Islamicists win then you can forget about all the music being remembered.

Anonymous said...

Possibly Vonnegut, Terry Pratchett, Gary Larson (Larsen?), Ayn Rand, _Gödel, Escher, Bach_...

Eric Falkenstein said...

Sounds like a typical grandfather. Progress has not been uniform, but sheez, there's been a lot more people working on this stuff since 1950 than prior, and though there has been a huge amount of crap, there has been a lot of great novels and music (art I don't know about).

Anonymous said...

Not one single song composed since 1950 will be remembered in 200 years? Murray really needs to get his artistic snobbery under control.

Anonymous said...

I think we will be surprised. Tastes change, works are discovered, rediscovered or retrieved. I am virtually certain that Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Milne's Winnie the Pooh will pass the 200 year test, but was it obvious then? Ditto with Poe.
And what is the criteria? How many must care about it? Only one? 100? Still in print? Will that mean anything 200 years from now? It may be that at least some people will care about a wide variety of things, even the Beatles or Harry Potter, but there will not be a common culture.
Or does he mean, what works will enter the Western Canon? This seems to be how some interpret the question. If that is the case, then I agree that the answer might possibly be 0. Or to put it another way, what novels, songs or paintings would rank in importance with the best of the past? I think most would be hard pressed to name, say, 5 novels that they have read written between 1800-1850. Why should 1950-2000 be different?
I do think that the comparison is unfair. When a genre is first invented, it has life and energy and the zenith of the genre is usually within a generation of its beginnings. The novel is no longer novel and neither is painting. I thing many films, dance (since it has only recently been able to be recorded), jazz, musical theater, folk songs, etc will pass the test since their height is within the last 50 years.

Anonymous said...

"Was Marlowe really so great that he should be remembered 500 years later? "

Yeah. Read Dr. Faustus.

Anonymous said...

I tend to find the "survivors" nominated, when this challenge is brought up, utterly painful. So often, they epitomize the rot that is modernism that Murray extolled against. Somewhere, perhaps even in his book, Murray specifically mentioned the Beatles as a group that would not stand the test of time. I was obsessed with them when I was a teenager, but I tend to think Murray is right.
The other day I was trying to think of great music made in the 20th century and I thought I had finally come up with something until I looked up that Tchaikovsky died in 1893; I think the Nutcracker is sublime and the 1812 Overture magnificent.
Post 1950 artistic contributions... hmmm, I don't know if they will be "great" but I love the artist Wayne Thiebaud. His cakes paintings and the way they appear to almost be picked up out of a painting... Modern, but beautiful. My other nomination comes from folk music, specifically, bluegrass. I think Bill Monroe's "I'm working on a Building", his version of a late 19th century gospel song, is one of the most powerful expressions of emotion and faith that exists. I know it falls under what Murray called "wonderful entertainments" since it is common, but it is so captivating and powerful.

Bruce Charlton said...

I agree with Murray in terms of 'high art' and indeed something similar applies to science as I argued in:


in a general sense, Frances Crick was the last of the scientific geniuses.

This is because genius (or a work of genius in the arts) can only come relatively early in the development of an art or science, when there is potential for transformation - indeed it could end a development (as Popper argued - he said great art was not original but definitive and closing).

So we should - as has been said - look for works of late twentieth century genius in the still-developing arts like cinema and sciences like computer science.

Most of the recent art which I most enjoyed in my youth has not even lasted to middle age. The exception is Tolkien's Lord of the Rings - and my reaction seems typical of the culture generally. As Tom Shippey has said, objectively-speaking it was the Book of the Century.

But LotR doesn't refute Charles Murray, since it is only definite example.

Anonymous said...

"Was Marlowe really so great that he should be remembered 500 years later? Wouldn't he have gotten lost in the shuffle had he lived in the second half of the 20th Century, with so many talented writers (instead of one giant contemporary)?"

Well the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras were both gold in terms of literature. There was Shakespeare and Marlowe as you state, but also Ben Johnson, Edmund Spenser, the King James Bible, among others. Marlowe might be known as Shakespeare's contemporary, but that is only because Shakespeare is the grandest of his era (to say the least).

In the middle of the 17th century, when Britain was under the control of Cromwell and the Puritans, accomplishment subsequently declined. Theaters were closed down, and a belief in autonomy (which Murray outlines as being as important as a sense of purpose in life) went down as well. It was only after the Revolution, that literature rose up again.

As for contemporary works that will survive the ages? I make no such proclamations.

Anonymous said...

A few points:

1) Ella Fitzgerald covering the Ellington songbook & Coltrane covering "My Favorite Things" are not original works.

Fitzgerald is singing the much older works of composers other than herself [most notably Billy Strayhorn], and Coltrane is covering Rodgers & Hammerstein, which premiered in in November 1959, so you could argue that it really belongs to the tail end of the period which Murray is talking about.

If you were to classify The Sound of Music as belonging to the modern era, then the song most likely to persist for 200 years would be "Doe, a deer, a female deer..." - it's fairly easy to sing, and it has lyrics which are easy for children to memorize. On the other hand, "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens" is a darned difficult song to sing, and has very complicated lyrics.

Similarly, the two famous songs from Mary Poppins - "Spoon Full of Sugar" & "Supercalifragilistic" - might persist, although already they seem to be fading from popular memory.

Speaking of songs which are darned near impossible to sing, Strayhorn's "A-Train" & Ellington's "Don't get around much anymore" are two of the most difficult songs in the entire repertoire.

Mel Tormé, when he was in his prime [and Tormé possessed possibly the best male voice of the century], could barely - JUST BARELY - negotiate his way through them.

So if you combine the dual-edged sword of impossibly difficult phrasing, and lyrics which will be meaningless in 200 years [who's going to have any idea what "Sugar Hill in Harlem" was, or what an "A-Train" could have been?], then you don't have a good recipe for persistence.

2) This same problem is going to affect the rock & roll songs which "Thursday" pointed to - they're very difficult to sing, and the lyrics are absolutely asinine.

Already, the Beatles' greatest hits are fading from memory, and, among them, the songs which are singable and which have lyrics which anyone can remember are - what? Does anyone actually know the lyrics to "We all Live in a Yellow Submarine"? Can you imagine children on a playground 200 years from now singing that song? Possibly, if someone were to endow it with new lyrics, but I seriously doubt it.

Personally, I was thinking of nominating something like The Token's cover of "The Lion Sleeps" [although Wikipedia tells me that it was written way back in 1939, so, again, it's technically banned from discussion], but then I got to thinking that I have no clue what the lyrics are, beyond "A-wing-a-wop, A-wing-a-wop, A-wing-a-wop, A-wing-a-wop..."

How are you going to sing "The Lion Sleeps" as a lullaby to a child if you have no earthly idea what the lyrics are?

Dittoes with Brian Wilson's work at The Beach Boys - does anyone actually know the lyrics to those songs? Not to mention the fact that the songs themselves are unsingable by amateur voices...

3) Good time to stop for some trivia: Did you know that the Beach Boys sang back-up vocals on Wishing You Were Here?

4) I thought that movies were off-limits.

5) Nevertheless, "Thursday" has really awful taste in movies.

6) If anyone wants to see a modern masterpiece in movie-making, then go here [playing all month on HBO].

7) No one listens to Shostakovich now, and in 200 years, his name will be completely forgotten. The last time I heard Shostakovich was on the occasion of the death of Rostropovich, last April, when I was driving down the road listening to a special XM-Satellite Radio broadcast of a recording of the 5th [I think it might have been the new LSO recording, rather than the old NSO recording].

By the way, speaking of 20th Century composers who were considered to be Gods in my formative years, no one plays Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, or Prokofiev anymore, either. Okay, "Claire de Lune" made it into Clooney's Ocean's 11/12/13 [does anyone know if they used CdL in the original 1960 version?], but when was the last time you heard a performance of l'après-midi? And remember when Ravel was all the rage, as recently as 1979? When I was a teenager, Daphnis & Chloé was considered the Ne Plus Ultra of orchestral performance, and yet I haven't heard it now in years - these days I'm lucky if I stumble upon the occasional recording of Mother Goose. And I never hear Stravinsky anymore unless someone plays a DVD of Fantasia [1940].

8) Curiously, the guy whose star has really been ascendant in the last 25 years is Rachmaninoff, but he died in 1943.

9) Sadly, I fear that Shostakovich's fate will strike Solzhenitsyn [within the span of our own lifetimes, no doubt], although for entirely different reasons. Frankly, the fact that Solzhenitsyn will be forgotten transcends the tragic and resembles something more akin to cultural [or ethnic or civilizational] damnation.

10) From the original iSteve suggestion box, the LotR was largely conceived in the timeframe 1900-1950 [remember, The Silmarillion dates to 1914], so it really belongs to the earlier period which Murray was talking about.

11) Since iSteve is the place where we get to say stuff which we can't say anywhere else, let me point out that far, far, far and away Fitzgerald's best work was The Cole Porter Songbook, with the Louis Armstrong sessions [largely Gershwin & Berlin] a distant second.

This points out one of the strangest paradoxes in American popular music performance: Black singers [like Fitzgerald & Armstrong] were at their very best when the discipline of "white" music [Porter, Berlin, etc] was forced upon them.

Conversely, "black" music [like Ellington & Strayhorn] sounded the best when it was performed with the discipline, training, and musical fastidiousness brought to the table by a white singer like Tormé.

Anonymous said...

Anony-mouse: Don't all these lists contradict the theory behind 'Idiocracy'? They all assume the Flynn effect will continue, or at lest that humnity will be just as intelligent as it is now. What happens if Idiocracy is right? Then the Three Stooges will be all that is remembered.

No - to the contrary, the fact that everything on "Thursday"'s list [other than Hitchcock, who, according to the rules, isn't supposed to be there in the first place] - the fact that it's all utter and complete garbage is proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that Idiocracy is arriving much, much faster than Mike Judge imagined.

Of course, the militant atheism of the chattering classes hasn't helped matters, but there I'd refer you to Spengler:

They made a democracy and called it peace

Why nations die

Deep in denial (or in de' Mississippi)

We are already far closer to September 21, 454 AD than anyone dares realize.

Anonymous said...

ME: By the way, speaking of 20th Century composers who were considered to be Gods in my formative years, no one plays Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, or Prokofiev anymore, either... Curiously, the guy whose star has really been ascendant in the last 25 years is Rachmaninoff, but he died in 1943...

Another guy who has completely fallen off the precipice and now appears to have been lost in the abyss is Gustav Mahler, and I think that that could very well be for Idiocratic reasons: Mahler is far too difficult to appreciate, given the average IQ's of 21st-century music listeners.

[And again, since this is iSteve, and since we get to say stuff here which we can't say anywhere else, let me point out the other reason that Mahler has been buried is because the Jews have never forgiven him for converting to Christianity, and they are all too happy to see him fading back into obscurity.]

Anonymous said...

ME: This points out one of the strangest paradoxes in American popular music performance: Black singers [like Fitzgerald & Armstrong] were at their very best when the discipline of "white" music [Porter, Berlin, etc] was forced upon them.

Conversely, "black" music [like Ellington & Strayhorn] sounded the best when it was performed with the discipline, training, and musical fastidiousness brought to the table by a white singer like Tormé.

Some other excellent examples:

Glenn Miller's cover of WC Handy's St Louis Blues

Maynard Ferguson's cover of Herbie Hancock's Chameleon

[Try also this link, although I don't know whether it will prove to be persistent.]

In fact, Maynard Ferguson might be one of the few performers from the period 1950-2000 whom people will still care about in 200 years.

The other would be Glenn Gould, obviously.

[Both Scots-Canadians, by the way.]

Anonymous said...

I think Murray is ridiculously wrong on a general level and should have proceeded more cautiously. That said, none of us really knows what will survive - it's incredibly unpredictable. But a couple of comments:

1) The quality of pop music today is being undermined by a clear deterioration in the ability to grasp and understand music on the part of the general population, which generally doesn't play any instrument. What other field can you name that has evolved from a literate culture (like music in the early 20th century) to a non-literate form (like today - mostly)? So we have a relatively simply popular music dominating in the western world today - almost all vocal music, short songs, heavy amounts of repetition. I'd be pessimistic about it surviving.

(And Evil Necon's list is actually funny. Lack of self-consciousness anyone?)

2) Good call on the Ella Fitzgerald Cole Porter songbook.

3) One of the links Steve provides lists Evelyn Waugh. Waugh was artistically finished by 1950. Although I like several of his books very much, I have doubts about whether his comic works from the 1930s won't gradually become incomprehensible in the future.

4) The current wave of US/English literature IMHO is very strong with a number of very talented writers flourishing. I think it would be presumptuous to assume none of these books will survive. Which ones? I don't know, but we're currently in a Golden Age of the literary novel, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ. Maybe its just a Catholic thing, its stunning film once it sinks in you're watching a dramatizations of the stations of the cross.

It vividly brought back early childhood memories of Lent services with my mother. Which made Mary's scenes with Jesus resonate with me more than I would have expected.

I'm willing to bet the Church isn't going anywhere, so yeah, Passion will still be screened (or however movies are shown) 200 years from now.

Anonymous said...

I'd guess that Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin - the most musically advanced of the classic rockers - will ultimately outlast the mediocre Beatles. Led and Jimi are certainly still going strong and probably have a larger fan base among people who were born in the 80's than the Fab Four does, but whether or not anyone listens to them in 200 years is anyone's guess.

Anonymous said...

I know whenever I watch a movie or listen to music I consider whether this work will be remembered in 200 years. Alas, it will not, so I cannot possibly enjoy it. Consequently, I haven't watched a movie or listened to a song in years. I just sit in my basement complaining about black people.

Anonymous said...

The world is always going to the dogs.

That being said, I have to agree that most of the arts since 1950 have been uninspired and uninspiring.

If I had to nominate a single 'great' novel from this period, it would be Alasdair Gray's 'Lanark'. But there are many 'minor' works of great charm and intelligence, often written by women, e.g. Jane Gardam, Barbara Pym, Alice Thomas Ellis.

In film, has no-one mentioned Mizoguchi? Films like Sansho Dayu and Chikamatsu Monogatari (sp?) are great works by any standards.

Luke Lea said...

Ray Charles will live.

Anonymous said...

Where does Lucius get his musical knowledge? Shostakovich and Mahler are both more popular than ever, as a glance at symphony programs (or a search on Amazon) will show.

Anyway, in one field in particular - modern fiction & drama - Murray is already proven wrong. Consider these works:

1984 (Orwell)
Catcher in the Rye (Salinger)
A Clockwork Orange (Burgess)
Catch-22 (Heller)
Lord of the Rings (Tolkien)
Waiting for Godot (Beckett)
Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury)
Lolita (Nabokov)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Solzhenitsyn)
The Crucible (Miller)

These all appeared 1949-1962, and are pretty much "canonical" by now.

Anonymous said...

I think that, like what some on the people who posted here have touched on, is that what will be remembered will be the art, novels, films, etc.. that transcend any current dogma, trends, and fashions. 200 Years from now the world will probably be as different a place as the world today is from 200 years ago. What is remembered from 200 years ago is certainly remembered, in part, because the west has been the dominant force during that time. If Asia becomes a more dominant force or if Third World nations overwhelm the west then different artists that represent different cultures will ascend and be remembered. Also, even if the west remains dominant, it's culture has undergone signifigant change and probably will continue to do so for the next 2 centuries. If an artist can transcend any cultural differences and cultural changes and get through to people with something that all cultures can relate to then that artist has a chance to be remembered. Shakespere is remebered because people can relate, even today, to his characters. If Star Wars will still be viewed it will be because the characters and the story will have meaning to people 2 centuries from now, not because of any special effects etc..

Anonymous said...

Dicken's Christmas Carol, with it's eternal message of the virtue of generosity of both pocket and spirit, will endure.

Whatever the source, a good story will last.

Some modern,sophisticated Christmas songs, especially those covered by smoothies like Nat King Cole and Mel Torme, will still be sung. They are a nice mix with the old stand bys.

I wonder whether Murray's asked himself where The Bell Curve will be - tops of the best seller list, no doubt.

Anon 4:28 - Bingo.

Anonymous said...

philip roth? robert penn warren? northrop frye? dude, no one remembers northrop frye now. in two hundred years he will be permanently (and deservedly) purged from human memory. why has no one mentioned arguably the last great english poet, philip larkin, whose career started in the early fifties? as long as people read english poems (which admittedly mights top before 2200) they will read 'church going', 'high windows', etc.

Anonymous said...

I confess that I stopped reading Thursday's list after I gazed upon "Nirvana"....
Seriously.... They're hardly remembered now, never mind in 100 years.

My modest point of view: none of the popular music will survive, including those we think of as the very best (Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons Project, etc...); no one will be watching "Taxi Driver" in 20 years, just as nobody watches Eisenstein today save for a couple of old film nuts ( probably the only ones watching old films from any period in 200 years will be historians and economists, out of scientic interest); most of our literature will be unreadable in the future, just as it is now (I'm talking about pretentious, artsy literature). The rest is , well, crap as well.

My prediction is that some literature might survive, provided people still read books in the future, which is unlikely given present trends, but absolutely nothing of the music and films.
And for all we know, Mr Murray, Mozart could be less fashionable in 50 years that Monteverdi today.
We just don't know.

Anonymous said...

I doubt we'll be printing much in 200 years, so "still in print" won't have much meaning. I would expect 'classic' sci-fi will still be easily obtainable, Clarke's 2001 and Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Stranger come to mind.

Anonymous said...

Hitchcock. My favorite is Rear Window but just about anything will do.

D. Aronofsky. Pi. Requiem for a Dream.

David Mamet.

Umberto Eco. Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose.

Marilynne Robinson. Housekeeping. Gilead (haven't read yet). Review of The God Delusion

Some may have been on one list or the other but I don't remember seeing them.

I agree with the suggestion for Gödel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter.

Also, ditto the thumbs down for Woody Allen. It's so liberating to be old enough to say I have never seen a Woody Allen movie that I liked. NEVER.

Anonymous said...

I love the posters who say Murray is wrong, and then give no examples, talk about movies, or in the Case of "Cheesehead" list books/plays written before 1950:

1948 - written 1948;
Waiting for Gordot - written 1948;
LOTR - started in 1939;
451- was written in 1953; and barely makes it.

And the "Crucible" is crap. But I think:

-Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf
-Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
-Catch 22
-One Day in the Life
-Slaughterhouse 5
-Old Man and the Sea.
-Camp of the Saints
-I, the Jury

Will be still be read. None of this is up to the Cervantes, Tolstoy, Conrad level but I think they'll still be read.

The real cut off date should be 1963, once you get past that year its a desert.

Anonymous said...

What's missing here is the added dimension of when 20th century cultural products will go into the public domain.

The Sonny Bono Law. It extended copyright to ~ 75 years after the death of the creator, or 95 years for work-for-hire done for corporations.

Right now the corporate-work clock is stopped at 1923; it'll start running again at 12:01 a.m, 1/1/2019, at which point stuff done in 1924 will start going into the public domain. Assuming the law doesn't change, of course. A lot of people think it will change, because big media -- especially Disney -- will want to keep copyright forever. (Because if it doesn't change, then Mickey Mouse will go public domain in the 2020s.)

Say for argument's sake that it doesn't. Superman goes into public domain in 2033. At that point anyone will be able to do anything with Superman, from launching their own line of Superman comic books to using him to advertise laundry detergent.

Even if the Sonny Bono law is amended, sooner or later copyright will expire. There will come a day when all the DC and Marvel superheroes, all the Disney characters, Frodo and Sam and Gandalf... they'll all be in the public domain, just like Sherlock Holmes and Peter Pan and Dracula and the Oz books are already.

Expect some legal battles over this though. Superman will go public domain, but he'll be the original, 1938 Superman, who had a funny costume and wasn't really all that powerful. He couldn't fly, for instance -- just jump really far -- and he didn't yet have the full pallet of powers (X-ray vision, etc.). If DC feels like making a fuss (if there is still a DC, of course) they could try arguing that anyone who uses a flying Superman with super-breath, heat vision, etc., is infringing on their treatment of the character. Should be interesting.

Does there exist a list of who/what is hitting the public domain when?

Anonymous said...

I think Nicholson Baker's novel, The Mezzanine, has a chance. And I wouldn't bet against the paintings of Francis Bacon, or Andy Warhol. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah. Read Dr. Faustus."

I have. Goethe's version was better.

If you want to read a great modern take on the story, btw, check out Michael Swanwick's Jack Faust.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone can deny that few works from the last fifty years will stand the test of time. On the other hand, predictions like this are very hard to make - would people have sensed two hundred years ago that someone like Jane Austen would stand the test of time? On the other hand, they loved a lot of stuff that is barely remembered today (e.g., from slightly earlier periods, Joseph Addison's Cato, James Thomson's The Seasons, and Samuel Richardson's Pamela.) From 1840s America, slightly later, the poems of Holmes, Lowell, and even the once-adored Longfellow have largely faded from memory, while the reputations of Poe, Hawthorne, and the ignored-in-his-time Melville are greater than ever.

Some other points:

1. I actually do know all the words to "Yellow Submarine." I think the best songs of the Beatles oeuvre do still have high name recognition even with the younger generation and are fairly singable. Just the other day I saw someone singing "I Saw Her Standing There" at a college karaoke night. Whether they will survive two hundred years is a far different matter, but I think they have a better chance than the songs of Hendrix or Led Zepppelin. (Are there actually people who listen to Led Zeppelin for pleasure? I refuse to believe it.) Thursday is certainly wrong about Nirvana, whom people are starting to forget even today.

2. Someone said above that we don't know if film as a medium will even exist or be cared about in two hundred years. That is true, and the same goes for television. The Twilight Zone and The Simpsons might deserve to be remembered, but will anyone understand the concept of what television was?

3. Yes, Marlowe is great, and if any age was an age of "many talented writers," it was the Elizabethan/Jacobean era. I don't mean to be rude, but that was an ignorant comment.

4. Anonymous 4:28 is unfair but still funny.

Anonymous said...

I think N.W.A's album Straight Outta Compton will be remembered. I think that album has had at least as much impact as Nirvana's Nevermind, which is on the list.
Here's Chris Rock on the subject:
N.W.A. is the most influential act of the last thirty years -- bigger than Nirvana, Madonna or the Sex Pistols. Nothing has ever been the same since they came. I remember I was in L.A. when I was a kid, and I brought Straight Outta Compton back to New York. More people were coming over to my house to listen to N.W.A. than were going across the street to the crack house. I had the real shit. It was kind of like the British Invasion for black people.

Anonymous said...

"I think most would be hard pressed to name, say, 5 novels that they have read written between 1800-1850."
If you didn't enjoy all of Jane Austen's novels except Mansfield Park, you're not much of a novel person.
I presume Novels Songs and Paintings doesn't mean Poems, Instrumentals and Sculpture.
I think I have lived thru pretty much of a golden age of the novel in English. I agree that A Clockwork Orange will probably be a survivor, and I'd guess it will be the only SF but maybe not the only Anthony Burgess. Social change doesn't rule out survival of social novels - We're not much like the regency gentry Jane A wrote about. Catch 22 pretty certain, and therefore Close of Play. I would guess that some of the novelists who have gone out of fashion in my lifetime may survive - Angus Wilson (No Laughing Matter, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes), Iris Murdoch (The Bell, A Fairly Honourable Defeat, maybe several) Maureen Duffy (Capital, Wounds< Changes). Vikram Seth pretty likely, Arundhati Roy God of Small Things - a classic, and short. Small Island by Andrea Levy- if London survives, so will this.
I'm fairly confident people will want to read all of P G Wodehouse's Jeeves novels and the perhaps even better Blandings Castle series, and some were written after 1950.
Songs - Bob D I suppose. How about country music - some jewels amongst the dross, surely. Iris DeMent, Anyone?

Anonymous said...

BTW, I do know that Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol before 1950! I was just reflecting that the message will continue to endure, hundreds of years from now.

Anonymous said...

Murray's nuts. The collected works of Will Ferrell will be WORSHIPPED ten score hence.


James said...

Maybe there isn't new culture to be created. Maybe we should learn to be happy with what's already there. Eventually the only thing left for Humans to do will be to deal with the fact that there's nothing left to do.

Anonymous said...

Novel: Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Song: Springsteen, Born to Run

Painting: Warhol, Marilyn Monroe

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

none of us really knows what will survive - it's incredibly unpredictable.

I agree with this -- all these guesses of specific works or artists are almost surely wrong. But one thing the 1940s to the 1980s at least will be remembered for is its sheer unprecedented variety in music. Jazz, swing, rockabilly, doo-wop, beach & cars rock, gospel, blues, the British Invasion, psychedlic, progressive, soul, New Wave, heavy metal, rap -- each of these and many others produced new styles that might still readily be enjoyed 200 years from now. (BTW, fans of classicial European music should give "progressive rock" a try). Given the sheer fertility of modern (mostly American) musical culture in producing new kinds of music, musical styles of 200 years from now will be descendants of one or more of these styles -- they will not be descendants of European classical music alone. Some of these -- I know not which ones -- will be considered historically crucial transitions from traditional music to whatever they are listening to 200 years from now.

And I agree with another commentor that this particular comment of Mr. Murray unfortunately makes him sound like just another crotchety old grandpa who misses the "Golden Age" works of his own teenage years. There was quite a bit perverted about the entire 20th century mass media, the "Golden Age" included. As indeed their was in much of classical opera, ballet, and Broadway.

Anonymous said...

Gödel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter.


Anonymous said...

Transformers: The Movie.

Seriously. It beats the junk other people have proposed in an effort to look cultured.

Anonymous said...

There have been plenty of great novels since 1950; the problem is that there are so many few can keep up. Here's a handful that stand a good chance of being re-discovered in the future:

V.S. Naipaul: A House for Mr. Biswas
Ian McEwan: Atonement
Richard Powers: Galatea 2.2
Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections
Martin Booth: The Industry of Souls*
Martin Amis: The Information
Thomas Pynchon: Gravity's Rainbow

Another novel, though not considered my most a literary masterpiece will almost certainly be remembered for its ideology: Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. And Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities will probably be remembered for sociological/ethnographic reasons.

And this non-fiction book will probably be remembered as well: Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl.

*Part of it is set in the Soviet Gulags. I know some of you wish more films and novels were, so put this on your list.

Anonymous said...

As though i needed greater proof of the cultural insularity of most readers of this blog. a couple of things: a few people here have hinted at this but most seem oblivious: what works of art are remembered is no direct consequence of the immutable quality of those works of art. It depends, instead, on the kinds of societies that exist. And we don't know what societies will exist, though we can productively speculate. So while most of this conversation is about who likes what art best, the answer to that has little to do with what elite cultural arbiters or popular masses 200 years from now will like best, and thus what will last. Ok, now that the question of quality is dissasociated from that of staying power (note, I'm not saying they should be absolutely dissociated, only partially--ie. the best and clearer examples of SOMETHING will survive, but according to the criteria that that SOMTHING throws up. Culture is real folks. Those criteria are contingent and we don't know what they'll be). So again: now that we've dissociated quality from staying power, let me make one more point that touches on the cultural insularity of present company. I had a semi-rare moment of agreeing with Steve (I am a reader) in his assertion a few months back that its the mix of African and European traditions that makes Anglo-American pop-music so good. This is true--although it's also the case that Anglo-American pop music's worldwide dominance is only an partial result of this. It's also a result of Anglo-American geopolitical and economic power. Nobody mentioned (and nobody has mentioned here) the other GREAT pop-music traditions where African and European forms met: Latin American traditions. Cuban music, Brazilian music, Colombian music... got everything to challenge US-UK music minus the geopolitical and economic dominance. If you don't beleive me, give a listen to David Byrne's 'Beleza Tropical' compilation to get a small entry into the vast world of Brazilian popular music.

Anonymous said...

Hallucinogenic Toreador and Crucifixion by Dali.

Anonymous said...

Phil Rushton here,
Hi Steve,
For me, seriously, Tom Wolfe is the greatest. Bonfire of the Vanities is a full blown novel but why not all those great novelettes like Mauve Gloves & Madmen, and Clutter & Vine, Jousting With Sam and Charlie (brilliant), and Radical Chic, as well as painted Word. In the year 2120 the Chinese World Empire will make these as mandatory reading as we do (ur, used to do) Charles Dickens.

Anonymous said...

There is an alternative possibility, of course. Call it the Idiocracy scenario: that our age isn't remembered for its best art, but for its worst, the future having become even more degraded and grotesque. All the works mentioned here will be neglected, but Madonna, Paris Hilton, and Tom Cruise will be worshipped as the exemplars of our age.

Anonymous said...

cheesehead: Where does Lucius get his musical knowledge? Shostakovich and Mahler are both more popular than ever, as a glance at symphony programs (or a search on Amazon) will show.

Dude, if you had told me, 25 years ago, that Rachmaninoff would come to eclipse Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich in the popular imagination, then I might have believed you.

But if you had told me that Mahler would have faded into obscurity, to be replaced by none other than Anton Bruckner, then I would have said y.h.g.t.b.f. [you have got to be fornicatingly] kidding me.

Actually, now that Mahler is no longer the most favored son, it allows us to reflect upon his music for what it really is.

And, truth be told, from what I've read, Bruckner and Mahler were very dear friends - almost like surrogate father and son to one another.

PS: I used to get a big kick out of Shostakovich, but NO ONE LISTENS TO HIM ANYMORE.

PPS: I might be a few years older than you, so it's possible that I remember Mahler [or, for that matter, Shostakovich] from the days when he was a real superstar.

Anonymous said...

Call me a philistine, but I have no idea why Catch-22 is considered good. It and other fetid rotting corpses are pushed on high-school and college students as 'literature', and only some could be justified for PC reasons.

I don't understand how it would endure.

Anonymous said...

Sorry nerds, but LOTR just isn't that good no matter when it was conceived.

Anonymous said...


"Winnie the Pooh"

Best of Led Zeppelin & Rolling Stones.


"The Invisible Man"


Mark Rothko

Anonymous said...

Mr. Murray's question as to what, if any, artistic creation will be remembered implies a decline in artistic standards which might, or might not, be true. However, what concerns me is the decline in *us*, that is, the educated middle-classes capable of recognising, valuing and enunciating that value to future generations.

However, I hope Stoppard lasts and lasts.
David Duff

PS: I sign this comment and put my site address above because I dislike 'Blogger's' refusal to provide an automatic link to visitors from non-'Blogger' sites.

Anonymous said...

Murray certainly has a point. We live in a golden age of technology and commerce but a dark age of art -- and he was referring strictly to art, not to non-fiction writing about history or philosophy.

So is anybody 200 years in the future going to care about art from our times? Well, that depends on them, but there are some post-1950 creations that are great stuff. In music, there is indeed Shostakovich, whose music I hear performed quite regularly, usually at chamber music festivals. Possibly his string quartets and other chamber music will be more popular than the symphonies. Actually, that might be true for all composers, but with Dmitri S. I think that the warm, emotional chamber music will find more favor than the filled-with-dread symphonies -- unless the future includes a return to Stalinism, which it just might.

Other musicians ... Villa-Lobos composed prolifically until his death in 1959. Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites is a 1956 work.

I'm not a jazz fan, so I'm not competent to judge. Another poster suggested Louis Armstrong's recordings with the Hot Five and the Hot Seven, but those were actually done in the 1920s. People have mentioned Miles Davis's Kind of Blue which along with Sketches of Spain is very good stuff indeed, as well as exemplifying the notion that black music seems often to be at its very best when it has a strong white influence. Will people groove to it 200 years hence? No idea, but good jazz isn't all that popular right now.

Rock music? I only wish it would disappear immediately. Led Zeppelin was the very latest hot hot thing in my last year of high school. I didn't like them then and don't like them now. However, they went straight on to the playlists of FM rock stations and their material has stayed there ever since -- one reason I can't listen to those stations for long. Nonetheless, I observe that they have an enduring appeal greater than that of any of the other rockers. Twentysomethings are listening to the stuff on their mp3 players. The Beatles? Sorry, but the 60s are over. Deal with it.

In painting and writing, what is really remarkable is how, as another poster mentioned, the posers of the 1910-1950 period have already shrunk to insignificance. Who's any good after 1950? Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn, and Larkin -- just as others have pointed out.

Murray didn't include movies, so I won't try to add them. People have mentioned that Woody Allen isn't getting better. I have to agree, but having seen most of his stuff, clearly the best is the 1973 comedy Sleeper, where a New York City health-food store owner wakes up 200 years in the future (!) and finds himself in a sort of New Age fascist state that oddly resembles 1960s hip California. If you've never seen it, watch it if you get the chance.

Anonymous said...

Lucius: Bruckner has certainly not replaced Mahler, only supplemented him. Amazon lists 1511 recordings of Bruckner, but 2626 recordings of Mahler. That's an awful lot of issues for a composer nobody listens to.

You must not go to many orchestral concerts, because Mahler is still an inescapable presence. As is, increasingly, Shostakovich - though I agree with "anonymous" above that Sh's best output is his chamber music.

Anonymous said...

Frederick Hart, sculptor:

primarily for his ex nihilo.
(google tom wolfe's essay about him) Interestingly enough, Wolfe still holds that no one will remember picasso in 20 years (there's always hope:) )

At the end of the 19th century French people were asked who will be remembered in a century - they said Bogoreau, Germone and some other guy I forgot - not Manet, Monet and Renoir.

As for the comments about pop music - really many pop songs from the 18th century can you remember, compared to Mozart, Haydon, Bach?
Saying 'the stones are like mozart or if mozart were alive he'd be composing rock" is just silly.

Anonymous said...

I would also add: Norman Rockwell.
Walt Disney

Anonymous said...

Contemporary journalists and art/media critics reflect the dullness of their worlds--they are all products of a dumbed-down, heavily censored intellectual milieu.

Intellectual censorship (political correctness) kills original thought. Prohibiting offense is the same as instituting stagnation.

Anonymous said...

anonymous thomist,

Ditto with Poe.

And the remembrance of Poe's work is all out of proportion to his actual literary talent.

How many great works were recognized as timeless masterpieces when they were first produced? How many works that deserved to be remembered have been forgotten? How many works that didn't have been remembered fondly? Who, exactly, is supposed to be doing the remembering and to what degree? For example, Mozart is a household name, but relatively few people in our society listen to his music on a regular basis. I think once you begin to explore these questions, your confidence in your prognostications will decline rapidly.

evil neocon,

Fred it is not a lot of good to great artworks now. It is a total artistic collapse as PC and status seeking have stifled all art forms to the point of Byzantine icons in "flatness."

I don't know about that. Have you ever tried to read any early American literature or any European literature - aside from Shakespeare - from the time when America was still a colony? An average novel by even the likes of John Irving or Louise Erdrich has far deeper symbolic, descriptive, and emotional qualities than anything one of the great English novelists of the mid-1700s, Samuel Richardson, ever put out. (I don't even have to mention a modern novelist of the stature of Tom Wolfe or Gabriel Garcia Marquez.) Lets not romanticize the past too much.

Anonymous said...

Anybody that suggest any sort of poetry or painting from the postwar period will survive the next 200 years has a hole in their head. Some of that stuff be kept around by art historians as examples of cultural touchstones from certain periods, but the days of glory for those mediums have long past.

Poetry is just too easy to churn out and can't make you a living, so it has plummeted in quality and is at the very fringes of the cultural consciousness, and it's going to stay there. The published poetry of this year will be tossed aside in short order in favor of next years bumper crop. Only poetry set to rhythm - something called music - will be able to maintain long term relevance.

Painting and other visual arts suffer from a different set of handicaps threatening their long term appeal: it is extremely difficult to produce even a competent work, and static images are not particularly compelling in the age of moving pictures.

Now, as far as some the possible survivors, let's get started. I wouldn't bet against Looney Tunes(still going strong). Undoubtedly s healthy smattering of the best of pop music(Zeppelin, Tupac, Dre's The Chronic, a lot of motown, some heavy rock tunes from the 90's, other stuff) will be rediscovered.

But the one guy who's work is sure to be around in two hundred years, almost regardless whatever the current culture or language is, will be the scores of John Williams. Bank on it. Take that, classical music snobs!

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone can deny that few works from the last fifty years will stand the test of time. On the other hand, predictions like this are very hard to make - would people have sensed two hundred years ago that someone like Jane Austen would stand the test of time?

The answer appears to be 'no' for all but a few status-seeking readers. From Wikipedia:

Because Austen's novels failed to conform to Romantic and Victorian expectations that "powerful emotion [be] authenticated by an egregious display of sound and color in the writing", nineteenth-century critics and audiences generally preferred the works of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Although Austen's novels were republished in Britain beginning in the 1830s and remained steady sellers, they were not bestsellers.

Austen did have many admiring readers in the nineteenth century who considered themselves part of a literary elite: they viewed their appreciation of Austen's works as a mark of their cultural taste.

It wasn't until around a century after her passing that Jane Austen was recognized in academia as one of the all time great novelists.

While there had been glimmers of brilliant Austen scholarship early in the twentieth century, it was not until the 1930s that Austen became solidly entrenched within academia. Several important works paved the way. The first was R. W. Chapman's magisterial edition of Austen's collected works. Not only was it the first scholarly edition of Austen's works, it was also first scholarly edition of any English novelist. The Chapman text has remained the basis for all subsequent published editions of Austen's works. The second important milestone was Oxford Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley's 1911 essay, "Jane Austen: A Lecture", which is "generally regarded as the starting-point for the serious academic approach to Jane Austen". Bradley emphasized Austen's ties to Samuel Johnson, arguing that she was a moralist as well as humorist; in this he was "totally original", according to Southam. Bradley established the groupings of Austen's "early" and "late" novels, which are still used by scholars today.

To put this in perspective, more time has elapsed between Austen's death and the widespread academic recognition of her work than between that recognition and today.

Anonymous said...

I just remembered that Flannery O'Connor's work is after 1950.

Edward said...

The Beatles??! Seriously!?

John Williams is a shoe-in.


Jurassic Park


Indiana Jones


Have I won an double-autographed copy of Human Accomplishment?

Anonymous said...

The Aubrey/Maturin nautical novels of Patrick O'Brian might stand the test of time, given that they already are set as happening 200 years ago.

My only hesitation in claiming that they will is that 'nautical historical novels' are an example of "genre fiction" that has been claimed to be timeless before. In the 1970s and 1980s the high-end espionage novels of folks like Le Carre were claimed to be eternal masterpieces, and they sure haven't held up well. Not least because we can no longer have the kind of moral equivalence about the Cold War that Le Carre was able to use to such effect.

Anonymous said...

You know what form of art from the post-1950 period people will be enjoying 200 years from now? The very best children's books. Aside from a very few classics like Goodnight Moon (published in 1947), there's nothing from the earlier period that compares with wonderful books like the works of Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle, Where The Wild Things are, and a bunch of other works. I can certainly see the parents of 200 years from now reading Green Eggs and Ham or The Very Hungry Caterpillar to their kids. Yes, seriously, Murray, you pretentious old git.

Anonymous said...

I think what may survive is not what we think of as "serious books". Things like Watership Down and other children's adventures will survive in the same fashion that Treasure Island has.

Anonymous said...

"The Winter of Our Discontent" by John Steinbeck. This book will be remembered.

There will still be vacuous hipsters 200 years from now who listen to the Beatles not because they like it but because they think it makes them look cool to like the Beatles.

Anonymous said...

"Transformers: The Movie."

Do you mean the cartoon, or the live-action one a few months ago? I greatly enjoy the cartoon, but only because it brings me back to my childhood. Megatron shooting Ironhide while saying "what pathetic heroism"...sums up the world and life in general to me, but I wouldn't cite it for inclusion in the Western Canon.

Anonymous said...

Lucius Vorenus needs to get out more. The Beatles even now continue to be one of the top-selling groups in the world. They had a #1 album only a few years ago with one of their greatest hits compilations. Even more indicative: Spend some time rummaging around on YouTube and MySpace and see how many teenagers and 20-somethings today use sampled bits and scraps of Beatle music in one way or another on their personal videos/pages, on which they interface with their peers. These kids are amazingly well-versed with this music, even though it's 40 years old. When I was their age, I most certainly did not know the words of many songs written 40 years prior to that, in the 1930s. And I definitely wouldn't have been going around singing selections from Porgy & Bess to impress my friends.

Lucius doubts that anyone knows the words to any Beatle songs anymore. I doubt that Lucius ever did.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte's Web (1952) might remain an enduring classic among children a century from now. Perhaps E.B. White's two other children's novels, Stuart Little (1945) and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), will make it also.

Anonymous said...

Edward: John Williams is a shoe-in.

ET Jurassic Park Superman Indiana Jones


John Williams is quickly fading from memory [if Lucas hadn't resurrected the Star Wars franchise with the three prequels, then he'd largely be forgotten already.]

And, thank God, so is Spielberg.

I guess maybe the moral of the story is that we only have to be patient for a few decades, and then history will have forgotten creeepy, no-talent marxist hacks, like Spielberg [or Woody Allen for that matter].

Anonymous said...

Flannery O'Connor is the name being forgotten here.

As for music, there are a number of progressive rock groups who've made complex but listenable (i.e., melodic music). These might be more likely to be remembered -- or reappropriated by classical musicians -- than the pop music nonsense that's being brought up here.

Anonymous said...

Amazon lists 1511 recordings of Bruckner, but 2626 recordings of Mahler. That's an awful lot of issues for a composer nobody listens to.

What's the highest one rated?

Poetry is just too easy to churn out and can't make you a living

"Good poetry" is easy. Truly awesome poetry - Intimations of Immortality, Tintern Abbey, etc. - is breathtaking...and pretty much absent from the last 57 years.

John Williams is quickly fading from memory

Hollywood has sucked up so much of the musical talent that otherwise would be spent writing traditional Classical stuff. Some of it's pretty good. Big budget movie directors can't afford to fill their soundtracks with Bela Bartok/Phil Glass/Morton Feldman-type stuff.

I'd guess that some of those works will survive 200 years, perhaps in altered, even "symphonic," form.

I've never thought of myself as a big Elvis fan but I listened to a compilation of his a little while ago and was blown away. It's still good music.

Two lesser known works I hope will survive are Robert Bolt's play "A Man for All Seasons" and Norton Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth."

Tolkien certainly will.

Something from Hitchcock will survive, I think. Hopefully one of the Jimmy Stewart ones. ("It's a Wonderful Life" will survive 'til the end of time as one of the classic testimonies to early 20th century America, to faith, hope, and human decency, but it's from 1946).

The 1950-2000 period saw the rise of the computer age, the jet age, the space age, the television age, and the sexual revolution. Some works will survive at least to have something emblematic of our era. The cultural changes seem big enough to merit that, whether the artistic merit is there or not.

Something will survive to represent WW2 and the Holocaust. Maybe the 2 Spielberg movies, hopefully not.

"The Camp of the Saints" will survive, if it has to be hidden at the bottom of cider barrels away from the Thought Police and Firemen.

Anonymous said...

"What's the highest one rated?"

Mozart, with over 18,000 results.

As far as poetry is concerned: I wouldn't reject post-1950 so categorically. Philip Larkin has been mentioned and has shown staying power, as have a few US-written poems. There's just so much poetry out there it's hard to do the sifting. And don't forget the huge universe of poetry in languages other than English.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see how powerful the cultural biases of the Sailer crowd are. True, orchestral music and painting have fared poorly over the past 50 years, and the novel has arguably declined as an art form since the 1960s, but this has much to do with the explosion of alternative media and non-Western artistry. I haven't even seen anyone mention Rushdie's Midnight's Children as a likely survivor.

Can anyone really doubt that there will be a film canon 200 years from now, and it will be well-stocked with post-1950 works? Or doubt that someone, somewhere, will be listening to the Beatles? Or Bob Marley, for that matter?

The existence of a mass-media pop culture is a relatively new phenomenon. The amount of detritus disgorged for bland, mainstream tastes is unprecedented. But future humanities scholars will surely be sifting through the trash and elevating disposable works to prominence based on their lasting influence and timeless qualities. And surely the Sailers and Murrays of the world would be outraged by their choices if they were alive to see them. That's how it goes.

For my money, I'd guess that some of the most talented genre writers will feature more prominently in future literary surveys than in the minds of their contemporary critics. Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson would be my nominees. A trip to MoMa might also convince you that the legacy of late 20th Century visual arts will primarily come from our industrial design, rather than the SoHo galleries.

Anonymous said...

The movie Blade Runner will still be a classic 200 years from now as well as the Unabomber Manifesto.

Anonymous said...

Mozart, with over 18,000 results.

Actually what I meant was "how well do any of those Mahler/Bruckner CDs sell?" I'd guess there are hundreds of Bach/Beethoven/Mozart CDs that outsell the most popular Mahler CD.

My attitude towards Mahler comes from Frasier Crane. When Niles is crying about how he used to play Mahler on Sundays for his harpee wife, Maris, Frasier says: "Oh Niles, you don't like Mahler. Besides Maris no one does!"

Joe said...

I don't know if Murray was trying to make a silly point about modern artistic works or a general point about how egocentric we humans can be, especially between the ages of 14 to 24.

List popular works from the 1930s, how about 1890s? Fact is whatever you come up with will be a fraction of the work produced during either of those eras and will unlikely contain what contemporaries would have predicted as "standing the test of time."

Another thing to understand is that concepts may survive, but the actual work can still be obscure. For example, who, besides me and my sister, have actually read the original A Christmas Carol? I can think of dozens of books wher I know the basic plot and ideas of several books (Moby Dick pops into mind) but which I haven't been able get through despite several attempts.

In this regard, "Darth Vader" and "The Force" may survive, though it's very possible future generations may have no clue as to what the references actually mean.

Another illustration--I'm a big time fan of the original Star Trek. My kids--11 to 19--absolutely do not care. Just yesterday, I made a joke to my wife with a Star Trek reference. The vast majority of Americans from 30 to 50 would have gotten the reference. My youngest had no idea what I was talking about.

What I and my peers see as iconic television is already ignored by my children. Truth is, I'm not that different--I don't give a whit about the iconic radio of my parents' teenage years. (Save the original broadcast of War of the Worlds, which is still pretty cool.)

(I'm even stunned at how many youth completely dismiss Star Wars. I'm not stunned at just how bad the original Battlestar Gallactica really was--let's just say it should live only in your memory.)

Anonymous said...

"Two lesser known works I hope will survive are Robert Bolt's play 'A Man for All Seasons' and Norton Juster's 'The Phantom Tollbooth.'"

I hope so as well.

"There will still be vacuous hipsters 200 years from now who listen to the Beatles not because they like it but because they think it makes them look cool to like the Beatles."

I peg this as the least likely fate for the Beatles, or anyone else for that matter. After 200 years a work of art may be regarded as a classic or forgotten, but it's unlikely that there will be 200-year-old artworks popular only among a cult following or "hipster" crowd. Those groups tend to go for artworks of more recent vintage.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but there's a difference between SOMEONE listening or reading a work of art and a significant number of people doing so.

Some people still read Trollope, Winston Churchill (the novelist), and listen to Edie Cantor.But 99 percent of the people don't; and couldn't care less who they were.

200 Years from now the same will be true of the Beatles, Roth, Dylan, Star Wars, and Ann Rand.

Anonymous said...

The amount of hate the Beatles get on this thread is unbelievable. I used to snort at the Beatles; I was wrong. They are a shoo-in as the best rock group of the 1960-2000 period and, if they are forgotten, it spells historical oblivion for all the other groups and musicians of the period.

Good thread, though.