One of the older posts here that continues to get some hits is a bit of a meditation on the photographer Eliot Porter, who was an influential early color landscape photographer who is now, I fear, largely forgotten, even though he was an important influence on landscape photographers and my own approach to the intimate view.
I had no answer at the time, but after finishing Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, I felt like maybe I had a bit of insight into why some artists, while influential, are forgotten while others, influential or not, continue to be relevant. Cloud Cuckoo Land is very much a work of contemporary fiction. It is generally somewhat fantastic in its settings, plot and characters- shifting in time and space from ancient Greece to the fall of Constantinople to modern day and a future time, all tied together through the device of the Ancient Greek manuscript, Cloud Cuckoo Land. Most fiction today shifts scene and character point of view. Or makes narrative construction a central part of the experience in one way or another.
For some reason, it brought to mind James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I reread last year, and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, which I reread a few years ago, both influential books of my youth. But it seems to me that while Joyce is still celebrated and read, Pynchon is becoming another forgotten artist who was influential, but now seeming less interesting to read.
Perhaps one reason why artists like Porter and Pynchon fade is that those they influence, surpass them in the very areas in which they innovated. It’s clear that most landscape images taken by YouTube photographer influencers and now much better images than those Porter took. We have better capture methods, better exposure control and better post-processing tools than Porter had. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone has created the kind of majestic monochrome images that Ansel Adams made, keeping his work relevant for us. Sometimes doing it first means doing it so well that those that follow seem to be imitating. Others are surpassed by those that come after and so are forgotten as they were innovative and influential, but ultimately not of a quality that lasts.
Cloud Cuckoo Land seemed to me to take the tools of modern fiction and use them in a fun, somewhat hopeful way. The basic text is an absurd Greek fantasy of no great merit and the stories told that are spun from it similarly are comedies of no particular great merit. Yet the whole is a nice meditation on literature, stories, comedy and, perhaps best of all, is a compelling fun read.
I won’t judge it for the ages. That will depend on those that follow us.