Monday, October 22, 2012

a strange thing happened to me...

...while reading this article:

"After the Revolution" 

This article is a review of the book What Ever Happened To Modernism? by Gabriel Josipovici.

I was reading along because I like Modernist stuff. I was not prepared for the effect this article had on me -- a kind of spiritual dissociation occurred in my head. I began to wonder about what was so cosmically at stake for Josipovici. What might be percolating beneath his strident manifestoing? Why is he so obsessive? I began to suspect an existential myopia behind his fealty to one form of artistic/literary consciousness and his annoyance at another.

Yes, Modernist stuff is totally swell stuff. But even a return to Modernist sensibility in our literature and the other fine arts is not going to soften our mortality nor uncover essential meaning in an absurd universe. Since there are no answers in Modernism or anything else, why get your underwear in such conniptious wrinklage?

It. Don't. Mean. That. Much.

Billions of human beings currently breathing on Earth could not care less about the virtues of experimental, expressive literature in contrast to old-timey (and now new-timey) realist, narrative literature. If a lot of authors now are writing books you don't like, so what? I'll punch your Chagrined Sophisticate card so you can move on with your life.

Now, I'm okay with casual discussions about art and literature -- the various qualities and whatnot. Give me a bottle of red wine, and I'll be verbose, maybe even enthusiastic. But while reading this review, I began to wonder if Josipovici had gone off the deep end, and maybe needed to retire to a cabin in the woods somewhere to calm himself down.

Bursting into heretofore unseen or unwritten planes of expression is, when you look at it calmly, not going to alter our basic situation. For a while, it can make us feel stimulated and profound, yes. But it's not going to usher in a new world or persuade a god to appear. So why get stressed out over it?

And for what it's worth: having read War and Peace three times for the sheer historical, psychological, metaphysical, and (yes) narrative sweep of the thing, I would not displace it in the aesthetic canon with a necessarily Modernist book. Both things -- tradition and revolution -- can exist as poised equals. And neither thing is going to crack the riddle of Being.

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