Sunday, December 16, 2007

TLS November 30 2007

from Gabriel Josipovici's Commentary piece on Modernism "Fail again. Fail better":

Why is it that a composer such as Haydn could write a hundred symphonies and only a few years later Beethoven, no less industrious a composer, could only write nine? Quite simply because Haydn did not feel he had to start from scratch. What he had to do was fill a form, a mould. . . . Unfortunately, after Beethoven, . . . composers were left with nothing to hold on to except their individuality, and without Beethoven's dynamism and optimism, this gradually led, in the course of the nineteenth century, to an art less and less time-driven, more and more prone to stasis, dreaminess and disintegration. The composer at the start of the twentieth century, an Adrian Leverkuhn or an Arnold Schoenberg, was thus caught btween repeating forms he could no longer believe in and trusting a subjectivity which was growing daily more problematic.


Genres were the sign of submission to the authority of tradition, to the authority of the fathers, but the novel was the new form in which the individual would express himself precisely by throwing off the shackles that bound him to his fathers and to tradition. But here it faced a pradox. For if it threw off all authority, whee then did it get its own authority from? The answer had to be from the novelist's inspiration or experience of aspects of life not known to the reader. But who conferred this authority upon him? No one but himself.


[Kierkegaard:] "To find the conclusion it is necessary first of all to observe that it is lacking, and then in turn to feel quite vividly the lack of it."


Ninety-nine percent of writers and publishers and reviewers at work today go their merry ways as if nothing [i.e. no Modernism] had happened, publicly expressing their earnest desire to write like Dickens and do what the novel has done since Defoe, that is, pass themselves off as truth; or else, in a spirit of postmodernist insouciance, asset their ability to use every tradition available to them, but without any sense of understanding the implications of what they are doing. All, with varying degress of sophistication, appear to be going through the motions, and as a consequence reading them leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.


And the choice it faces us with is a stark one: either the Modernists were right in their suspicions, and those who would ignore them are wrong, their work not worth the paper it is written on; or, the current tacit assumption that the Modernists, however honest and laudable their intentions, were misguided, is correct, and we should openly acknowledge as much. If I incline to the first view, I also recognize that may be largely because of who and what I am.

JL: I have no clear answer to the question, but I don't like stark choices, especially ones formulated for me by someone who thinks the work of anti-modernists like Philip Larkin and Martin Amis not worth the paper it is written on. I love Larkin and I love T. S. Eliot. Who speaks the truth? Who is speaking for the truth? How the heck do I know? But isn't it wonderful that the universe speaks through both of them?


from Daniel A. Dombrowski's review of Peter Bien's Kazantzakis: Politics of the spirit:

Kazantzakis, spurred on by journeys to Russia and Spain, believed that the age of bourgeois decadence and flabbiness was coming gradually to an ened; that we lived in a transitional age wherein a new world view was forthcoming; that the remedy for decadence and flabbiness would be a vigour at once physical and "spiritual"; that this vigour entailed the substantiation (metousiosis, or metabole, or their cognates) of matter into spirit; that to live responsibility was to align oneself with whichever groups of people exhibited this vigour to the greatest extent; that these groups would hasten the end of the age of decadence and flabbiness, but that, of course, the better world for which they hoped would not arrive in their own lifetimes. . . . "Tell me what you do with the food you eat", says Zorba, "and I'll tell you who you are. Some turn their food into fat and manure, some into work and good humour, and others, I'm told, into God."

JL: the age-old dichotomy between matter and spirit, and its imaginative and emotional vistas. How to see things differently? What would a Whitmanian Soul-is-Body and Body-is-Soul vision look like now, at the beginning of this century?

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