Friday, February 26, 2010

Leave the Capital

Finance, like other forms of human behaviour, underwent a change in the twentieth century, a shift equivalent to the emergence of modernism in the arts - a break with common sense, a turn towards self-referentiality and abstraction and notions that couldn't be explained in workaday English.
This is a quotation from John Lanchester's new book Whoops! about the crisis of capital as used in a review in this week's Times Literary Supplement. Perhaps it makes sense to a financier but it makes no sense to anyone with a feeling for Modernism, the revivification of art following the petrification of Romanticism; a petrification exemplified in literature by the Victorian ideal still idolised by contemporary commerical writers. Lanchester's makes more sense as a defintion of what Modernism is not. How about the notion of art as the search for truth at any cost? Workaday enough for you?

Following last Sunday's post, this is another small example of the abiding complacency at the heart of English literary culture. John Lanchester is a Contributing Editor of the London Review of Books.


  1. A "search for truth at any cost" sounds like a rather highblown Romantic ideal, to be honest.

    So you don't see self-referentiality and abstraction as anything to do with modernism? Despite your past emphasis on experimentation with form as key to your appreciation of literature?

  2. It *is* a Romantic ideal, which is why I said Modernism is a renewal of the Romantic movement but taking into account its failure (petrification).

    "Self-referentiality and abstraction" are essential features of genre literature, only it is necessary to genre to repress the awareness. A crime thriller, for example, will make certain gestures to its abstract form in order to enable readers to slip into safe habits while reading about something which would normally destroy that safety. To apply self-referentiality and abstraction to Modernism (it would be fairer to apply it to postmodernism) is denial playing for keeps.

  3. In classic Modernist aesthetic statements, like Ezra Pound's "A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste", truth is the thing. He says: "An "Image" is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time...It is the presentation of such a "complex" instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art." Just look at the flaccid stuff that was "selling" when Pound wrote those words in March 1913.



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