Monday, December 10, 2007

To submit or not submit...

... to the authority of tradition?

The quotes below are from Gabriel Josipovici's commentary on the "crisis called Modernism," published under the title, "Fail again. Fail better" in the November 30, 2007, issue of the TLS:

"... the novel has become the contested site of Modernists and anti-Modernists precisely because, more than music or poetry, it embodies the multiple paradoxes of the modern situation. For the novel is not a genre but precisely that which emerges when genres no longer seem viable. A genre is a bit like a family: you do not have to explain who you are each time you enter the room, you are taken for granted. But families can seem constricting as well as enabling. Similarly a moment comes when confidence in genre starts to wane."


"... the novel asserted... that its creators would bow to no authority, that they would rely on nothing but themselves. 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 paradox. For if it threw off all authority, where then did it get its own authority from? The answer had to be: from the novelist's inspiration or experience... But who conferred this authority upon him? No one but himself."

A "double-bind," then: the novel asserted its "truth and value (which genre-derived works had never needed to do, since it was the culture that provided them with these things), yet knowing at heart that these were assertions and nothing more."

It's uncanny how much the novel's birth-struggle, as so described, and dating back a couple of centuries or so, resembles some of the comments by "avant garde" poets on the Harriet blog lately. If I'm right in finding such remarks analogous to the dilemma Josipovici outlines, then it appears that the avants are pretty darn antiquated, after all: ages behind the novelists!

As J. puts it, "are we to see our own history... as something which blinkers or which sharpens our vision?" It is, as he points out, "a very Modernist question."

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