Monday, July 28, 2008

Reactionary Criticism

from Gombrowitz's Ferdydurke

Our element is unending immaturity. What we think, feel today will unavoidably be silliness to our great grandchildren. It is better then that we should acknowledge today that portion of silliness which time will reveal...We shall soon realize that the most important: is not: to die for ideas, styles, theses, slogans, beliefs; and also not: to solidify and enclose ourselves in them; but something different, it is this: to step back a pace and secure a distance from everything that unendingly happens to us.

How clear it is that we are in living a reactionary time. Even Wood--unlike B.R. Myers--though I cannot imagine he is politically or personally so--reverts to a level of reaction that far surpasses Myers and the New Criterion/Atlantic Monthly crowd (if for no other reason, because he's far better read, more intelligent and by far the superior stylist).

Josopovici again, Singer on the Shore... we have not begun to follow through on, to scratch the surface of what the modernists began. We know that if we were to try to follow them (making ourselves modernist reactionaries)--they have already rejected us! How refreshing! We cannot honor them by imitation, not even by imitating ourselves.

But we can play--if only we can remember how.


  1. "We cannot honor them by imitation"--and yet, by reducing Modernism to a new bag of literary techniques, we have done just this....

    (also, sorry to be pedantic, but it's James Wood and B.R. Myers (not R.B.))

  2. Who in your view has reduced Modernism to "a new bag of literary techniques?"

  3. It's hard to say, specifically, since my gut reaction is to say "just about everybody". My sense of Modernism, before reading Josipovici, was that it was simply this moment in time in which new techniques expanded (or advanced) the modes available to writers. Since reading Josipovici, most references I see to Modernism appear to be based on the same conception.

  4. New techniques were more than a reaction to old techniques: they were reactions to modes of perception, to ways of conceptualizing the world. My impression of Josipovici is that he is not concerned with techniques in themselves, but with the broader agenda they were meant to serve.

    ... and thanks for the corrections. Always appreciated.

  5. I agree with you. However, and maybe I'm wrong and being unfair, my sense is that this is not how Modernism is generally perceived today. The techniques ended up being what lasted, the implicit (or explicit) critique of perception falling by the way. (Which I think is much of what Josipovici is getting at, when he says that writers and critics behave as if Modernism never happened.)