Faut vous dire, monsieur
"Literature, Grossman believes, is undergoing a revolution: high-voltage plotting is replacing the more refined intellection associated with modernism. Modernism and postmodernism, in fact, are ausgespielt, and the next new thing in fiction isn’t issuing from an élitist perch but, rather, is geysering upward from the supermarket shelves. In short, there’s a new literary sheriff in town, able to bend time, jump universes, solve crime, fight zombies, perform magic, and generally save mankind from itself."
But with the odd exception of a writer like Guy Davenport here and there, wasn't modernism ausgespielt near three quarters of a century ago, its uncompromising elitism seen as, well, rather tasteless in the wake of the fascism it, in places, flirted with? Wasn't the real reigning aesthetic in Western literature post-WWII fairly straight realism in its various flavours, historical or contemporary, drawing room or kitchen sink? The radical strangeness of Kafka, Yeats, Lorca, Stevens, Apollinaire, Rilke, Pound, Stein, Joyce may survive in the satirical absurdities of Heller or Vonnegut, more purely in the surreal absurdities of Pinter, but the revolution happened decades ago.
In parallel with, if not part of, the civil rights movement, Late modernism was rendered late in another sense entirely -- deceased -- its hoary spectre exiled to the ivory towers, postmodern prisons of irony shackles and ludic irrelevance. As long as it forsook sincerity it could construct all the grandiose metanarratives it wanted. In the new Germinal, angry young men claimed the field for a fiction about as modernist as Zola. Some of them were not even middle class! Some of them were even not-white, or not-straight, or even... not-men! Either way, the reigning spirit actually under challenge from Grossman's revolution is realist, an aesthetics and ethics of observation and insight, of social awareness, the watchword: relevance.
It's under challenge because it failed, was co-opted by the middle-brow as class tourist travel literature. Pillion passengers of Ginsberg's saintly motorcyclists, an audience of the eternally vicarious updated their mores with the times but never their mindset of propriety. They appreciated the machine between their legs, missed the whole point of the fucking in the ass, and over time recuperated the entire aesthetic to the old enterprise of edification, returning us to fiction by the bourgeois for the bourgeois. See James Kelman's Booker acceptance speech from 1994 for one last snarl of defiance.
Those people there, Jacques Brel called this petit-bourgeoisie, channeling a lovelorn drunken cat-killer. Faut vous dire, monsieur, he might have sung. You see those people there? They don't read, monsieur, don't read.
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