Saturday, September 4, 2010

Aeschylus's Oresteia is held up – again in spot-on fashion – as a template for an anti-humanist worldview: what matters is not the individual but the house, or oikos, from which he emerges and of which he forms no more than an iteration. It's an insight that helps us to understand (although Josipovici doesn't mention him) why that arch-modernist William Faulkner delves, in Attic style, through generations of the Compson family, trawling their dwindling estate for residues of buried history. From that other Greek unit of measure, the polis or city-state, Josipovici derives a modern aesthetic of interconnectedness, of man as a diminished agent operating within systems that exceed him.


Adopting the vocabulary of the middlebrow in order to legitimise the vanguard merely robs it of what animates it most. Rather than celebrate the subversive energies of Luigi Nono's opera Prometeo, for example, he tries to sell it to the Glyndebourne crowd by claiming that it leaves us "with a sense of sorrow and of wonder and, at an even deeper level, a sense of having bathed in the waters of life". The sentiment is just that: sentimental. While the impetus behind it is profound, it ends up sounding trite.
Tom McCarthy on Gabriel Josipovici's Whatever Happened to Modernism?


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