Thursday, July 05, 2012

Post Modernism

This from a conversation about post-modernism on facebook by Gregory Feeley and others. I am posting my comments only.
Boy, do I find this conversation difficult to follow. I think I first need to understand what modernism in terms of literature rather than the visual arts. In the visual arts, modernism was continuing a 19th century attack on the idea of a painting as a window. Instead, a painting was paint on a flat surface. I can follow that through the New York School of the 1950s. Then something happened in the 1960s, which I don't understand. I guess I could say, art became less serious -- and, at the same time, a huge market for art appeared. The art might not be serious, but the money was; and you get art designed to be put in museum galleries and the houses of the very rich. Didn't happen in literature, because there isn't a lit market.
One of the other people in the conversation asked how postmodernism was different from what James Joyce was doing in the early 20th century. I wrote:
This is part of my problem with this topic. (Though a more serious problem is my erratic reading in 20th century lit, except for American science fiction). Modernism (in the visual arts, anyway) is breaking down the illusion of art as a form of reality early in the 20th century. Aside from all the games played with the picture plane, there are things like Dada and Duchamp's toilet. How is the end of the century different? I suspect there is a loss of content in the visual arts. Art is less and less about anything, even formal problems.

And then I start thinking about the way I write. I have a story to tell, and I tell it however I can -- with footnotes, forewords, afterwords, the author intruding into the story. One of the things I'm trying to say is, "This is a story. Words on paper. You do realize this, don't you? It isn't real in the same way that your (the reader's) life is." What I'm doing is modernism -- emphasizing the picture plane, breaking the frame, putting in a atuffed goat for the heck of it. (Though the goat is Rauschenberg and might be post-modernist. I don't know.) However, the story remains important. In fact, the story is all-important. I am trying to say something about reality, as well as about art.

And of the two, reality is more important than the formal problems.
Gregory Feeley asked me if a poorly written story with social content was better than a beautifully written story that did not have social content. I replied:
Bad stories are bad stories. I guess you give the author points for having a good heart. I also have trouble with fiction that doesn't seem to be about anything, even though it's beautifully written. Fiction can be about a lot of things. Formal problems. Social issues. The psychology of the individual. But I have to feel something is going on, and it's important. Though I may not be able to articulate what is going on. I like Calvino's Invisible Cities a lot. But right now I'm not able to say what it's about. Architecture? City planning? Calvino is pushing the limits of the novel in a way I like, and the book is a darn fine read.

I am talking about how and why I write. Other people have other reasons. You know, this stuff is hard to talk about. It's complicated. It makes my head hurt.


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