Obscure Modernists

Rhys Tranter’s (A Piece of Monologue) response to the recent McCrum piece on Modernism:

All of this begs the question: should we bother with modernism at all? Is it suited to our bedside table, or should it be exiled to obscurity on some distant library shelf? An old cliché condemns it as an experiment that went nowhere, but I suggest that modernism can be more than a discreet title on a top ten list, or the answer to a question at a pub quiz. Reading modernist writers need not be a life’s work, but an enjoyable way to pass the time.

Much as I champion Joyce and Woolf, both favourites, there are other literary modernists worth reading. Cyril Connolly’s 100 Key Books offers many treasures, very few that are boring.

4 thoughts on “Obscure Modernists

  1. >McCrum's piece strikes me as odd – one reason I gravitate toward modernism/experimentalism is that I tend to find more traditional storytelling forms "boring" if not varied by something more unusual now and then. For me Dickens is much more boring than Woolf, even though I enjoy them both…and calling Ishiguro's The Unconsoled boring is just bizarre. In my ever-so-humble opinion. 🙂

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  2. >[I deleted my earlier reply, written on the hoof and poorly thought out.]McCrum's article struck me as being the output of a journalist with pressures of deadline. The sentence that grates the most is, "There are copies of these on my shelves: I would not part with them for anything, even though, at the moment of writing, I can hardly imagine opening any one of these books with much anticipation, or excitement."Here I agree with you completely, Emily, the excited anticipation of reading Kafka, Musil, Joyce, Woolf, is to me, far greater than I get from reading Dickens, Austen or Trollope. Not that I cannot enjoy these authors, but the sense of predictability dulls the anticipation.

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  3. >I am always depressed when people seem so averse to pluralism, to the idea that people could look to books for, god help us all, different things. And that what books offer may be related to the different times in which they were written. So pluralism and historicism both. But rants and polemics always sell better than open embraces.Your set of authors matches mine exactly, and I know people who would reverse the two sets in a second. And it's not even that they're more boring per se, but that I know my mind reacts to explicit conceptual, political, ideological, psychological, etc. apparati far more than it does to visual description, social mores, and adventure plots. I have seen people draw profundities out of books with the latter things, but I just don't. (Reading Sidney's Arcadia would be some sort of hell for me.)Yet people like Marjorie Perloff call Laura Riding a bad poet just because she avoided many traditional tropes. It's frustrating, but there's always people around to keep the faith.ps–The Unconsoled is the most interesting Ishiguro book I've read by far…but I did think that it was an disaster of a book that utterly failed to accomplish what it was trying to accomplish. I have to admire Ishiguro for doing something so wildly different though.

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  4. >Not boring, just predictable; I am currently sampling Dickens and Austen as bedtime reading for my ten-year old. Dickens has worked his magic on her. Not that I've tried Woolf as bedtime reading . . . yet.

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