A Book for Obooki?

Will Self in The Guardian reviews a new book entitled Constellation of Genius, 1922: Modernism Year One, by Kevin Jackson, which hypothesizes, you will be curious to learn, that modernism began in 1922. (This will be good news for Will Self and his novel Umbrella, and for Tom McCarthy and his novel C. I think we have finally then arrived at a consensus on this issue).

Curiously Will Self points out in his review, as does Kevin Jackson in his book, many aspects of modernism which, on the face of it, predate 1922. There follows then the common and clever argument, that all these things were rather, let us say, pre-modernist (as, for instance, Tristram Shandy is commonly seen as pre-modernist – even indeed, pre-post-modernist – in that we can’t distinguish it from modernism and yet it doesn’t fit into our calendar theory of modernism).

But this is not all, two other reasons are vouchsafed for modernism beginning in 1922:

  1. because Ezra Pound said so
  2. because this was the date at which modernity itself began

The argument from authority we shall pass over, as – being disrepectful – we often do. So what about this idea of modernity? What is it? – Apparently, it is the birth of the mass media, by which is seemingly meant, the radio. (It is mentioned that usage of the telephone was also by this time widespread – but presumably it was also nearly as widespread in 1921, when modernity – and, therefore of necessity, modernism – wasn’t).

Modernity was, it is claimed, the “proximate influence” on modernism; but one wonders to what extent it is argued in this work that the proliferation of means of communication which occurred in the early years of c20th can be considered influential on a movement which has always maintained an aristocratic disdain towards making itself understood by the common herd – which has gloried in its own failure to communicate to the masses. An inverse influence, perhaps? Or, as one might put it, a singular act of conservatism: – the elite determined to defend itself by its own inscrutability.

I’m surprised though nothing is mentioned about quantum mechanics, but perhaps that is Self’s selectivity, not Jackson’s. I guess I shall have to read the book to find out.

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2 thoughts on “A Book for Obooki?

  1. It’s all quite simple. When Darwin came out with the theory of evolution, everyone said: “OK, let’s now write realistic novels.” Then along came quantum mechanics, and novelists ditched the realistic novel, and became modernist. Except, of course, for those who didn’t.

  2. Are you sure? I think the traditional conservative novel was ushered in by the invention in 1849 of the safety pin; and modernism began in 1901 with the invention of the vacuum cleaner (it sucked up all the dirt which had been collecting for years). The nouveau roman came into being in 1938, as a direct response to the challenge to writing posed by Lazslo Biro’s invention of the ballpoint pen.

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