“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On the Arriere-Garde

'Since the end of the 19th Century then, literature has been living under the sign of anachronism: it does not feel in sync anymore, either with society and with the expectations it no longer feels capable of fulfilling, or--[a] fate which is even worse--with itself and with the ideals that Romanticism lent to it. It is not enough then to consider arriere-gardism as the simple reality of a few marginalized literary movements which should only interest us to the extent we seek to exhaust all aspects of history. On the contrary, we should enlarge our perspective and face the facts: literature in the 20th century existed in a state of generalized arriere-gardism, and in the general feeling of a permanent time delay of which, paradoxically, the existence of the avant-garde was the most flagrant indicator. If the century that has just ended can still retain the title "century of the avant-garde", and if the avant-garde has succeeded in making its presence felt more than ever, it is for a reason. And it is for the same reason that the question of the rapport with the past has never been asked with such anguish: in the 20th century, literature lost its temporal markers and had to create artificial ones to remedy the loss; the invention of avant-gardist tension, a tension that was as political as it was aesthetic, had no other real function but to impose a power orientation--even though it was part of a fictional one--on a history that seemed to lack meaning. The avant-garde forges a way to the future: it seeks a way out of the crisis by moving ahead or simply by leaving History. Vincent Kaufmann puts it this way: the avant-garde authors "never tackled anything else than the project of a total book, that is, the Book, representing the end of books, in every sense of the word".'
--William Marx, 'The 20th Century: Century of the Arriere-Gardes?' in Europa! Europa? The Avant-Garde, Modernism and the Fate of a Continent, Eds. Sascha Bru et al.