Tag Archives: modernity

The Relative Nature of Criticism

“Admitting the vagueness which afflicts all criticism of novels, let us hazard the opinion that for us at this moment the form of fiction most in vogue more often misses than secures the thing we seek. Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide.”

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 149. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

The problem with categorizing fiction into forms is the same problem of criticism in general, being that the opinion stated is strongly affected by the setting in which it is being stated in. These classifications are best done in retrospect, as you cannot affect a literary movement if it has already happened.

Modernity: Beyond the Chains of Time and Space

“The rushing after lost time, the frantic quest for the present, the rage to be “contemporaries of all mankind” (as Octavio Paz put it) — all these things are typical of the search for a way to enter literary time and thereby attain artistic salvation.”

Casanova, Pascale. “The World Republic of Letters”. transl. M. B. Devoise. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999. pp. 91.

This passage portrays modernity in a peculiar way. The term “artistic salvation” is intriguing in the way that it captures the intentions of so many authors across time. Salvation means that the work will be preserved from being harmed or lost, thus placing the work in a realm outside of time and space, free from the changing trends and modes of literature. Of course, we can consider this to be what happens to a book when it becomes a classic, but Casanova uses this to point out the contradictions of being “modern.” If a classic, a book that has been preserved, is beyond the chains of time, then the quest for being modern is also the quest for writing something outside of time (“literary time”), not the quest to be “connect[ed] with fashion” (91).

Modernity and the Classic

“The modern work is condemned to become dated unless, by achieving the status of a classic, it manages to free itself from the fluctuations of taste and critical opinion… Literarily speaking, a classic is a work that rises above competition and so escapes the bidding of time. Only in this way can a modern work be rescued from aging, by being declared timeless and immortal.” (92)

Casanova, Pascale. The World Republic of Letters. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Whereas the modern author tries desperately to be as modern and contemporary as possible, his real success, paradoxically, is creating something that is timeless and classic – and by doing so, defining what it is to be literature.

Woolf: A Writer’s Relationship to Fiction

“‘Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumcised spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?”

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

The page should reflect the truth of life, in that it may be messy and uncoordinated, but still manages to be (somewhat) comprehensive. Good fiction is not so much defined by imitation, as it is by being able to look deeply within ourselves, and using our unique conscious to speak (and write) of the world as we live it and know it.

Modernity changes with time

“The modern work is condemned to become dated unless, by achieving the status of a classic, it manages to free itself from the fluctuations of taste and critical opinion… Literarily speaking, a classic is a work that rises above competition and so escapes the bidding of time. Only in this way can a modern work be rescued from aging, by being declared timeless and immortal. The classic incarnates literary legitimacy itself, which is to say what is recognized as constituting Literature; what, in serving as a unit of measure, supplies the basis for determining the limits of that which is considered to be literary.”

Casanova, Pascale. “The World Republic of Letters”. transl. M. B. Devoise. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999. pp. 92.

Casanova seems to be suggesting that what it means to be a truly modern work is constantly changing with those writing in different styles and coming up with the “most recent innovations in form and technique”; that is unless it is great enough to reach the status of a classic. From my understanding, Casanova is attempting to describe a modern work with a greater focus on the word “modern” which attempts to constantly grasp at the present while claiming its legitimacy as literature only if it were great enough to become a classic.