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sante / fénéon

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From a shortened version of Luc Sante’s introduction to the new NYRB edition of Félix Féneon’s Nouvelles en Trois Lignes, running in the current NYRB…

Fénéon’s three-line news items, considered as a single work,
represent a crucial if hitherto overlooked milestone in the history of
modernism. Even as the entries are obsessively handcrafted, the work is
in a sense the first readymade. It heralds the age of mass media, via a
sensibility formed by the cadences and symmetries of classical prose;
forecasts a century of statistics, while foregrounding individual
quotidian detail; invites speed of consumption, while manifesting
time-consuming labor of execution. It recognizes its own transience but
does not concede to it. It savors the ironies of chance without
fabricating a moral agency to explain them, but never shies from
properly attributing the consequences of power, greed, and stupidity.
Like the work of certain photographers it is dispassionate sometimes to
the point of cruelty, but by the same token, respecting its readers, it
does not package a facile response for them. It is a dry bundle of
small slivers of occurrence that lie beneath history, but it represents
the whole world, with all of its contradictions.

The relationship between the form of these three-liners and the political-historical context that Sante evokes is worth thinking more about.

(Also worth looking at in the current NYRB: John Gross’s piece on William Empson’s letters – unfortunately not free like the one above. Somehow, the story of his rather long, well, dalliance isn’t the right word for it – advocacy of Mao and his China are a story that we missed when I studied him as a student…)

Written by adswithoutproducts

October 12, 2007 at 9:44 pm

Posted in form, modernism

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