“this schoolboy desire to boast and to shock”: josipovici strikes a blow
Was out for a drink with a colleague in Farringdon the other day and when he went in to buy us another round I picked up the copy of the Guardian that someone had left on the table. It was open to this, a media-scruff rendition of Josipovici’s new What Ever Happened to Modernism. Fantastic stuff:
“We are in a very fallow period,” Josipovici said, calling the contemporary English novel “profoundly disappointing – a poor relation of its ground-breaking modernist forebears”.
He said: “Reading Barnes, like reading so many other English writers of his generation – Martin Amis, McEwan – leaves me feeling that I and the world have been made smaller and meaner. The irony which at first made one smile, the precision of language which was at first so satisfying, the cynicism which at first was used only to puncture pretension, in the end come to seem like a terrible constriction, a fear of opening oneself up to the world.
“I wonder, though, where it came from, this petty-bourgeois uptightness, this terror of not being in control, this schoolboy desire to boast and to shock.” Such faults were less generally evident in Irish, American, or continental European writing, he added.
Laurence Sterne’s 18th-century novel Tristram Shandy remained more avant-garde than the so-called avant-garde today, Josipovici argued.
“An author like Salman Rushdie takes from Sterne all the tricks without recognising the darkness underneath. You feel Rushdie’s just showing off rather than giving a sense of genuine exploration.”
Was hard at the moment not to fantasize that the reason the paper was on the bar table and left open to that page in particular was because one of the authors in question or at least one of their acolytes had settled in for an early afternoon restorative, flipped through to this page, and then left in haste and in a tremendous huff….