Saturday, April 01, 2006

on classicism and critics

A blockquote (from Michael Holland's Blanchot Reader):

Nevertheless it is impossible to ignore the preoccupations of a number of critics, whose passion is expressed not only in opinions drawn from everyday convention, but also through hasty and superficial theories, which are the vacuous mirrors of their own disarray. The are unstinting in their warnings and their advice. They aim, with that fine zeal which comes of living for the moment, to reform genres, impose subjects and mould the whole of intellectual life according to the dictates of their current preferences. What do they want? Must writers and artists become the illustrators of whatever happens to be the theory of the day? Theirs are the precepts of fragile minds, eager to imitate rather than to be.

[...] When one sees those critics who talk endlessly of a return to classicism reserving their praise for the most mediocre and insipid efforts, the product of unstudied imitation, one wonders what weakness of imagination, what banality of form is to be found, for them, in the works of the great creative periods, which were all great periods of rupture. What on earth, to their minds, are these classics that they admire and wish to imitate? And what can this imitation be, if they conceive of it as sterile observance, as the preservation of a form whose justification has vanished? Whereas it is crystal clear that classical works only found themselves in harmony with an almost interminable duration because they appeared to come from somewhere higher than their time, tearing through it and burning it up with an extreme concentration that united in itself the past, the present and the future.

To this the reply from some quarters is that there are many weaknesses in these novice works, and that there is even an element of imitation in their experiments. That is quite possible and also perfectly natural. How can one expect a serene and definitive perfection from artists who set themselves formidably difficult problems, in an effort for which they deprive themselves of all the facilities of realism? In addition to the fact that they are not all equally talented and that some of them, incapable of creating forms, are content to borrow those that recent models place at their disposal, it goes without saying that their endeavours lay them open to all sorts of failure, error and even unconscious repetition. The ambition they are confronting threatens to destroy them at every instant. They are to some extent belittled by the difficulty of their task.  (Blanchot, "The Search for Tradition", 1941)

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