03 March 2014

Modernist literature is awful

   
Flirt by the late, great Helen Frankenthaler
I don't mind abstraction in my art, but I hate it in my books.
When will I learn my lesson? I vowed once before that life was too short to spend time reading some books. Yet what do I do? I pick up the already twice-tossed aside Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. And, as you may have read in my last post, things were going pretty well. I had gotten to page 100 and was finding that I was enjoying the journey. After reading about 30 more pages tonight, I decided there were a few plot points I wasn't getting so I looked up the synopsis on Wikipedia. Holy cow, you would think I was illiterate. The number of things I missed, misunderstood, misconstrued, or was just plain mistaken about could fill a book. Even the first chapter which I thought I read really closely held secrets about which I was utterly clueless.

So guess what? Never again. Never, never again. No more Conrad, no more Lawrence. Faulkner and Joyce you will remain dead to me. Ford Madox Ford and yes, even Virginia Woolf, just leave me alone.

Depending on which superficial online source one consults E.M. Forster, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald are also considered modernist writers. That may be the case for reasons unknown to me, but I have never read anything by any of those authors (and I have read a lot of their books) that comes even remotely close to the tedious, scattered, bullshit stream of consciousness that makes me hate modernism so much. Oddly, those same superficial sources list modernist characteristics that seem an awful lot like post- modernist characteristics.

Ezra Pound said "Make it new." I say, make it make sense.

I am linear, here me roar.

Ugh. I feel like I need to wash my eyeballs.

Better luck with the rest of my stack of travel books.

22 comments:

  1. I wouldn't listen to Ezra Pound. His texts are incomprehensible. I had to read his texts on literature during my studies. It was hell.

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    1. And the sad thing is I wrote a book on the history of the insane asylum where Pound was kept for about 15 years after WWII, but have steered clear of his work.

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  2. Ha! Oh, Thomas, never change. I've never tried anything by Lowry, but I'm one of those abashed readers who shamefully doesn't "get" any of the modernist writers you listed up there (excepting the Forster et al.,). I HATE stream of consciousness writing as it always seems like incoherent babbling that, as you rightly point out, makes NO SENSE. Why the wasteful excess of words if you don't have them mean anything?!?

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    1. The crazy thing is about Under the Volcano is that there were part where I didn't even realize in some places that it was stream of consciousness. I was taking some of it too literally.

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  3. I'm with you, Thomas. I don't think of books as 'art', even though some are heart-breakingly well-written or are physically beautiful. I like my books accessible. I want the author to tell me what he or she has to say, not to play hide and seek and leave me puzzled and frustrated. Give me a good story!

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    1. I think I would consider some books to be art, I just prefer my textual art to be linear. Visual art I don't mind what they mix up.

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  4. I say a hearty, "AMEN!" Hope the rest of your stack proves to be better reading for your holiday.

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    1. No doubt a million literature majors are mounting an assault on our philistinism.

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  5. I agree x1000 with Joan -- don't waste my time with experimental stuff. I want a good story that's well written, with good characters, and I want to be able to understand it. I'm not a genius but I'm pretty smart, and I don't want a book that makes me feel like an idiot. I tried to read The Sound and the Fury and gave up less than 30 pages in. However, I've read two books by D. H. Lawrence and was surprised that I enjoyed both of them. I wouldn't put Forster in the same category either. I haven't read Ford Madox Ford but may give The Good Soldier a whirl because it's fairly short anyway.

    I still have more than 30 of Trollope's novels left so that is a comfort.

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    1. Out of the four Lawrence I have read I maybe enjoyed 1.5 of them. And at some point I did manage to get through The Good Soldier without too much pain but the series that makes up Parades End I found excruciating.

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  6. I love Virginia Woolf, but I hate most of the stream of conscious stuff. Read what you like!

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    1. I don't hate VW like I do some of the others, but I can't say I get much out of her work.

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  7. Hi Thomas,
    Lurker here. While you're here on Oahu, go to Bookends in Kailua. I think you'll like it.

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    1. Funny you should mention Bookends. In the rain on Sunday we ended up getting mani-pedis at the nail place right by Bookends and then had lunch at Mexico Lindo, but I have so many books with me that we didn't go in. When we were here in 2012 we stopped in.

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  8. I couldn't even get started on Under the Volcano, but I don't care! Too many other books that will mean something to me to read.

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    1. There was something about the atmosphere in the first chapter that really, really made me want to read this book. But eegadz not any more.

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  9. I like reading weird difficult stuff. But you gotta throw out the notion that "getting it" is the point. Experiencing it is the point. Literature isn't a puzzle to be worked out. If you find no reward in pushing through a difficult text, then, yeah, forget it. But if what's gotten in your way is the fact that you turned to somebody else's explication, one that claims to unlock the hidden meaning of the text, stop doing that. Look out the window. You'll see a lot of things. You'll miss more than you see. Somebody's written explanation of what you see out your own window may be helpful - it may just be wrong - it may be interesting and possibly worthwhile depending on what you have time for in your life.

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    1. I think your approach makes sense but I am not sure I can suspend my need for clarity. I do take comfort in the notion that the synopsis that I read may not have been the only way to see the story. It seemed so "factual" that it didn't really occur to me that it may not have as objective as I originally thought.

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  10. I feel the same way about Schoenberg and Webern. The whole modernist thing had to happen, particularly after the First World War, but it was an artistic cul-de-sac. I prefer the writers who have managed to employ some of the more interesting aspects of modernism within a traditional narrative structure.

    I've no doubt that Finnegans Wake can be very rewarding once you've studied the text and read the book a few times, but life's too short, particularly when there are so many other good books out there.

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    1. I do better with Schoenberg than Webern. Particularly before he went off the deep end like Verklarte Nacht. (I'm sure I spelled that wrong.)

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  11. I agree with you, Thomas, and that's why some stories are best left to Masterpiece Theatre. All the fun without any work...Parade's End killed me by the tenth page but the series was as clear as a bell.

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    1. Good to know about the adaptation of Parade's End. I haven't seen it yet.

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