Sunday, November 07, 2010

Period Details

Is it really wise to invoke this particular quotation to rebut B.R. Myers's dismissal of Freedom as a  wannabe-Zeitgeist piece that "uses facile tricks to tart up the story as a total account of American life"?
Myers has little to tell us about beauty. For Flaubert’s contemporary Baudelaire, beauty was
made up of an eternal, invariable element . . . and of a relative, circumstantial element, which will be. . . the age – its fashions, its morals, its emotions. Without this second element, which might be described as the amusing, enticing, appetizing icing on the divine cake, the first element would be beyond our powers of digestion.
Does anyone really buy the idea that we cannot comprehend beauty without its being clothed in the fashions, morals, and emotions of our time? Does it make sense to embrace Franzen at the cost of ceding thousands of years' worth of literature? Modern trappings and language can ease understanding---or they can distract the reader from any underlying beauty by annoying the crap out of her. Some of us prefer our eternal themes without an exterior of contemporary Cheez Whiz. It's a little patronizing, actually, this notion that we can't digest your Deep Meaningful Literary Thoughts without the "icing." If any aid is required, I prefer trappings that invoke centuries of cultural development and history over instantly dated attempts to capture the details of How We Live Now.

On a related note, there's a nice little exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and photography at the National Gallery. Recommended.
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