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This report is taken from PN Review 180, Volume 34 Number 4, March - April 2008.

The Dying of the Light Neil Powell

In a recent TLS article, Gabriel Josipovici addresses - though, understandably, doesn't fully answer - the ticklish question of why the influence of modernism is so muted in subsequent English literary culture. In particular, he is dismayed by the cultural climate in which 'serious critics and intelligent, well-read reviewers, many of whom studied the poems of Eliot, the stories of Kafka and the plays of Beckett at University... go into ecstasies over Atonement'. For this phenomenon he offers three partial explanations. The first is that, because England wasn't 'overrun by Nazi forces during the Second World War', she has remained 'strangely innocent and resistant to Europe': this has transformed 'a robust, pragmatic tradition, always suspicious of the things of the mind, into a philistine one'. The second is that there has been a marriage of 'High Art and fashion', which results in three-for-two book offers or the spectacle of the Independent offering readers 'the chance to gatecrash a book launch of their choice with the paper's literary editor as a Christmas bonanza'. And the third is that, 'as Kierkegaard well understood, it is hard to keep "the wound of the negative open", and we prefer not to remember that the price of not so doing is that the wound will fester'.

Josipovici is, as readers of his fiction and his criticism will know, a committed modernist, and those less committed to that cause may want to persuade themselves ...


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