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Tuesday, February 08, 2005


the fifties

david castronovo's new book on the american literature of the 1950s was reviewed by the weekly standard (via reason).

it was in reading northrop frye that i came to understand how criticism's relationship to art is like that of physics to nature -- an observing and systematizing of phenomena that must endure a process of review and revision which, while always reductive and never capable of capturing the whole, was capable of adding understanding and meaning through context and examination. frye thought the critical process much more than a container filled by the artist subsequently emptied by the critic. criticism is instead a vehicle for understanding the structure of society as revealed by art, often in ways the artist could not have intended.

so castronovo apparently examines the literature of the fifties. included in the review is a revealing glimpse:

In a concluding chapter, Castronovo quotes the late Marion Magid, a Commentary editor who provides another glimpse into the uniqueness of the 1950s by noting that "it was the last time it was possible to have a 'personal' life. There was a sense of discovery then, but later everything became so codified. Now relationships are mapped, there are pre-established attitudes. There's a sense that everything's been ransacked--every secret, ethnic and sexual. There's no more privacy. You meet and everyone exchanges credentials. We had more room to live the inner life."
this is so indicative of the decadence of modern life -- the notion that its all played out, there is no meaningful originality anymore, every fjord explored, all the shows reruns. majid's comment a really clear statement of the descent into intellectual sterility that accompanies decline, which has also been manifested in part by the farce of political correctness.

i think the 1950s were perhaps really the time when intellectuals, in recovering from the world wars and the depression, first were able to take full stock of how things had changed -- and how the question of la belle epoque had been answered. the realization paved the way for the disorder, fractured utopianism and embrace of antiart and commercialism of the 1960s.

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