‘The night is strewn with absurd lights, stars, the beacons, the buoys, the lights of earth and in the hills the faint fires of blazing gorse’ – Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies.
As we crawl weeping towards the corpse-laden plague tumbrel that is 2014, there’s one glint of light to be discerned through our irradiated cataracts: the arrival of a brilliant new Irish literary journal Gorse, edited by the magnificent Susan Tomaselli, the first issue of which is out in January. It’s beautifully-designed (the draft cover above is by Niall McCormack) and the writing included is exceptional. I have, admittedly, sneaked Zelig-like into it with an essay on how Modernism is ancient, in which I blather on about Lucian, Ovid, Hermias, Aristophanes, the Cynics and so on, and their relationship to modern writing as well as making vague impossible threats to invade the past and the like (there’s a short excerpt below) but don’t let that put you off. For the full line-up and how to pre-order, click here. Do it, do it now or get thee from mine eyes (thanks).
“On or about December 1910,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her essay ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, “human character changed.” Homo modernus had emerged, like some rough but eloquent beast, in the depths of an English winter. Woolf’s perspective of the birth of Modernism was subjective of course and the date has been continually disputed. In his recent study Constellation of Genius, Kevin Jackson selected as late as 1922 as ‘Modernism Year One.’ For many, T.S. Eliot included, the industrialised threshing of an entire generation of European youth by their parents in the Great War of 1914 to 1918 fragmented the old order and created something different, either as a presence or an absence. This was supported by the appearance of Dada in the wartime refuge of Zurich; being a wilfully deranged but, to paraphrase R.D. Laing, rational reaction to an insane world. Yet there were identifiable Modernists before this; Apollinaire, Marinetti, Jarry, to say nothing of the forerunners of Modernism; Nietzsche, Ibsen, Jean-Pierre Brisset, Conrad, Strindberg, Lautréamont, Rimbaud. What becomes clear is the further back you go, this process does not effectively come to a standstill. There is no absolute point of beginning. As a way of looking at the world and recreating it, Modernism, Meta-Modernism, Postmodernism and Deconstructionism have always been with us, long before we gave them such ludicrous names…”