My sister-in-arms Susan Tomaselli is bringing out a brand new and very exciting Irish literary journal in January called Gorse. It will focus on “the potential of literature, in literature where lines between fiction, memoir and history blur (Sebald, Cendrars, Bolaño, Joyce), in experimental writing, in fiction in translation, in the unconventional and the under recognised, in the personal essay (Sontag, Dyer).” It is going to be, needless to say, fucking awesome.
I’ve recently written a lengthy essay for Gorse called The Magnet has a Soul & Everything is Water – How Modernism is Ancient. I’m not sure if they’ll use it as it’s pretty long but the jist of it is that “Modernism, Meta-Modernism, Postmodernism and Deconstructionism have always been with us, long before we gave them such ludicrous names.” It looks at how Homer, Lucian, Archilochus, Ovid, Socrates, Aristophanes and a load of other old dead folks were doing things millennia ago in literature, which we’ve taken for modern inventions.
During the research, I came across an amusingly disparaging jeremiad by T.S. Eliot, which shows that, though he was a Modernist in form, he pretty much despised (and feared) modernity and was delusionally committed to a halcyon past that had never taken place (his views on the English class system are something to behold, especially coming from an aristocratic Missourian poseur). Each to their own and certainly no reason to dismiss the genius of his poetry, at least up to and including The Hollow Men (his later finding of faith was the Church of England’s gain and literature’s loss). You can read the piece in question in full here. It’s ostensibly a letter for The Dial magazine, eulogising the music hall performer Marie Lloyd, but this ‘Won’t someone think of the Melanesians?’ excerpt, as a hysterical, orientalist, patronising and defeatist example of High Miserabilism, is brilliant all on its own,
“With the dwindling of the music-hall, by the encouragement of the cheap and rapid-breeding cinema, the lower classes will tend to drop into the same state of amorphous protoplasm as the bourgeoisie. The working-man who went to the music-hall and saw Marie Lloyd and joined in the chorus was himself performing part of the work of acting; he was engaged in that collaboration of the audience with the artist which is necessary in all art and most obviously in dramatic art. He will now go to the cinema, where his mind is lulled by continuous senseless music and continuous action too rapid for the brain to act upon, and he will receive, without giving, in that same listless apathy with which the middle and upper classes regard any entertainment of the nature of art. He will also have lost some of his interest in life. Perhaps this will be the only solution. In a most interesting essay in the recent volume of Essays on the Depopulation of Melanesia the great psychologist W.H.R. Rivers adduces evidence which has led him to believe that the natives of that unfortunate archipelago are dying out principally for the reason that the “Civilization” forced upon them has deprived them of all interest in life. They are dying from pure boredom. When every theatre has been replaced by 100 cinemas, When every musical instrument has been replaced by 100 gramophones, when every horse has been replaced by 100 cheap motor cars, when electrical ingenuity has made it possible for every child to hear its bed-time stories through a wireless receiver attached to both ears, when applied science has done everything possible with the materials on this earth to make life as interesting as possible, it will not be surprising if the population of the entire civilized world rapidly follows the fate of the Melanesians.”