Friday, June 15, 2012

...and another thing for BLOOMSDAY 2012

...because once I get started on the nacheinander and nebeneinander of Joycean thoughts it's really impossible to stop cold turkey (cue the Lennon tune) until I've remarked that the Modernists (a category I'll expand to include everyone from Manet to Philip Roth) have become far too fucking respectable in recent decades, haven't they? They've been mastered and doctored, syllabied and conferenced, MLA'd and IJJF'd, deluxe editioned, multiply translated, banned and boned (I don't even know what I mean there), presidential medalled and national treasured, and now we have a holiday (in puritanical Ireland of all places) celebrating a novel in which the central character does "love sticky" on a public beach. Hell, even that despicable asshole (and sometime great writer) Celine (not Dion, the other one) has been duly canonized--a fate he would surely have bemoaned and blamed on a cabal of les juifs. (To give the sorry sonofabitch his due, the WWI scenes near the beginning of Journey to the End of the Night are among the best war writing of the 20th (or any other) century.)

The Good Celine. Her heart will go on...
The Bad Celine. His heart never did...

Modernism, which hoped to be Henry Miller's gob of spit in the face of bourgeois culture, has become altogether too authoritative, academicized, anaesthetized, too much of an official commodity. (Too Dion, we might say, and not enough Celine.) The culture it was meant to gag has consumed it as easily as a handful of M&Ms. It's time to recover the pornographic scandal of Modernism, to be jolted anew by the multiple electric chair shocks of its new, to understand Ulysses as a work as indigestible as Brigadier Pudding's late night snacks, to see a Miro painting through the lens of the shit banquet scene in Pasolini's Salo (which was re-released by the Criterion Collection to coincide with the 2008 Republican National Convention, because timing is everything), to make Modernism obscene again, to recognize James Joyce as a man who never met a dick joke he couldn't work into the Wake, to read Proust as a guy who wrote 3000 pages and seven volumes so he could conceal from censorial eyes an explicit sadistic brothel scene hidden deep inside the final volume (surely the only reason the Recherche didn't suffer the fate of Ulysses and Chatterley is that no prudes made it to volume seven), to understand the haughty mandarin Nabokov as a punning 13 year-old boy who names a nymphomaniacal character "Dr. Anita Johnson." We need to recover the grand 'immaturity' of Modernism, as 'immaturity' is understood in Ross Posnock's wonderful, essential critical study, Philip Roth's Rude Truth, the title of which reminds me that near the beginning of Posnock's book he quotes from Roth's The Counterlife a character's 'countereulogy' for the Rothian writer Nathan Zuckerman. The passage can be read as a rude, ranting, impassioned lament for the sanitizing of modern art, so I'll quote it in full:
The deballing of Zuckerman is now complete...A sanitized death, a travesty of a eulogy, and no ceremony at all--completely secular, having nothing to do with the way Jews bury people. At least a good cry around the hole, a little remorse as they lower the coffin, but no, no one even allowed to go off with the body. Burn it. There is no body. The satirist of the clamoring body--without a body. All backwards and sterile and stupid. The cancer deaths are horrifying. That’s what I would have figured him for. Wouldn’t you? Where was the rawness and the mess? Where was the embarrassment and the shame? Shame in this guy operated always.Here is a writer who broke taboos, fucked around, indiscreet, stepped outside that stuff deliberately, and they bury him like Neil Simon—Simonize our filthy, self-afflicted Zuck! Hegel’s unhappy consciousness out under the guise of sentiment and love! This unsatisfiable, suspect, quarrelsome novelist, this ego driven to its furthest extremes, ups and presents them with a palatable death—and the feeling police, the grammar police, they give him a palatable funeral with all the horseshit and the mythmaking! The only way to have a funeral is to invite everyone who ever knew the person and just wait fore the accident to happen--somebody who comes in out of the blue and tells the truth. Everything else is table manners. I can’t get over it. He’s not even going to rot in the ground, this guy who was made for it. This insidious, unregenerate defiler, this irritant in the Jewish bloodstream, making people uncomfortable and angry by looking with a mirror up his own asshole, really despised by a lot of smart people, offensive to every possible lobby, and they put him away, decontaminated, deloused—suddenly he’s Abe Lincoln and Chaim Weizmann in one! Could this be what he wanted, this kosherization, this stenchlessness? I really had him down for cancer, the works. The catastrophe-extravaganza, the seventy-eight pound death, with the stops all pulled out. A handful of hairless pain howling for the needle, even while begging the nurse's aide to have a heart and touch his prick--one last blow job for the innocent victim. Instead, the dripping hard-on gets out clean as a whistle. All dignity. A big person. These writers are great--real fakes. Want it all. Madly aggressive, shit on the page, shoot on the page, show off their every last fart on the page. And for that they expect medals. Shameless. You gotta love 'em.
Philip Roth receiving the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama, 2011.

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