Wednesday, January 25, 2012

modernist, beautiful genius, or both?

Having just finished D.H. Lawrence's Twilight in Italy, I am completely enraptured. Sometimes I allow myself to forget the importance of art and spirit for the late-nineteenth century cognoscenti: in a world experiencing the death of God, the idea of Art and of the Mind (with a capital A and M, respectively), really meant something. Especially now, looking back at some of the texts I studied in the throes of my fin-de-siecle research, I can't help but compare Lawrence to people like Bahr, Klimt, even the ostensibly disparate Schoenberg and Stravinsky. To all these men, a nostalgia for the past prevailed--although expressed in a wide spectrum of references form the Greeks, to Byzantium, to baroque dance forms, and to ancient rituals--and was indeed, a major force of motion in their intellectual and artistic outputs. They were seeking an answer (or more aptly, the answer) and an antidote for nineteenth century material excess. In any event, if you want a break from theory, spend some time with D.H. Lawrence in Italy...just another piece of the 1890-1914 puzzle. Below are a couple of my favorite passages.

"The twilight deepened, though there was still the strange, glassy translucency of the snow-lit air. A fragment of moon was in the sky. A carriage-load of French tourists passed me. There was the loud noise of water, as ever, something eternal and maddening in its sound, like the sound of Time itself, rustling and rushing and wavering, but never for a second ceasing. The rushing of Time that continues throughout eternity, this is the sound of the icy streams of Switzerland, something that mocks and destroys our warm being." (155)

Another favorite:
"It is as if the whole social form were breaking down, and the human element swarmed within the disintegration, like maggots in cheese. The roads, the railways are built, the mines and quarries are excavated, but the whole organism of life, the social organism, is slowly crumbling and caving in, in a kind of process of dry rot, most terrifying to see. So that it seems as though we should be left at last with a great system of roads and railways and industries, and a world of utter chaos seething upon these fabrications: as if we had created a steep framework, and the whole body of society were crumbling and rotting in between." (165)

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