Wednesday, January 02, 2008

In a review in the Times about some bigass new book on Modernism, the reviewer makes the great point that "In France, civilization is invincible and eternal." This is to contest the author's view that somehow conditions in France at the turn of the 20th century bred the types of outcast that make ideal Modernists. In fact, it is the condition of France always that creates such vigorous artistic and intellectual movements. Because French civilization is "invincible," there is no hope and therefore also no fear of ever changing it. You can assert or even do the craziest things in art, philosophy, politics, and still go to the café or have a good meal with plenty of wine. If the civilization were any weaker it would be vulnerable to the agitations of the avant garde - it might actually break down into the new forms insinuated by radicals, into some unknown which is in fact terrifying to all, not just the cozy bourgeoisie. So that's really why France is full of revolutionaries of all kinds, always clamoring, taking to the streets, crying out for change. The awesome responsibility of actually getting the exalted, ambitious things they want is never upon them. They're not afraid of winning.