Lee Siegel reviewing Peter Gay’s Modernism — The Lure of Heresy From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond.
if the French provided the most extreme assaults on Western rationality â€” Rimbaudâ€™s â€œdisorientation of the senses,â€ AndrÃ© Bretonâ€™s celebration of primal instincts stored in the unconscious, AndrÃ© Gideâ€™s enthusiasm for the â€œmotivelessâ€ crime, Antonin Artaudâ€™s â€œTheater of Cruelty,â€ Maurice Blanchotâ€™s declaration of the death of the author â€” the reason was simple. … In France, civilization is invincible and eternal. Its immutable stability makes opposition to it all the more cheerfully ferocious. You can hurl the most incredible rhetorical and intellectual violence against French custom and convention and still have time for some conversation in the cafe, un peu de vin, a delicious dinner and, of course, lâ€™amour. And in the morning, you extricate yourself from such sophisticated coddling â€” the result of centuries of art and artifice â€” and rush back to the theoretical barricades.