Category Archive 'Peter Gay'

03 Jan 2008

France and Modernism

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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 — Rimbaud’s “disorientation of the senses,” André Breton’s celebration of primal instincts stored in the unconscious, André Gide’s enthusiasm for the “motiveless” crime, Antonin Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty,” Maurice Blanchot’s declaration of the death of the author — 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, l’amour. And in the morning, you extricate yourself from such sophisticated coddling — the result of centuries of art and artifice — and rush back to the theoretical barricades.

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