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View Diary: Jacques Barzun: From Dawn to Decadence (37 comments)

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  •  I don't know that he denigrated everything (5+ / 0-)

    contemporary. But I watched Arthur Schlesinger interviewing him about the book (a video from twelve years ago) and he asked Barzun: "You think the novel was the preeminent literary form of the 19th century. What do you think the major literary form of the 20th century is?"

    Barzun hemmed and hawed for a bit, saying that if it was someone else speaking, he'd answer "the film." (I think that's a good answer.) But then he went on to say that that he thought the preeminent literary form of the 20th century was capsule observations and terminology (he gave the example "high brow" and "low brow," which date back at least to Virginia Woolf's day.) He added that if he had to identify a strictly literary form defining the 20th century, it would be "the comics."

    So he wasn't very impressed with 20th century literary forms. As for Mozart, what you say is true. And Berlioz--according to Barzun, he was unappreciated in his lifetime as a composer (except by some students and some other great composers of the 19th century.) He got a kind of renaissance in the 1960s, in part thanks to an effort to revive appreciation for him by: Jacques Barzun, via a book he wrote in the 1950s lauding Berlioz' innovations and genius. (In contrast: Wagner, who appreciated Berlioz, was never entirely out of critical fashion after he gained fame.)

    So we are stuck with these ur-stories about recognizing some geniuses and innovators only with the benefit of historical hindsight. There are many similar stories about great Western artists and thinkers; Barzun tells some of them in the book. I'm looking forward to the end of the book, to see who Barzun thinks is great, "now" (at the time of the writing of From Dawn to Decadence in the early nineteen nineties.)

    Co-author of the first political biography of Michele Bachmann: Michele Bachmann's America

    by Bill Prendergast on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 10:58:39 PM PDT

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    •  I think (5+ / 0-)

      (and it is here that I'm vulnerable to scholarship, but I still believe this) that Jane Austen invented the novel as we know it -- there were prototypes before, but she was the first master of the the novel.

      Emma is a brilliant work.

      The novel as a form was honed and refined during the century after Austen's work...but few could do what she did in turning a phrase or characterizing a scoundrel oh so archly.

      (Dickens got paid by the word...not quite the same thing...but you have to get to Twain to find another writer as beautiful as Austen.  I like George Eliot,  Not as good.  And don't even get me started on Henry James!)

      Ack!  Now I'm stuck in the 19th century.

      OK, I am only talking books:

      Virginia Woolf, whom you mention, was brilliant.  The Waves blew me away, and it isn't even considered one of her best, although I disagree.

      I have yet to make my way through Ulysses and possibly never will (I am curious about the most recent version) but Molly Bloom's soliloquy is brilliant writing.  I suspect Barzun hated Joyce.  Too modern.

      Let me say that I never claimed to be anything more than middlebrow when it comes to the arts.  It's just...I think we middlebrow people are probably the definition of the art lovers who, by attending the symphony or buying books or going to plays...ensure the popularity to keep said artistic endeavors on stage or in bookstores.

      Just a hunch.

      To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

      by Youffraita on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 11:28:21 PM PDT

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