Stephen Mitchelmore takes offense to loose "last modernist" talk:
in response to the death of JG Ballard. So far I have managed to avoid
comment. However, the latest links to Chris Petit's appreciation The Last Modernist and now I have something to say.
What is it with this title? In 1996, Anthony Cronin published The Last Modernist, a biography of Beckett and, three years ago, James Wood wrote an article about Henry Green entitled The last English Modernist (to which I responded
at the time). We can assume it's a muted overstatement to assert the
importance of a writer even when writing – certainly in these three
cases – means the erasure of the author as a distinct personality. Here
though, in its blithely confident use, it reveals the anxiety with
which British literary culture regards modernism (the case, by the way,
is lower to maintain the present tense).
Stephen then goes on to contest the use of modernity in Ballard's fiction:
and might thereby be called modernistic. Yet why isn't writing also
subject to modernity as much as "our psyches"? In both appreciations,
the writers demonstrate their own distance from the caricature. They
are able to remove themselves from modernity in order to explain why
its fictional presentation is worth celebrating. What does this tell us
about the reach of modernity?
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