Saturday, March 17, 2007
I have never, I confess, 'got' the late Susan Sontag. People routinely rave about her brilliance and, so, conscientiously, I read her and find uninteresting prose and simple and sometimes interesting arguments rendered complex and uninteresting by fussy organisation. The same is broadly true of this previously unpublished essay in the Guardian. This time, however, I think there is a genuinely very good essay struggling to get out. The argument - almost buried by the structure - is that there is a conflict between 'the modern' and the pursuit of literary fiction. The modern homogenises - 'The quintessential site of the modern is an airport; and all airports are alike...'- whereas the novel particularises. Furthermore, the modern destroys cultures by globalising everything and offering everything, whereas literature - 'with its invitation to develop the kind of inwardness that resists the modern satieties' - is localised and tentative. This isn't quite right. All airports aren't the same any more than all Gothic cathedrals are the same, indeed their surface similarity dramatises their differences. But the question imperfectly framed by Sontag's conclusion is the big one: is an international culture of the modern possible? Probably not, which is why - and she's dead right here - the pursuit of literature is more important than ever.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:28 am