The guests this week are C Derick Varn and Steven A. Michalkow, the editors of the online literary journal Former People. We discuss modernism, neomodernism, and the impossibility of literature today.
What is Former People? According to their manifesto Former People is about bangs and whimpers. They wrote:
The past is not dead, it is not even past, to invoke Faulkner. And yet the past is obscured with dust, dross, and delusion. This seeming contradiction is but the inevitable process of human progress. The patina of confusion is make-up our world, the present merely being the current lie agreed upon. So too with “modernism”–a word whose archaic and historically limited reference strikes us already as self-parody. “Neo-modernism” seems no better – yet another joke of the post moderns. The kind of joke we now laugh at with no more vigor than in a reflex. “The new modern” – a redundant phrase, and yet on that has relevance to us. The goal of the Former People is to explore the future even as we look upon the past through the glass darkly. We aim not for nostalgia, but to combat the mid-brow and middle mind as well as the flippancy or over-seriousness of so much literary art. The literary arts are always intertwined within the new and the old, the high and the low, the experimental and traditional: we found all this already in the various modernism all over the world despite the pretensions to “modernism’s” difficulty.
At one point in the discussion I ask Kliman if it isn’t the case that our knowledge and ideas must alway be partial and founded upon collective agreement, and I believe that at that point I sent the conversation off on the wrong track. Instead I ought to have asked, isn’t it the case that our thoughts and partial understanding is always founded on already existing activity, and that this activity is already shot through with ideas, perhaps ideas that aren’t consciously held but only acted out. But, I didn’t ask that question and so we don’t quite arrive at addressing that concern. Still, despite my mistake we get fairly close to addressing that question.
We aim to be pluralists in our exploration of things neo-modern. This is not a movement nor is it a pretense to a clear aesthetic criteria as much as a zeitgeist and a de-personalization of the arts. We do not declare war against the philistine or the mid-cultist as that war is already lost–we are but an exploratory remnant that benefits from no want to make money on this endeavor and thus to be obscure or as popular as individual taste allows. We are like the orphaned children of deposed nobility, walking in the aftermath of their advances and retreats; their hundred visions and revisions. We are former people, who acknowledge that perhaps modernism has ended with both bangs and whimpers, and thus perhaps it can be appreciated and renewed as only something of the past truly can be: after all the mortar of future dreams is mixed water and quickener with ashes and pith of dead cities.
C. Derick Varn and Steven A. Michalkow
This week you’ll hear from TS Elliot, William Butler Yeats, Allen Ginsberg, and Christopher Knowles. Remember, Literature is power.