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Adversary (A Quartet Of Modern Discourses)

Posted by Carl Halling, 05 June 2012 · 159 views

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Adversary (A Quartet Of Modern Discourses)


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Book Two

Adversary (a Quartet of Modern Discourses)

1. The Coming of the Absaloms

Introduction

When it comes to the key events that helped to create the society that emerged in the American/Western World in the wake of the Second World War - arguably the most traumatic event in history - many would be inclined to cite the 1950s as the fulcrumic decade, and according to Charles Ealy, author of the article Seeds of Change Sown in 1955, published in Nov. 2005 in The Dallas Morning News, that's especially true of its midpoint.
For all that, though, it's the mythic 1960s, with its Rock-Youth culture, and quasi-religious worship of sexual abandon and the use of mind-expanding drugs, that tends to be credited as the true decade of change, and with the reader's permission, I'd like to trace the evolution of the most revolutionary decade of the 20th Century, by briefly depicting the culture whence it sprang, and then - and at greater length - the decade that both preceded and birthed it, with special emphasis on its central year of '55. And all opinions are just that, opinions, but expressed as in the cases of all four discourses, in a spirit of Christian truth and integrity, to the best of my ability.

The Coming of the Absaloms

Were they really so staid and conformist, those much treasured mom-and-apple-pie fifties? We've already established that they weren't, and that they didn't yield as if by magic to the wild, Dionysian 1960s.
The truth is that far from being a sudden, unexpected event, the post-war cultural revolution, whose repercussions continue to be felt throughout a tragic broken West could boast historical roots reaching at least as far back as the European Enlightenment. Since that time, the Western World has been consistently assailed by tendencies hostile to its Judeo-Christian moral fabric, and what happened in the 1960s was simply the culmination of many decades of activity on the part of revolutionaries and avant-gardists, especially since the First World War. Even Rock, a music which the celebrated American evangelist John MacArthur once described as having "a bombastic atonality and dissonance" was foreshadowed at its most experimental by the emancipation of the dissonant brought about by Classical composers of various Modernist schools.
Moving to the totemic year of '55, I begin with a day marked by an event which had a colossal if still largely unrecognised influence on the evolution of American and Western culture, that being the 7th of October, on which five major 20th Century figures, namely, Elijah Muhammad, R.D. Laing, Ulrike Meinhof, Oliver North and Vladimir Putin, attained the ages of 58, 28, 21, 14 and 3 respectively.
It was on that day that - at San Francisco's Six Gallery at 3119 Fillmore Street - about 150 people gathered to witness readings of poems by Allen Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure and Gary Snyder.
All went on to be leading artists of the Beat Generation, a term which first saw the light of day in a 1952 article entitled This Is the Beat Generation, written for The New York Times by John Clellon Holmes, author of the 1952 proto-Beat novel, Go. Holmes had allegedly coined the term following conversations he'd had with Jack Kerouac in 1948 with regard to the disillusioned generation that had emerged in America in the wake of the Second World War.
Kerouac, the - purportedly self-styled - "shy Canuck" from Lowell, Massachusetts, also attended this epochal clarion cry to the Counterculture, but didn't read, preferring to cheerlead instead in a state of ecstatic inebriation. However, his roman a clef, On the Road (1957), which centres on the mid-century wanderings he undertook in America and Mexico - largely with his muse and close friend Neal Cassady - remains Beat's defining work.
After the reading, the Beat movement, which had existed in embryonic form since about 1944, left the underground to gradually mutate into an international craze, so that by the end of the decade, the Beatnik had taken his place as a universally recognised icon with his beret, goatee beard, turtle-neck sweater, sandals &c.
'55 was also the year in which Rock and Roll assaulted the mainstream thanks to hits by Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and others.
Although it's Richard Brook's film version of Evan Hunter's semi-autobiographical novel, The Blackboard Jungle, which, released on the 20th of March, is widely credited with igniting the Rock and Roll revolution, indeed late 20th Century teenage rebellion as a whole. And it did so by featuring Bill Haley & His Comets' Rock Around the Clock over the opening credits and beyond.
For unlike an initial far Jazzier outing by Sonny Dae and his Knights, Haley's version was remarkable for its earth-shaking sense of urgency; and so ensured the world would never be the same again following its inclusion in Jungle.
Then in August, Sun Records of Memphis, Tennessee, released Mystery Train, written - and first recorded - by Blues musician Junior Parker some two years previously, a semi-mythical 45rpm by Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill featuring the so-called King of Western Bop who went on to become Rock's single most influential figure apart from the Beatles.
On the 30th of September, James Dean died in hospital following a motor accident aged 24 after having made only three films, the greatest of which, Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause, emerged about a month afterwards. It could be said to be the motion picture industry's defining elegy to the sensitivity and rebelliousness of youth, with Dean its most beautiful and tortured icon ever. As such his image has never dated, nor been surpassed. The modern cult of youth was born in the mid 1950s.
However, Dean himself had been powerfully influenced by Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando, arguably the two foremost pioneers of the Stanislavski Method within the Motion Picture industry, who'd honed their craft in the late '40s at the celebrated Actors Studio in New York City. The screen personas of Clift, Brando and Dean, in which vulnerability and defiance were fused to luminously magnetic effect arguably served as prototypes of the neurotic and narcissistic individualism that went on to exert such a seismic influence on the evolution of the sixties Counterculture in era-defining movies such as George Stevens' A Place in the Sun (1951), Stanley Kramer's The Wild One (1953), and Elia Kazan's East of Eden (1954).
Their mixture of incandescent beauty and sullen defiance was hardly new though, having been a feature of Romantic rebels again and again at least since the heyday of Byron and Shelley; and it could be said that their true spiritual ancestor was none other than King David's much loved yet fatally rebellious son Absalom, of whom it was written in 2 Samuel 14:25: "But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him."
Again and again, 1955 is cited by cultural commentators as the year in which things started to change in America and the West. When it comes to Britain, there seems to be no doubt that within the space of a mere two generations, a spectacular rise in criminal violence from the low rates of at least the previous two centuries, occurred from about 1955. This same rise coincided with increasingly large-scale denigration of such traditionally sanctified Christian institutions as marriage, pre-marital purity and the two-parent family, which had always been seen as the enemy by various revolutionary tendencies within art and politics, while being respected by the majority, and affected every industrial nation apart from Japan.
As in Britain, so in the US, but given America's far greater size and complexity, the situation has of necessity been more extreme. Take a remarkable article written in the Fall of 1955 for the Trotskyist Fourth International, entitled Youth in a Delinquent Society:
Its author, Joyce Cowley, was at pains to emphasize the general conformity of American youth in the mid 1950s, while also making it clear that cautious conservatism was far from being the total picture, and that there'd been a sharp rise in crime since the onset of the decade. She also stated something to the effect that the nature of the crimes committed during this period were of a shocking gravity that had been relatively uncommon in the US in more recent decades. To support her point, she alluded to various phenomena which are all too familiar to those of us who came to maturity in the '60s and beyond, including the abuse of narcotics, and acts of gratuitous cruelty and violence, from teen gang rumbles to the senseless sacrifice of innocents.
But does all this mean that civilisation, not just in the US and the West, but as a whole, is irrevocably doomed? Many Christians are indeed of the belief that these are the final days prior to the return of the Lord, of which He speaks in Matthew 24:37: "But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be." They may indeed be right, and there are many indications that this is the case. However, in the verse immediately preceding the one just quoted, Jesus makes it clear that when it comes to the precise day of the Second Coming, only God the Father knows: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only."
Thence, it may well be that if the nations of the West return to the Judeo-Christian values on which they were founded, not half-heartedly...but with the kind of uncompromising passion for God that provoked the great revivals of history, like prodigals, broken and contrite in spirit, our great civilisation may yet survive.

2. Weimar Shadow of Future Things

Introduction

Many cultures have made monumental contributions to the development of our great Western Judeo-Christian civilisation, not least that of Germany, one of the most purely artistic, poetic, musical and spiritual nations in modern history. Yet it could be said that the greatest and most blessed nations are those most liable to decadence, a word which seems to seems to suggest both moral decline and a dark, sinister glamour; and few societies have been more associated with this latter quality than that of Germany between the wars, and that's especially true of its then capital city of Berlin.
The Weimar era, which came into being in 1919 and lasted until Hitler's ascent to the Chancellorship in 1933, has been likened by some cultural critics to the contemporary West.
Indeed, it could be said that much of what's happened to the West since the end of the second world war was to some degree presaged by the Berlin of the 1920s, familiar to millions through Bob Fosse's movie version of the Kander and Ebb musical, Cabaret, itself a descendant of one of Christopher Isherwood's two Berlin stories, Goodbye to Berlin, penned in 1933, but referring to incidents that took place between six to eight years earlier.
Needless to say, the Weimar era was no isolated historical instance of a society in decline, having been significantly shaped by the culture which birthed it.
Germany was of course the birthplace of Luther, and the great Protestant Reformation that has exerted such a monumental influence on the evolution of Biblical Christianity. At the same time, by the dawn of the Weimar Republic in 1919, it had long been associated with myriad revolutionary and esoteric ideas.
For example, more than any other nation in the late 18th and early 19th Century, Germany had played host to Higher Criticism, a school of Biblical criticism which flagrantly attacked the authenticity of the Scriptures. Moreover, late 19th century Europe had witnessed a significant occult revival and of all its great nations, it was arguably Germany that had been most affected by this, even more so perhaps than France and Britain, and to the obvious detriment of Biblical Christianity, even while modernity thrived.
Thence, the legendary hedonism of the so-called Golden Twenties could be said to have arisen as much - if not more - from her spiritual legacy as the more immediate source of a long and terrible war and its aftermath, but it's this latter that we turn to now.

Weimar Shadow of Future Things

Despite the fact that the bona fide Weimar era was set to dawn in all its gaudy decadent glory in early 1923, Germany was yet a terribly ravaged and traumatised land as a result of a long series of crises leading back to the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and military defeat in the First World War.
Following on from the armistice, she was subject to still more bloody conflict in the shape of the German Revolution, which culminated in the Spartacist Uprising of January 1919, during which the Spartacist League and other leftist factions rose up in revolt in Berlin, only to be put down by paramilitary Freikorps consisting of volunteer soldiers, many of them on the extreme right.
The liberal democratic Weimar Republic was established soon afterwards, but Germany's post-war miseries had only just begun. During the debates in Weimar, a Soviet Republic was declared in Munich which was crushed by the Freikorps, resulting in the proliferation of far right movements throughout Bavaria. One of these was the German Workers' Party, and several of its key founding members went on to exert a powerful influence on a young war hero by the name of Corporal Adolf Hitler with their shadowy brand of nationalism.
To further compound the nation's woes, The Treaty of Versailles was signed on the 28th of June 1919. Of its many provisions, one of the most vital required her to accept sole responsibility for causing the war and so to agree to drastic military restrictions, as well as a good many territorial concessions including the surrendering of all her overseas colonies. She also had to pay heavy war reparations, the total cost of which came to 132 billion marks, or 6.6 billion pounds sterling.
The following month, while still in the army, Hitler was sent as a police spy by German Army Intelligence to infiltrate the ranks of the previously mentioned German Workers' Party in the mistaken belief that it was Socialist in ideology.
The German currency was relatively stable during the first half of this year, but May brought the harsh London Ultimatum, which demanded reparations paid in gold or foreign currency, as well as 26% of the value of Germany's foreign exports. Hyper-inflation followed soon afterwards, which resulted in the Mark becoming all but worthless. By January 1923, defaults on payments had grown so serious that French and Belgian forces felt compelled to invade the heavily industrialised Ruhr Valley close to the Franco-German border, where they set about securing reparations in the shape of coal and other commodities.
Many Germans, including skilled workers, started working for the bare minimum necessary for the sustenance of life, as the nation started to become increasingly afflicted by unemployment, poverty, hunger, and even malnutrition, leading to widespread bitter unrest and resentment, one of whose expressions was the infamous Beer Hall Putsch of 8-9 November 1923. This was an attempt by Hitler's National German Workers' Party, including paramilitary storm troopers under the leadership of Ernst Roehm, as well as future leading Nazis, Hess, Goering and Rosenberg, at a revolution modelled on the Fascist March on Rome of the previous October. Of all the putschists, it was World War I hero General Ludendorff who demonstrated the greatest courage under fire, but he was to subsequently disown Hitler. As to the latter, he spent just a little over a month in Landsberg Prison after the putsch was decisively put down by the Army, where he dictated his memoirs, Mein Kampf, to his friend and fellow inmate, Rudolf Hess.
Somehow, however, total economic collapse was halted under the chancellorship of Gustav Stresemann - who was both charismatic and democratic, at a time when such politicians were in desperate need in Germany - by the replacement of the worthless Papiermark with the new Rentenmark, which was introduced on the 19th of November 1923. Stresemann had earlier sought peace with Germany's enemies by calling off all passive resistance of striking German workers in the Ruhr Valley, an act which while having a beneficial effect on the economy, served also to fan the flames of nationalist rage. Millions of middle class Germans had been left ruined and embittered by the period of hyperinflation, with the result that they became susceptible to extreme right wing propaganda, while many workers turned to Communism.
For the time being, though, Germany, and specifically Berlin, feasibly became the supreme world epicentre of Modernism, of creative and intellectual foment not just in the fields of literature, architecture, music, dance, drama, cinema, and the visual arts, but of science as well. While she'd been a cradle of the Modern Impulse for centuries - a distinction she shared with several other Western nations including her closest European intimates, France and Britain - it could be asserted that never before had she been quite so fiercely inclined in a cultural sense towards the radical and left-leaning, the experimental, the iconoclastic, the frankly scandalous, nor on so large a scale, as in the Weimar era.
Artistic innovation wildly thrived in Berlin in the years 1924-'29 in the shape of, among other phenomena, the artists of the New Objectivity, such as Beckmann, Dix and Grosz, Berg's ground-breaking opera, Wozzeck (1925), as well as the staccato cabaret-style music of Kurt Weill, Fritz Lang's dystopian Metropolis (1927), the spectacles of cabaret queen Anita Berber, and so on. The same applies to that lost city's notorious sexual liberalism, which still has the power to shock as seen in pictorial and photographic depictions of her cabarets and night clubs in which license and intoxication flourished unabated.
So much of what has become familiar to the West and beyond in the last half-century, from the philosophies that have dominated our academia for decades, such as Critical Theory and Deconstruction, all the way to the theatre of outrage that is the essence of Rock music pre-existed in some form in the Golden Twenties. But beneath the glittering carapace she carried within her the seeds of her own ruin, for despite the genius that flourished alongside the licentiousness, she was operating largely in defiance of the Judeo-Christian moral values that have long formed the basis of Western society.
Given that several other European and American cities were hardly less hysterically dissolute than Berlin, it's little wonder that this key Modernist decade has been described by some critics as the beginning of the end of Western civilisation. In its wake came the Great Depression, the ineffable horrors of the Second World War, and the collapse of the greatest empire the world has ever seen, all of which were succeeded in turn by the Sixties social revolution.
Since the inception of the latter, many of its core values have progressively infiltrated the Western cultural mainstream at the expense of the previously mentioned traditional Judeo-Christian ones; and for some this might raise the question: Could a time be coming when the disasters that befell the once glorious Weimar Republic will appear to those of us still alive in the contemporary West to be little more than a dress rehearsal in comparison? For my part, I hope this will not be the case, but needless to say the future's not in my hands.

3. Adversary and the Birth of the Beats

It would be false, indeed absurd, to suggest that the Counterculture of the 1960s was a unique historical event devoid of precedents and precursors. In fact, by the time of the Hippie revolution, much of the groundwork had already been done, not least during the two immediate post-war decades.
During this brief 20-year period, the Existentialists, Lettrists and Beats became international icons of revolt...Britain's first major youth cult surfaced in the shape of the Edwardians or Teddy Boys...a cinema of youthful discontent flourished as never before, fuelling a desire among many young people to be identified as rebels and wild ones...and Rock and Roll took over the world with Elvis Presley as its first true superstar. But it was the Beats who were the true precursors of the Hippies.
Few today are aware of the existence of the Lettrists, that scandalous band of avant garde agitators who thrived in post-war Paris under the leadership of Isidore Isou, but their contemporaries the Beats continue to enjoy an exceptionally high profile. This may be the result of Paris plausibly ceding her time-honoured role as the world epicentre of the avant garde to New York City in the late 1940s, but whatever the truth, the Lettrists have been all but forgotten while the Beats are still hot.
It had been earlier in the decade...around 1943, in fact...that a disparate group of would-be poets and authors of Bohemian inclination had coalesced around a brilliant angel-faced young Columbia University undergraduate by the name of Lucien Carr. The first to gravitate towards Carr was a fellow Columbia student from nearby New Jersey by the name of Allen Ginsberg. Through Carr, Ginsberg was introduced to Arthur Rimbaud, the quintessential post-Romantic bad boy poet whose terrible yet beautiful visionary verse and frenzied rebellious rage has exerted an influence on the development of the adversary culture of the post-Romantic West that is second to none or close to it. Rimbaud went on to significantly inform the evolution of Ginsberg's own poetic vision.
Also through Carr, the bookish-looking poet met the boyfriend of future Beat biographer Edie Parker, who was another of Carr's Columbia friends. This was Jean-Louis Kerouac, known as Jack, who, from a French Canadian family from Lowell, Massachusetts, had until recently been a Football player of enormous promise. But soon after gaining a scholarship to Columbia, things had started to go awry for him.
First, he cracked his tibia during a game; and then he clashed with the coach Lou Little, and was - apparently - repeatedly benched. The upshot was that he left Columbia in his sophomore year, and ended up drifting in New York City, where he met the two men - both through Lucien Carr - with whom he went on to form the nucleus of the Beat Generation, these being the aforesaid Ginsberg, and a friend of Carr's from St Louis, the patrician William Seward Burroughs II.
In 1957, Kerouac emerged as the movement's undisputed leader with the publication of On the Road, a fictionalised account of the cross-country wanderings he undertook between 1947 and 1950 with his close friend Neal Cassady...famously named Dean Moriarty in the novel.
Cassady, who somewhat resembled iconic movie star Paul Newman, was the son of an alcoholic whose early life had included the early loss of his mother, a childhood spent on Denver's skid row, a spell in reform school, and eleven months imprisonment for theft. So while Kerouac was the genius behind Beat's defining work, Cassady provided the inspiration as the Beat par excellence.
Oddly perhaps, Lucien Carr himself never went on to write anything of note, preferring to father a family and pursue a long career with the venerable news agency United Press International. It fell to his son Caleb, author of Casing the Promised Land, The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness, Killing Time, The Italian Secretary and The Legend of Broken, among other works, to be the novelist of the family...but his place in literary history is secure. As Allen Ginsberg once put it, "Lou was the glue" of the entire Beat Generation, itself the most significant avant garde movement of the 20th Century, as the primary impulse behind the '60s Counterculture.
It was in about '64, in fact, that Beat started to shift imperceptibly into the Hippie movement.
'64 was also the year the Beatles conquered America...but away from the mainstream, a certain Colorado farmer's son and former Stanford University student called Ken Kesey set off on his legendary trip from California to New York on a psychedelic school bus he named Further, with one Neal Cassady doing most of the driving. He did so in the company of a band of Counterculture pioneers, writers, artists, students &c., known as the Merry Pranksters. Once in the Big Apple, they met up with the New York Beats including Jack Kerouac who, deeply patriotic and a devout Catholic at heart, was allegedly repelled by the Pranksters' outlandish dress and appearance, and took no part in the coming psychedelic revolution, unlike Allen Ginsberg, who embraced it wholeheartedly.
The first of the infamous Acid Tests occurred a short time later in 1965, and during these LSD-fuelled events, there'd be slide and/or light shows and experiments with cutting edge sound technology, and bands such as the Warlocks - later the Grateful Dead - or Kesey's own Psychedelic Symphonette would regale the crowds with proto-psychedelic Rock.
Two years later, the Hippie, wild child of the Beat Generation, became an international media obsession, before setting about the piecemeal infiltration of mainstream society.
This slow co-option by the mainstream of many of the key values of the '60s Adversary Culture could be said to be the ultimate triumph of the Beat Generation, and all the avant gardes that preceded her...but were Kerouac alive today...you can't help but think he might be weeping at the thought of it.
For it's as if he came to deeply regret the culture he'd helped to foment; and yet felt powerless to control. And, instead of forgiving himself, effectuated a flight into the alcoholism that ultimately led to his dying at his mother's home from cirrhosis of the liver at just 47 years old.
And while he was ten years older than his hero Thomas Wolfe, another in a long line of writers of great and original genius destroyed by the thirsty muse, he was yet far too young to suffer such a terrible and painful death. While any Christian worthy of the name must surely weep at the thought of any sorrow that leads not to repentance and salvation, but the endless night of fathomless desperation.

4. From Avant Garde to Global Village

Introduction

It could justifiably be stated that we are currently living in a Western World whose moral world view owes much to values which until recently were associated with progressives operating within the arts, politics, philosophy, religion etc., and that this morality remains more or less constant, affecting everything from top to bottom in our society, despite sporadic shifts of power from the political left to the right. At the same time, traditional morality - founded on the West's Judeo-Christian heritage - is being increasingly seen as harsh and exclusivist, where once it held almost total sway.
In order to come to some sort of conclusion as to how this situation came about, as good a starting point as any would be the early 19th Century, at a time when the Romantic Movement was birthing the concept of an artistic avant-garde on the cutting edge of innovation, not just in terms of creativity, but societal change.
Plausibly, the avant-garde worldview was the scion of a greater revolutionary spirit that had been impacting the West at least since the dawn of the Enlightenment, the great European move towards greater Rationalism regarding the key issues of life. The Age of Reason began towards the end of the 18th Century, lasting until about 1789, the year of the French Revolution, which was one if its earliest fruits.
Many theories exist as to what - or who - was the main driving force behind this spirit, but it's not the aim of this essay to attempt to unmask these, so much as to trace the course of the avant-garde throughout history, and so speculate on how so humble a tendency might ultimately have come to alter the entire fabric of Western civilisation through a process known as Modernism.

From Avant Garde to Global Village

It may have been the great English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who, by asserting that "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world," was the first major artist to give expression to the concept of an avant-garde on the cutting edge of creative innovation. That said, the first actual use of the term in an artistic rather than military sense was probably made in 1825 by the early Socialist theorist Henri de Saint-Simon in his Literary, Philosophical and Industrial Opinions.
Whatever the truth, it's a recent development, fostered by the early, and especially German and English, Romantics, whose influence on the development of the notion of the Artist as Rebel cannot be underestimated. Yet, it arguably found its first spiritual home in post-revolutionary Paris. It's impossible to say precisely why, of course, but what is beyond dispute is that of all the nations of Europe, few could lay greater claim to national genius than France...and that this genius is most encapsulated in her ever-enchanting capital city. More particularly, though, by the 1830s, and following a long series of national traumas including the Revolutionary War itself, Paris had - I think it's fair to say - become the leading world incubator of the most charismatic originality of thought and behaviour.
It was a uniqueness, moreover, that has tended ever since to verge on the downright bizarre when manifested by certain of her most gifted citizens...such as her celebrated accursed poets - so-called, of course, for even the most malefic among us are capable of coming to faith in Christ - who have long been the ultimate apostles of the avant-garde.
It could be said that the first generation of these were numbered among the young men who - in the wake of the July Revolution of 1830 - congregated about such wild and brilliant youth as Petrus Borel and Theophile Gautier, two writers of the so-called frenetic school of late Romantics. They did so with the purpose of enforcing the Romantic worldview in the face of widespread censure on the part of the despised respectable middle classes.
To the Gautier of the mid 1830s, this censure constituted a veritable Christian moral resurgence, which he rails against in the famous preface to his 1836 novel, Mademoiselle de Maupin, the first known manifesto of the doctrine of Art for Art's Sake.
These seminal avant-gardists have become known as the Bouzingos, although little distinguished them from the earlier Jeunes-France.
They were originally members of the Petit Cenacle, a Romantic clique allegedly founded by the sculptor Jehan du Seigneur, whose role in the infamous Battle of Hernani at the Comedie-Francaise theatre in February 1830 was paramount. This took place on the opening night of Hugo's play, Hernani, and was marked by violent scenes involving defenders of the Classical tradition, and Hugo's supporters, who flaunted long hair and flamboyant costumes in defiance of everything the former held dear. In addition to Gautier, Borel and Seigneur, they included Gerard de Nerval, Philothee O'Neddy and Augustus MacKeat, all of whom went on to be numbered among the Jeunes-France.
According to one theory, while the first Bouzingos were a band of political agitators who took part in the July Revolution in wide-brimmed leather hats, their artistic counterparts were wrongly named by the press following a night of riotous boozing which saw some of them end up in prison for the night. They too embraced radical political views, because for the most part, the artistic avant-garde has inclined to the left, while containing an ultra-conservative element.
Needless to say perhaps, they owed an enormous debt to the earlier English and German Romantics, who did much - or so it's been asserted - to promulgate the myth of the tormented artist ever-existent on the fringes of respectable society...which later came to be known as Bohemia.
Akin to the bohemian was the dandy; and of the purported accursed poets of mid 19th Century Paris, several were both bohemians and dandies, depending on their circumstances at the time. They included Charles Baudelaire, whose 1863 essay The Dandy is one of the defining works on the subject.
The great Parisian Bohemias of the 19th Century were the Left Bank of the Seine as a whole - including the Latin Quarter and Montparnasse - and Montmartre, which exploded on an international scale towards the century's end; while the first literary work to officially celebrate the Bohemian way was Henri Murger's Scenes of Bohemian Life.
Later Bohemias included London's Chelsea, and New York's Greenwich Village, but Paris remains Bohemia's true and eternal spiritual capital.

The first waves of the avant-garde, and the Bohemias in which they thrived, ultimately produced the Decadent movement of the 1870s and '80s, and a multitude of minor sects, such as the Zutistes of the early '70s, which for a time included Verlaine and Rimbaud, and the later Hirsutes and Hydropathes, and finally, the great Symbolist Movement in the arts.
However, the spirit of the avant-garde could be said to have triumphed as never before in the shape of the massively influential and truly international artistic and cultural phenomenon known as Modernism.
In an artistic sense, she existed at her point of maximum intensity from about 1890 to 1930, producing such earth-shaking works as Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (1913), T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) and James Joyce's Ulysses (1922). Mention must also be made of such Modernist schools as the previously mentioned Symbolism, as well as Expressionism, Futurism, Dadaism and Surrealism. It could be said that she represented the triumph of the avant-garde, anticipating her future at the very heart of the cultural mainstream.
Furthermore, whenever Modernism is discussed with regard to the arts, parallel iconoclastic developments by figures such as Marx in politics, Nietzsche in philosophy, Freud in psychology, and Darwin in science must surely be taken into consideration. They all served to fuel the Modernist agenda, which - according to certain cultural critics - is intrinsically anti-Christian...and there is substance to their argument, although several major Modernist figures have been professing Christians.
Taking things further, it could be averred that rather than emerging from the avant-garde, Modernism actually predated it, that is, as a spirit rather than a movement as such, having roots further back into the depths of Western history, beyond the Age of Reason, to the Renaissance and its revival of Classical Antiquity.
She seemed to undergo a falling away in terms of intensity in the years leading up to the Second World War, while the immediate post-war age brought renewed activity through the Existentialists and Lettrists of Paris, but more especially through the Beat Generation, born in the city which had recently become the cultural capital of the world: New York.
Together, they helped to usher in what could be called an age of Mass-Modernism, although they weren't operating alone, because by the early '50s, the Modern had formed a strong alliance with the popular arts. In fact, this had occurred some half century earlier with the genesis of Pop Culture, which gave rise to the cinema, and one of the first true Pop music genres in the shape of Ragtime. However, these were minor developments in comparison to the cataclysmic events of the '60s.
Possibly the single most powerful weapon in the Modernist armoury has been Pop Culture, and in terms of its evolution, the influence of the Beat Generation was enormous. That is especially true of its role as the begetter of the Hippie uprising, which took place between about 1965, with San Francisco as its centrifugal city, and 1967 when it peaked, before ceding to the year of revolutions, which was 1968.
One of the keynotes of late Modernism and the social revolution it provoked, most notably in the 1960s, has been the progressive acceptance by mass culture of beliefs once seen as the preserve of bohemians and avant-gardists, the most obvious being the so-called "free love" once promoted so forcefully by angel-faced atheist, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
This process was considerably facilitated by the Rock revolution which, after having begun around 1955-'56, segued into the sentimental Pop music that reached its apogee with the Beatles. It then underwent a further quickening at the hands of harder, earthier bands such as those of the first British Blues boom; and so evolve into Rock pure and simple.
By the end of the '60s, Rock had become a truly versatile music, running the gamut from the most infantile hit parade ditties to musically and lyrically complex compositions owing as much to Classical music and Jazz as Rock and Roll. As such, it was an international language, with the power to disseminate values hostile to traditional Western morality as no other artistic movement before it, while the most powerful Rock stars attained - if only fleetingly - through popular consumer culture a degree of influence that previous generations of innovative artists operating within high culture could only dream of.
Yet, as the ultimate manifestation of what might be termed Mass-Modernism, Rock has not functioned alone; in fact, from the outset, it was impelled by the cinema of youthful discontent of the early 1950s, whose magnetic icons, including Monty Clift, Marlon Brando and James Dean, could be said to have been Rock stars before their time. Furthermore, as the Rock revolution proceeded apace throughout the '70s, it was buttressed and enabled by a cinema finally freed from the shackles of the Motion Picture Production Code, which had been in force since 1930 but which was finally jettisoned in 1967, after at least a decade of declining efficacy.
At some point in its recent history, Modernism's unrelenting drive towards permanent societal change arguably reached a logical conclusion, as the classic values of the avant-garde had begun to wholly dominate the cultural mainstream; and so the West entered a Postmodern phase. When this occurred is open to conjecture, but 1980 has been put forward as a likely date. Certainly, after 1980, it became impossible for artists to scandalise the bourgeoisie as they'd once done; and even when they strained to shock a public all but impervious to outrage, originality eluded them. Others have insisted Postmodernism began as early as 1950, on the eve of the television and Pop Music revolutions.
What is certain is that things have changed beyond all measure in the West in the last half century or so to the extent that in the 2010s, the age-old dream of political and artistic radicals, and their allies within the realms of religion, philosophy, psychology, science etc., of a world united by humanitarian values could be closer to becoming a reality than has ever been possible up to this point in time. In the meantime, the old world, the Judeo-Christian one bound by love of God, love of country, and love of family, has to all intents and purposes been cast out into the wilderness, as if there can be no place for its ancient certainties in the paradise about to be born. Edited 10 Mar 2014




August 2014

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