“We have the option of optimism,” writes Darran Anderson in his lovely, wonderful review essay/appreciation of Kevin Jackson’s Constellation of Genius – 1922: Modernism Year One (not yet out in the U.S., pub date September). It’s all well and good to talk about aesthetics and traditions and the history of ideas, but what Anderson nails to a T is the sense of wonder, adventure, rebellion, excitement and optimism of the mo(ve)ment. Anderson himself comes across as a genial, bookish traveler, dragging his wine-stained, scarred books around the world. As time goes on, you learn that books are your best friends and the last refuge of quality in this meretricious world (doesn’t matter that there are a lot of trashy books, too; you don’t have to read them). It’s always a pleasure to discover a fellow reader, as Darran Anderson is.
There are countless amazing creative developments happening right now, instigated by similarly amazing people. Some of them are drunks too, some of them doomed. We’ll not recognise many of them until looking back in years to come, possibly when it is too late, a consequence of Kierkegaard’s “Life is lived forwards but understood backwards.” We are like the fortune-tellers in Dante’s Inferno whose heads are turned backwards so they stumble about unable to see where they are going. We are fumbling blindly into the future, using what has already passed as our guide. We are all Walter Benjamin’s Angelus Novus. Yet these creative people, our own Modernists, do exist if we are perceptive enough to find them and assist them the way Pound, Stein and Cocteau did (not to undervalue their own brilliant contributions). We have the option of optimism. We have the added bonus of more history to ransack than the Modernists had and technology that would have been barely imaginable to them. We can speak to each other, as we are now, immediately and internationally without a single ship, telegram or astral projection having to be utilised.
The reason I love Modernism is that it reminds me of possibilities. If we can find nothing to astonish us, we must make things to astonish. The world is plural and the art that reflects it will never be finished, so long as there’s breath in our lungs. Let the naysayers understand, in terms of possibilities, we have barely begun.