PROSE BATTLE IN MADNESS: WILLIAM GADDIS AND JONATHAN SWIFT

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The post-modern novelist William Gaddis

To be post-modern is to be self-referencing in a despairing sort of way, and who has time for the egotistically bleak?

Gaddis said the writer was the “dregs” of his work and the work was all-important. But he protested too much, for post-modernism is where “dregs” is the “work.” OK, this defines modernism, but post-modernism was the most superficial attempt imaginable to escape modernism, this being the whole point. “Modern” and “post-modern” talk was mostly legitimized by over-serious scholars marking “eras” for  convenience for textbooks for modern art classes. University taking a vocational turn towards fashion.

We don’t have time for William Gaddis, but to be kind to him, we have even less time for post-modernism. Time has no time for it, either. It’s already past, and will leave Warholian personality quirks as its mark. Modern was already post-modern: Duchamp’s urinal (1917) became Warhol’s Brillo boxes (1964). Ironic branding existed in 18th century peasant fashions. Post-modern is the attempt to pretend Modern—or Modernism—was ever “modern” at all. I almost said “in the first place,” but “at all” is better. Post-modernism is merely the continuation of Hamlet’s winking madness. A gang of anti-corporate artists: The Weavers? The Beatles? Or the Velvet Underground?

The mischief makers of anti-corporate sincerity inevitably are killed by legal sharks. Upon the stone barriers of bottom line legality flying imagination crashes. Idiots want what they want; those who attempt to wake up the idiots end up as some definition of the criminal. One wonders why the world is full of dumb fucks and the answer is simple: happier to be a dumb fuck with everyone else than be a miserable lone fuck at odds with all the dumb fucks. Happiness is a law.

Which brings us to the words of William Gaddis in our Scarriet Madness Prose bracket:

“Justice?—You get justice in the next world; in this world you have the law.”

Does it have a chance against an 18th political pamphleteer and Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Jonathan Swift?

We don’t think it does:

“When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.”

We vastly prefer the Swift.

But the law might feel differently—especially if the dunces are using it.

 

 

 

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