Intermission: A 21st Century Don Quixote?
"Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind."
This essay is part of an ongoing series by The Nostomodern Review on Modernism and its future in the 21st Century and beyond. Each essay forms parts of the Nostomodernist project: a quasi-scholarly attempt at reevaluating what it means to be Modern in contemporary times, to possibly reconcile the gap between Modernism and its successors, and to speculate on new trajectories within the current era of history.
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“By a small sample we may judge of the whole piece.”
Intermissions are like chapter notes—tidy reflections about an experience. The first two chapters have been pleasure to write, and I am looking forward to their sequels in the coming months.
In this interlude before Chapter 02a: A Nightmare Ecology? is released, I would like to prove how troublesome these chapters can be. I hope this can be encouraging; writing is a fickle task without shame, and there is no shame in rewriting a few dozen times.
Since publishing Chapter 01: A Nostomodern Manifesto? Or, A Question For Spirals last year, I have returned to this chapter at least a dozen times, if not more. During each visit—usually before bed—I read it again and again, looking for improvements. I have found many since the first version.
Sometimes a word has to be replaced; a sentence must be broken; or an entire paragraph needs to be rewritten. And you find these mistakes each time. Sometimes less is more; sometimes more is more and less is less. Read it again.
In this Intermission, I would like to share a few of them, and give reasons for why I picked them. No doubt they will be outdated soon; that is part of the experience.
Their thoughts must be written down; their ideologies must be preserved within words—saved for posterity somehow—and jettisoned brightly into the cosmos.
Thoughts must be written down; ideologies must be preserved within words—saved for posterity somehow—to be jettisoned brightly into the cosmos.
The removal of “their” does nothing to change the gesture of the sentence. If anything it makes the line more poignant, while substituting the specificity of “their” for the broadness of pure concepts.
It resets its limitations to be within the grand scale of history, and removes us from the vainness of some immortality; that is to say, it rejects the anthropocentrism of our time here on earth.
It resets its limitations to be within the grand scale of history that is to say, it rejects the anthropocentrism of our time here on earth.
For months I have disliked this line, and I still find it problematic. It tries to say too much in too small a space, and the result is clumsy, awkward and claustrophobic. We must be better than this.
Imagine if three hundred more years lie ahead; and what have we learnt from the first two hundred?
Imagine three hundred years lie ahead; what have we learnt from the first two hundred?
By removing “if” and “more”, the sentence has become streamlined. Adverbs are usually not worth their trouble, and in this case, “more” should really be less. A rogue conjunction like “if” does nothing here except to create an expectation that is never fulfilled—the point is simple enough to understand without it. The worst culprit is “and”, because it breaks up the flow of the sentence and removes the poignancy found earlier in the chapter.
The utopian ideal of the grand theoretician has thus far emboldened no end to history, no end to progress, but instead fragmentation and wary discernment between the underlying states of characters—characters which are both national and individual, societal and pedagogical.
The utopian ideal of the grand theoretician has emboldened no end to history, no end to progress, but instead fragmentation and wary discernment for underlying states of character—and characters who are national and individual, societal and pedagogical.
It was indulgent to include “thus far” in the early versions of Chapter 01. Its absence only improves the paragraph, and the other edits reinforce this decision as the correct one.
If the Renaissance lasted five centuries, if the Middle Ages lasted a thousand, what considers us past this modern state of affairs—so ready to declare some realm of postmodernity?
If the Renaissance lasted five centuries, if the Middle Ages lasted ten, what makes us postmodern now—if we take postmodernism in its most literal sense—and be ready to declare Modernism dead after two?
Some of you may recognise the phrase between the em dashes—it was part of another passage in earlier versions. That passage would not do because it repeated this one. Hence, they have been merged, and only one line survived. On another note, if we use “two”, we must use “ten”. A “thousand” will not do—we must be grammatically clear.
We have yet to see the profound consequences of the new world; we are in the thick of these modern times, and we have neither failed nor succeeded enough to argue that we have emerged from them.
We have yet to see the profound consequences of the new world; we are in the thick of these modern times, and we have neither failed nor succeeded enough to have emerged from them.
Sometimes we have to stand by our words. If we have the confidence to write something, we must believe in what we write. Therefore, we must remove “to argue”, because we have only one point to make—hence, we must make it.
We have succeeded from recovering the past, and for quite some time have moved far beyond the old ways.
We have seceded from emulating the past, and have moved beyond the old ways.
The original line makes no sense. What does “succeeded from recovering the past” mean? We have obviously mistaken “succeeded” for “seceded”. Sometimes we may use more words than necessary; often, it is what gives style its power. In this case, however, there is style in the reverse.
We are standing at the dawn of new traditions, at the breaking of old flesh and the view from new heights.
We are standing at the dawn of new traditions, at the breaking of old flesh and a view of new stars.
Avoid cliches—unless you turn them cleverly. There was nothing clever about “new heights”, and while “new stars” is not necessarily sublime, it is far better than a cliche.
“Take care, your worship, those things over there are not giants but windmills.”
A 21st Century Don Quixote? Sometimes I feel this way—as though I were chasing ghosts. Postmodernism has been explained before and many have supposedly superseded it.
Everyone is making noise; we must try to make ours wisely, yes? But will I succeed where others have failed? Harold Bloom calls it the anxiety of influence; I am probably overthinking it.
This is self-doubt speaking for sure—I am assured that it befalls everyone else. But if we are brave enough to write—then once again—we must stand by our writing, and like Alonso Quijano, have courage (or madness) for what frequently seems like folly.
We must keep going; let time do the work.
Copyright © Thomas J. Pellarin, 2021. All rights reserved.