The Birth of Natural Classicism

By Turner, Frederick | The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

The Birth of Natural Classicism


Turner, Frederick, The Wilson Quarterly


The artists, poets, composers, and dramatists now reaching their maturity have lived through a time of crisis for the arts. Some of us are questioning the whole 200-year-old tradition of the avantgarde and rethinking our aesthetics from the ground up.

The moment we realized we had crossed the invisible boundary from one cultural era to another was surely different in each case; it was, especially at the beginning when we did not know that others were going through the same thing, an intensely individual and sometimes lonely experience. For some of us, it came when we first began asking the awkward questions; for others, it was when we saw with a shock that we had already been asking them for some time; for others, it was when we first recognized an alternative view of the world; and for yet others, it was when we met somebody else who shared the same heterodox opinions.

The late modernist inheritance we came into in the 1950s end '60s, despite its seductive surface of countercultural lifestyle and apocalyptic rhetoric, was even then hoary and stereotyped in its intellectual and spiritual provenance. There was little in its armory that did not derive ultimately from Romantic egoism, 19th-century political radicalism, and early-20th-century modernist movements such as Dada. Such indebtedness to the past would be harmless, indeed laudable, in an artistic movement whose theory and dynamic was one of the incorporation of the past into the present; but it was inconsistent in one that claimed the cachet of innovation, courageous nonconformity, and revolution.

In poetry, what we inherited was confessional free verse; in visual art, abstract expressionism and pop art; in music, 12tone composition; in drama, the theater of the absurd, the theater of cruelty, and happenings. Avant-garde novels and films were plotless and autobiographical. The arts showed all the signs of decadence and exhaustion: the abandonment of technical discipline, the harking after unrealistic and potentially bloody schemes of social revolution, the extreme subjectivism, the studied ignorance of and hostility to scientific fact, the moral cynicism.

It seemed for a brief time that the emergence of postmodernism meant an end to the long, deadening twilight in the avantgarde arts. But in many ways it was a further descent. "Language poetry," visual and musical deconstructivism, political theater, and minimalist fiction seemed to have added little except a further element of self-congratulatory self-regard, while losing the late modernist emotionality that gave the avant-garde a semblance of life.

Instead of political utopianism, we got political correctness; instead of radical subjectivism, the deconstruction of the self. Instead of the subjective construction of reality, we ended up with the social construction of reality. Instead of scientific ignorance, we were given a wholesale attack on the possibility of any kind of knowledge at all. The cynicism remained.

The artistic origin of social construction can be found in modernism, in what at first was a glorious and defiant assertion of artistic freedom. The artist is free only if he (and "he" it usually was, for this was an intensely young male view of the world) can make up his own world and kick himself loose from nature. Painters broke the shackles of representation, fiction writers broke the shackles of naturalistic narrative, composers broke the shackles of melody and harmony, poets broke the shackles of meter. By fiat, they made up their own worlds. Artists were supported in this view by the philosopher J. L. Austin's theory of speech acts and "performatives," whereby the very statement of something, such as a promise or the stipulation of a rule in an agreed context, could create a new reality without need for empirical verification. This, of course, meant that a world was something that could be made up, a point not lost on political interpreters, who, constitutionally suspicious, immediately began to ask: who gets to make up the world? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Birth of Natural Classicism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.