Saturday, February 9, 2008

an impossible blog

Since modernity is what just about every poet, economist, philosopher, artist, historian, composer, novelist (have I left anyone out?) has been trying to understand for the last two or three hundred years, trying to understand modernity turns into the problem of understanding understanding, which is sort of like understanding consciousness which is sort of like trying to watch your eyes move by looking in the mirror . . . If you get my drift, and I'm not sure I do.

On the theory that there are some things that are best understood by studying those who hate or fear them, I've begun reading the works of modernity's greatest hater, Joseph de Maistre, in Jack Lively's translation. And here I have to say that, being illiterate in French and German, I am unqualified to say much of anything to the purpose about the romantic reaction to modernity in the 19th century--and particularly in French symbolist poetry and German philosophy. Further, even if I were literate in these languages, I would probably find much of that poetry and philosophy impenetrable. I have tried to read Kant, Hegel, Mallarme and Rimbaud in translation with but indifferent success.

What follows, I hope, will consist of notes and reflections on de Maistre.

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