Chapter

Asserting Modernity

Larry F. Norman

in The Shock of the Ancient

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780226591483
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226591506 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226591506.003.0003
Asserting Modernity

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It is a commonplace in literary history to say that the moderns of today will quickly become the ancients of tomorrow. Such is time's work. But Chénier's remark reminds us of perhaps a more interesting, and inverse, truth: today's “Ancients” (that is, defenders of the ancients) may tomorrow seem a bit too “Modern,” too deeply tied to their own present moment and its codes and customs. According to Chénier's logic, Boileau would only acquire the authentic force of an Ancient when his own century is invested through passing time with its own aura of antiquity. There are Ancient and Modern positions to be found in writings, but no pure and simple Ancients and Moderns among actual writers. A harsher judgment might be that there are only failed Ancients and failed Moderns. The inescapable present fetters the first; the inescapable past, the second.

Keywords: modernity; customs; literary history; ancients; past and present; Chénier

Chapter.  6570 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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