Thursday, March 8, 2012


When I was last on vacation, back in January, I kept a promise to myself to either read or re-read a classic book.

By classic I do not mean something written in the last 30 years.

I mean something writ long ago that will last forever.

In the past, I've read "Don Quixote," "Robinson Crusoe," "Canterbury Tales." "Gilgamesh." Things like that. Things that help demarcate Western thought and civilization.

This past vacation I read Peter Ackroyd's new translation of Thomas Mallory's epic "Le Morte d' Arthur." It was published about 650 years ago and was, in a sense, the "Harry Potter" of its day. In fact, without "Le Morte d'Arthur" chances are there would be no Hogwarts.

Just now I was reading an ad blog or online magazine, I forget which and a new hire was called by his new boss "a modern creative."

I wonder what that means.

No, really.

Modern, when it comes to art, means the period after WWII until about the early 70s. It does not mean contemporary. In fact, Rockefeller's bequest to the Museum of Modern Art prohibits it from becoming a museum of contemporary art.

I read these classics and try to picture myself in the era they were written. Reading them as current works, not antiquities.

I found this line from "Arthur."

When Arthur discovers Gawain dead, he says he is: “face down in the field, fists full of grass.”

Is that not modern because it is 650 years old?

1 comment:

dave trott said...

It's a nice distinction, between 'modern' and 'contemporary' George.
In painting, Modern Art is reckoned to have started with Picasso's Les Demoiselle d'Avignon in 1907.
In philosophy, the period called Modern starts with Descartes, around 1640.
As you point out, when people speak of modern, they generally mean contemporary.
For me, this was nicely summed up by Homer Simpson "Post Modern. You know: weird for weird's sake."