Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Book Review
Classic, Romantic & Modern
by Jacques Barzun
p. 1961
Little, Brown & Company

    Jacques Barzun is a prolific academic/writer- still alive!  He taught at Columbia History and is credited by Wikipedia with being a founder of the discipline of Cultural History.  Classic, Romantic & Modern is his circa 1960s take on the three major styles of artistic production in the last three hundred years: Classic, Romantic & Modern.  Alas, this book was written before Post-Modernism emerged as a stand-alone art style, but my sense is that Post-Modernism bummed Barzun out.

   The main point of Classic, Romantic & Modern is to attack the 20th century critics of Romanticism, and, at the same time, to point out that those same critics don't know what the fuck they are talking about.  As illustration, he provides a 20 page chapter simply quoting different usages of the term "Romantic" to mean a myriad of different and sometime diametrically opposed qualities.

   The gravemen of Classic, Romantic & Modern is to point out that Classicism and Romnaticism extend in time and space to encompass different values, but that their heart, Romantics are motivated by energy to expand definitions, explode conventions and break existing rules.  On the other hand, Classicism represents the opposite trend: To create and obey laws and rules, and cabin expectations.

  In this way Barzun seeks to limit criticism of the Romantics to their actual, and not imagined traits.  Ironically, writing in 1961 he wrote too soon to see the Beat era revival, so his section on Modernism represents a criticism of the same late 50s/early 60s millieu that caused more radical critics to proclaim the death of Art.  Barzun echoes that criticism: That mass production and the extension of high art to middle brow and low brow markets entails the death of that Art, but his heart doesn't seem to be in it, so to speak.

  Perhaps that because Barzun, with his fondness for detective fiction, had a weakness for middlebrow and low brow- certainly you would expect that from a founder of the cultural history discipline.

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