Thursday, 13 October 2016

Not Looking on the Bright Side

At Anecdotal Evidence on Monday, Patrick Kurp suggested that a hatred of  beauty has become the defining quality of our time. I  don't know about a hatred of beauty but I have certainly noticed an inability to create beauty in the contemporary western world. It is a worrying development. Without realising it, at some point we seem to have agreed that, in exchange for receiving the keys to technological progress, we would renounce our skills and cease our labours in the most truly remarkable realm of human activity - the creation of beauty.

We could not, even if we wanted to, build anything as intricate and rich with human ingenuity and skill as a medieval cathedral now. We can no longer paint or sculpt as we once could, (do not get me started on contemporary figurative sculpture - each time I go to London and have to pass that thing [which I think is supposed to be a pair of lovers parting] that towers above Eurostar passengers arriving at King's Cross station, I shudder at its awfulness).

We cannot compose truly beautiful music any more. Our novels almost invariably run out of steam thirty pages before they end, if they ever get going in the first place. Our plays - well, can you name a play of lasting value written in the last ten years?

I'm not as familiar with the field of poetry, so perhaps in that arena there is hope - oh yes, there's Les Murray. Poor man, must he be left with the task of creating beauty all by himself in Bunyah? No, there are others. Mark Doty, John Burnside.

I'm sure there are manymore . But still - how can poets alone keep the whole thing going. And besides, can a civilisation that has all but lost the ability to create beauty still call itself a civilisation?

Are we finished? Sometimes I think we are.


  1. When it comes to architecture and art, I agree, but I think our perception of literature is distorted by the fact that we generally see the best of the past. Working with secondhand books was a revelation for me: so many third rate novels and penny dreadfuls that in their day, outsold the works we now venerate. For every Ford Madox Ford, there were many Ethel M Dells.

    1. Hmm, hmm. I agree that a lot of books are valued that aren't really very good. But are there some really, really, really good writers around at the moment? Yes, maybe there are, and maybe you are right. Thank you for cheering me up. I'd be v interested, by the way, to learn, who you rate highly among contemporary writers - perhaps a post on your new an eagerly awaited blog (no pressure, hem hem)?