“A style, when it is no longer the natural mode of expression, gains a new life—a shadowy life-in-death—as a prolongation of the past. We imagine ourselves able to revive the past through its art, to perpetuate it by continuing to work within its conventions. For this illusion of reliving history, the style must be prevented from becoming truly alive once again. The conventions must remain conventional, the forms lose their original significance in order to take on their new responsibility of evoking the past. This process of ossification is a guarantee of respectability.”
—Charles Rosen, The Classical Style
This gets me thinking not only about my own relationship to the cartoon-Beatles version of the ‘60s I grew up with, but the “shadowy life-in-death” the 1910-1939 generation still lives through our best poetry. That one floated on a bubble, the other on a bust, makes me wonder what the Dow has in store for 21st-century poetics. While we wait, maybe we can re-jigger our attitudes toward “The conventions.” Irony is the first step toward the realization that a “natural mode of expression” is most natural when it recognizes it’s also conventional. Is it the last? At what point is the difference between the Beatles and the Monkees no longer worth a snicker? When does the set become simply the world, by dint of us living in it?
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