This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by [Charlie] Parker, Pound, or Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor endure. It will divert as long as we are prepared to be mystified or outraged, but maintains its hold only by being more mystifying or more outrageous: it has no lasting power. Hence the compulsion of every modernist to wade deeper and deeper into violence and obscenity.
I haven’t really read Pound, and I’m not musically knowledgable enough to get into the weeds on the history of Jazz. But Picasso seems to be the poster child for people who don’t “like” modern art, so it’s worth pointing out that it’s possible not to like Picasso and still to love Matisse, or Bonnard, or Mondrian, or Rothko, or Kandinsky or Klimt or Calder or Moore or . . . I mean, this starts to get silly after a while. I defy you to demonstrate that any of these artists waded “deeper and deeper into violence and obscenity.” I mean, seriously.
The point being, the notion that there were no modernists who were interested in providing either enjoyment or some kind of sublime experience (I’m assuming that’s what “endure” is aiming for – otherwise we’ve got to throw out all the art, from the Oresteia on down, that might in any way make us uncomfortable) is utterly ignorant. There were plenty of modernists who aimed precisely to produce something beautiful, or something aesthetically powerful. They may have experimented to change what we thought of as beautiful, or they may have experimented to understand better what makes something aesthetically powerful, but aren’t those precisely what a living artistic culture is supposed to do?
The funny thing, of course, is that modernism is, depending on how you look at it, 100 to 150 years old already. Contemporary artists, whether writers or painters or what-have-you, passed decades ago into a post-modern moment, within which “modernism” is just an aesthetic toolkit, to be drawn upon or not as desired. Tilting against modernism in this day and age makes about as much sense as railing against the tyranny of the Lincoln Administration, or advocating a Jacobite restoration.
Oh, wait . . .