Sunday, July 18, 2010

Danger in the Past

“When a word like dangerous is applied to ideas, language or art, it immediately signals a desire to return to the past. It means that the speaker is fearful … the speaker fears all innovation, which he denounces on each occasion as ‘empty’ (in general that is all that can be found to be said about what is new). However this traditional fear is complicated today by the contrary fear of appearing anachronistic; suspicion towards the new is combined with a few nods in the direction of ‘the call of the present’ or the necessity to ‘rethink the problems of criticism’; ‘the vain return to the past’ is dismissed with a fine oratorical gesture. Regressiveness appears shameful today, just like capitalism. Whence come remarkable jerks and abrupt halts: there is a pretence for a while of accepting modern works, which one ought to discuss since they are being discussed; then, suddenly, a sort of limit having been reached, people proceed to a joint execution. These trials, set up periodically by closed groups, are thus in no way extraordinary; they happen at the end of certain disturbances of equilibrium. But why, today, Criticism?”

— Roland Barthes, Criticism & Truth, trans. Katrine Pilcher Keuneman, 32-33