Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The moderns

Tolstoi in 1868

A modern is someone who does not distinguish the past, the present and the future. It seems silly to say this, yet it is true. What interests a modern
in the past is the present; what interests him in the present is the future; and even, what interests him in the future is the present. This is why a modern has no chance of being understood or taken seriously. But he doesn't care, his public are the angels, some crazies of his time too, but mostly the angels.

A modern has nothing in common with a contemporary; he is quite incidentally contemporary. He borrows from his epoch, whereas a contemporary is borrowed by his epoch. A modern could be from any place at any period. Everyone has got that wrong. The contemporary cannot last: he is current news, burned by the moment, greased on the summer sand, the buzz of the town back from the beaches. In fact, a modern always gets on the wrong side of a contemporary, even if unwittingly, not surprisingly.

There are a few exceptions, like Frédéric Dard, who was clever enough to disguise himself as a yokel, made up as a jester. Dard was a mystic. Other than that, who are the moderns in literature for example? Artaud, Céline, Nietzsche, Bloy, Tolstoï, Dostoïevski, Shakespeare, maybe Cioran, there will be a handful in a few centuries. Sartre, Freud, Kant, Marx, for example, in two centuries we will come across them by mistake, and we will take them for the popular stand-up comedian of the moment, and vice versa.


  1. Might we include Emerson and Dickens in the list of
    moderns? It is hard to imagine that Freud, Sartre,
    Kant, and Marx will not be considered as moderns also
    a few centuries hence.

  2. Hello good Count!

    I'm sure that list was incomplete. I do think Dickens fits the bill. Haven't read Emerson.

    As for the 4 mouse cateers above, their ideologies will not stand the test of time. Ideologies are not intemporal, that's the way I understand it :)

  3. I agree. Ideologies are not intemporal. I'm sure Genghis Kahn, Tamerlane and others like them down thru history had their ideologies which are now lost in the mists of history. You must read Emerson. My best. Count Sneaky

  4. Dear Count,
    I will keep Emerson in mind. Thank you. Harv