Friday, January 25, 2008

Tough Subject

Intrigued by the relatively young age of modernism, I decided to delve into some classic 19th century fiction. Beginning with the industrial revolution and then with mechanical reproduction clinching the deal, the modernity that I am aware of is maybe 150 years old, give or take a couple decades. Coincidentally, I recently discovered a genre of music I'm interested in is called 'Modern Classical'. The piano is to music what oil paint is to visual art. What finally turned my awareness of this fact into a curiosity came about when reading Jeremy Gilbert Rolfe. In Beyond Piety he traced the color black as the stardard in fashionable attire to the urbane 19th century, when the soot from coal burning dirtied everything in the outdoors. If your clothes were black it would disguise the layer of soot you carried around. So this is one reason I am reading "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens, which is set in England around 1840. I wanted to get a different perspective of modernism, or maybe I just wanted to read a good book. I expected to trudge through purple victorian language and deal with drastic disparities of class. But I did not expect to deal with lawyers in an endless dispute over a will. Thus, the new perspective. Dickens' view of modernism sites relational formalities as a prominent characteristic. The formalities of law in a courtroom, the formalities of speaking to royalty or anyone in a caste/class differing from yourself. Like the time the Japanese principal of Masuho Junior High would not speak to me until I took my hands out of my pockets. Strict structure within interpersonal relationships. The importance of this aspect escaped me, until Mr. Dickens showed me how oppressive the caste system is to the homeless as well as her royal highness. Depressed because you are Jo, the homeless child who somehow earned the nickname Tough Subject, or depressed because you can't disgrace your family name and legacy or acknowledge your illegitimate daughter. Extreme cases, but perhaps the flowery and rigid social guidelines in London, 1840 have been transformed into bureaucratic red tape, order forms, billing departments, online security measures, and what was the name of your first pet? The tedious social norms in drastic 19th century hierarchy are now the delicacies of social networking, mass communication on a grand scale. Not to say that today's class disparities are any better, just expanded and global. BCC me on all emails, BTW. . . . but anyway, what do I know, I still have 153 pages to read.

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