The art of high modernism assumes a tragic worldview: it is serious. Think DJANGO UNCHAINED and, well, any art movie. Any serious film. Any serious writer. Any real novel. Anything worth any attention in the last 100 years. Harold Bloom.
I was watching an interview with Charlie Rose and Quentin about Django (http://www.charlierose.com/view/content/12704). As I assumed, the starting point of this film, like all Quentin’s films, is Nazi Germany. Fascism. Super Serious Evil. And how we combat it with, uh, style. Not just style, but really, really super stylish style. And why not? Cinema encourages us to do this.
But we accidentally call this realism, but it isn’t realism. Cinema isn’t realistic because it is so stylized. Like Edward Hopper who is mistakenly called a realistic painter, the style means that it isn’t realistic anymore. We’ve removed things, polished things, and brought other things into focus. And what’s in focus? That’s right: the real, the serious, the mildly cynical, the oh-so-sweet brokenness of it all. I think I’m going to kill myself now. Which is to say, we assume a lot about what is real.
Like cinema, we see this in the modern novel, too, both in language and in form. I’m thinking of Woolf, Joyce, or Conrad–any modern novel. Any modern novel except PG Wodehouse, that is.
I’ve attempted to write two novels, but could not get past the seriousness of the thing. I’m in awe of how careless and fun Wodehouse makes his novels: why can’t I do the same? Why am I so goddamn serious? That’s actually what got me thinking about Django, and the misnamed realistic cinema: why is Wodehouse different? Obviously the answer is Farce, a comic worldview, and, well, not starting off with a serious grappling of Evil.
Specifically about violence: Wodehouse characters might think evil, violent thoughts or might dream of sex, but neither makes it to the page: characters tell one another to “keep it clean” and the physical violence never goes beyond the violence of slapstick.
The issue is one of genre and one of irony. A high modern writer might employ comedy, but only ironically. Wodehouse: never. Not a whiff of the stuff. He compares such realistic, ironic writing to apathy. After reading Faulkner, he said, “These Southerners!”… which I’m sure makes my point, which is the same point as the article that I read (Mooneyham, “Comedy Among the Modernists: PG Wodehouse and Anachronism of Comic Form,” Twentieth Century Literature; Spring 1994; 40, 1, ProQuest Central, 125).
Wodehouse was aware of how different his aesthetic was in comparison to his contemporary Men of Letters. He knew that one type of novel skipped along the surface like a musical comedy, and another delved stylistically into the real life of rapists, pedophiles, and Nazi Germans. He is quoted as saying this in the preface of many of his novel.
In the last years of his life, an interviewer asked him, So, seriously serious: why don’t you get sexy on us? His answer was something like, Uh, well, you know, what-what!–which is to say, he skipped right over it, just like his novels.
He wrote about serious artists at the beginning of his farce, THE SMALL BACHELOR by writing these words: “If you threw a brick from any of [the small bachelor’s] windows, you would be certain to brain some rising young … Vorticist sculptor or a writer of revolutionary vers libre. And a very good thing too” (7).
Wodehouse was content with Farce, which places him among the likes of Weird Al, who spends his days impersonating Lady Gaga (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss_BmTGv43M). Likewise, comedy assumes a different world than the high art of Modernity. Laughter and frivolity can’t be art, and so, naturally, Wodehouse is not included in the canon: he’s not a real writer, not a real artist, not serious. Just as Weird Al is not included in the canon of, uh.
Furthermore, Wodehouse didn’t even kill himself. He died smelling of old age on his hospital bed while working on his forthcoming novel. What an ass! As any true artist knows, one has to become an alcoholic, live alone in a cabin, and then blow one’s brains out with a hefty elephant gun. Now THAT’s the meaning of art.
The seriousness is pervasive in American culture: take for example Evangelicals. I was talking to the prestigious Head of Creative Writing at a Baptist University–an Evangelical acquaintance of mine–a few years ago about INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, Quentin’s penultimate. I observed that I didn’t like when, in Quentin’s film, we laugh at one human beating another human in the head with a bat. My acquaintance argued that our laughter at such a bat-beating “annihilates Nazi Germany.” Quotation. This signaled my very serious break with him as anyone I could take serious.
The point is not to annihilate Germans or to free the slaves: the point is to shock us into seriousness–because that’s what art does. Art is serious and seriousness teaches us profound lessons about the really real truth of what everything really means in a real Universe.
As my acquaintance showed me, the seriousness of high modernity and that of Evangelical culture are one and the same: sure, the priests of each camp are a little different, but the tone and message are the same whether you are in NYC or in Ohio: everything matters, everything worth its salt is serious. If not, you can spin it into something serious–i.e. what if the Resurrection happened when you were in a movie theatre, or masturbating, or both? Answer: Oh, I get it. I won’t do those things anymore: instead, I’ll be serious. I’ll investigate and analyze. I’ll find the hidden evil. I’ll purge it from my community. I’ll delve deeply into the depth of other people’s lives and come up with the deeper truth: which is, depending on which camp I’m talking about, either “You need Jesus,” or “Your life is meaninglessness.”
Anyway, I’m considering dedicating my life to farce, or at least making a New Year Resolution.