Should we bother with modernism? Is it suited to our bedside table, or should it be exiled to obscurity on some distant library shelf?

While looking for something interesting to read online recently I stumbled across something boring. Namely, Robert McCrum’s Guardian piece on ‘The best boring books’: it listed big, grey bricks of supposedly anaesthetic prose. McCrum selected novels based on their ability to relieve anxiety and dull the senses, singling out two modernist novels among his favourites: James Joyce’s notorious Finnegans Wake and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I looked again. Is there something intrinsic to modernism that lends itself to these kinds of associations? Of dullness and tedium in the mind’s eye of the public?

Gabriel Josipovici asked What Ever Happened to Modernism? As part of an in-depth literary study, he charted the recent decline of modernist literature in opposition to other, more traditional forms of storytelling. But what is it about Modernism that turns so many readers away? Why are Joyce, Eliot and Kafka missing from our holiday reading lists? And if by some miracle they are on our bookshelves, why do we never pick them up? (more…)