Wednesday 20 June 2012

Obscurity in literary modernism


I bought (at a bargain price!) a copy of Charles William's play Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury (1936) and have been reading it - or rather, trying to read it because I have no idea what is going on...

Deliberate obscurity entered literature with the 'modernist' movement - and of course has been rampant in the highbrow arts for about a century.

What I object to is when people are not trying to be comprehensible: I accept fully that this is not the priority (beauty is the priority - yet of course much modern art and literature is a) not trying to be beautiful, b) subverting beatury and c) creating ugliness... another story) - but art, poetry, literature, music wthout comprehension is a limited thing. Humanity cannot, should not, take much of it.


What motivates poets, artists, musicians to be incomprehensible? - well, let's say it is not a Good motivation. Comprehensibility is not Good, but incomprehesibility is indeed not-Good.

Although there may be reasons for it.

This blog, for example, is encoded - necessarily so, or it could not be published at all. Yet that is a bad thing about it, certainly it is bad.


Anyway, Williams often cites Cranmer's words: Cranmer was maker of The Book of Common Prayer which for several hundred years was used by all the Anglican communion.

Cranmer is one of the greatest of poets, though his work is woven among the words from the Authorized (King James) Bible: he is as comprehensible as may be in unity with beauty and truth.

Perhaps we are not all aware of his work?

Here is the BCP Sanctus:

Priest.  Lift up your hearts.

Answer.  We lift them up unto the Lord.

Priest.  Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.

Answer.  It is meet and right so to do.

Priest.  It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God.

Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying:

All.  Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord most High. Amen.


It is my inestimable privilege to hear and speak these words on a weekly basis during Holy Communion.


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