Modernism and Concealed Surfaces

  • “Profundity must be concealed. Where? On the surface.” Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), an Austrian modernist writer, is here remarking on a central modernist principle. The idea is that profound truths are no longer to be thought of as hidden or revealed (or hidden-in-order-to-be-revealed), as many religions or philosophies will have it.

For modernist writers and artists, profundity and meaning sit on the surface of a work, showing the operations of artistic style and technique, since it’s these aesthetic operations that truly express what the world and modern human life is all about.  The line quoted is from Hofmannsthal’s The Book of Friends (1922) and comes by way of an energetic review of Ben Hutchinson’s Modernism and Style, written by Robert Vilain for the TLS (Feb 22. 2013 issue, subscription required). (Originally posted March 20, 2013)

Showing and Telling

  • You can hold a mimetic theory of the novel if you believe the narrational methods of fiction to resemble those of drama, and you can hold a diegetic theory of painting if you posit visual spectacle to be analogous to linguistic transmission. Bordwell.

This remark, from David Bordwell’s Narration in the Fiction Film (Routledge 1986, page 3) is split in two–and each tweet has, coincidentally, EXACTLY the same number of characters! But that’s not why you called.

The point Bordwell makes is that the novel can be thought of as an example of showing something (it can be mimetic), as if the novelist is putting on a play, while a painting might be thought of as an example of telling (diegetic), if you think of the painting itself as the “tale” the painter is telling.

More typically, of course, we think the other way around: novels tell us something and paintings show us something. Bordwell’s  reminder alerts us to alternative perspectives for interpretation. (Originally posted December 30, 2011)