Camille Paglia, Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. (New York: Pantheon Books.) I read this aloud to my husband on our drive to my mother's house in western North Carolina in October and finished it up on the way back to our home in upstate New York. Some of her speculations are of the very sheerest, but it's a great read-aloud if you love art and don't care for the sterility and jargon of much arts criticism. Enthusiasm and respect for spiritual search inform the book. With the early works, the miracle of survival of ancient art and the admiration for the distinctive styles and crafts of shaping wielded by ancient, anonymous people are on Paglia's mind. And if you feel at all uncertain about the history of Modernism, she'll help you out in understanding how one sub-movement reacted to another. (And I must say that she managed to make me see Mondrian in an surprising new way--I had no real sense of what Mondrian thought that he was doing and found him surprisingly symbolic in his mode of conceiving and carrying out paintings.) I like and agree with her ideas of Warhol (or Mapplethorpe) as the dead-end of the avant garde, and I think those ideas translate well to what happened with poetry in the twentieth century, particularly when you look at how both painters pursuing realism and narrative and poets pursuing formal variety (including some ancient forms) and a widened subject matter are slowly gaining ground. Paglia insists (mightily!) on formulating her own thoughts without a whit of care for the winds and trends of culture in an era when academics tend to march together.
C. Day Lewis. The Poetic Image. 1946 Clark Lectures, Cambridge University. Still pertinent and well worth reading. Essays/lectures from someone who understands literary history and the Modernist place in it for good and for ill. "The Lyric Impulse" is a wonderful introductory piece. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book, which is governed by the idea that human beings naturally seek to create and find harmony and orderliness in a world that is ever in flux, ever more various than we can compass. Highly recommended for those interested in song, ballad, and shapely poems.
Here is the close of this post, written a day after Sayfullo Saipov, the man whose name means "Sword of Allah," mowed down bicyclists in Manhattan: "After hearing another New York round of generic responses and platitudes following the latest terrorist attack, I think we all need to send our politicians a well-written book or two. And maybe that should include a novel or two so they can begin to understand that not every human being thinks alike." But now that closing is already out of date, as we go on to the next massacre, alas.
And hey--it snowed. First flakes of the season. Pretty late, but I still resent it on principle. Southern principle.