I. The horrible hours

As modernism sinks in, or fades out—as it recedes into a kind of latter-day archaism, Cubism turned antiquated, the old literary avant-garde looking convincingly moth-eaten—certain writers become easier to live with. It is not only that they seem more accessible, less impenetrable, simpler to engage with, after decades of familiarity: the quality of mystery has (mysteriously) been drained out of them. Joyce, Proust, Woolf, surely Pound and Eliot—from all of these, and from others as well, the veil draws back. One might almost say, as the twentieth century shuts down, that they are objectively less “modern” than they once were. Their techniques have been absorbed for generations. Their idiosyncrasies may not pall, but neither do they startle. Their pleasures and their stings, while far from humdrum, nevertheless open out into psychological references that are largely...

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