Quotes By The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts

“What? We feel aesthetic pleasure at a sonata by Beethoven and not at one with the same style and charm if it comes from one of our own contemporaries? Isn't that the height of hypocrisy? So then the sensation of beauty is not spontaneous, spurred by our sensibility, but instead is cerebral, conditioned by our knowing a date?
No way around it: historical consciousness is so thoroughly inherent in our perception of art that this anachronism (a Beethoven piece written today) would be spontaneously (that is, without the least hypocrisy) felt to be ridiculous, false, incongruous, even monstrous. Our feeling for continuity is so strong that it enters into the perception of any work of art.”


“Epic art is founded on action, and the model of a society in which action could play out in greatest freedom was that of the heroic Greek period; so said Hegel, and he demonstrated it with The Iliad: even though Agamemnon was the prime king, other kings and princes chose freely to join him and, like Achilles, they were free to withdraw from the battle. Similarly the people joined with their princes of their own free will; there was no law that could force them; behavior was determined only by personal motives, the sense of honor, respect, humility before a more powerful figure, fascination with a hero's courage, and so on. The freedom to participate in the struggle and the freedom to desert it guaranteed every man his independence. In this way did action retain a personal quality and thus its poetic form.

Against this archaic world, the cradle of the epic, Hegel contrasts the society of his own period: organized into the state, equipped with a constitution, laws, a justice system, an omnipotent administration, ministries, a police force, and so on. The society imposes its moral principles on the individual, whose behavior is thus determined by far more anonymous wishes coming from the outside than by his own personality. And it is in such a world that the novel was born.”


“The sense of modernism is often seen in the determination of each of the arts to come as close as possible to its own particular nature, its essence. For instance, lyric poetry rejected anything rhetorical, didactic, embellishing, so as to set flowing the pure fount of poetic fantasy. Painting renounced its documentary, mimetic function, whatever might be expressed by some other medium (for instance, photography). And the novel? It too refuses to exist as illustration of a historical era, as description of society, as defense of an ideology, and instead puts itself exclusively at the service of “what only the novel can say.”


“Having had occasion in the past to observe Communist statesmen, I saw with surprise that they were often extremely critical of the reality ensuing from actions of theirs that they saw turn before their eyes into an uncontrollable chain of consequences. If they were really so clear-sighted, you will say, why did they not just quit? Was it out of opportunism? Love of power? Out of fear? Perhaps. But it cannot be ruled out that at least some of them were guided by a sense of responsibility for an act they had helped to set loose in the world and for which they did not want to deny paternity, still cherishing the hope that they would manage to correct it, modify it, give it back meaning. The clearer it became that the hope was illusory, the more clearly emerged the tragedy of their lives.”