From the archive
Take “Dixieland” jazz. Armstrong’s Hot 5 and Hot 7 sessions are perfectly listenable today. They still sound fresh and new. But any attempt to play in this style, by anyone after about 1940 who wasn’t part of the music in its day, is absolutely vile, in all cases, a priori and forever, categorically, amen.
While I don’t appreciate the hard bop of the “young lions,” I think it is still a legitimate style. Hard bop still doesn’t sound dated even today. Diana Krall, though she is not all that good in comparison with Ella, Sarah, Nancy, Dinah, etc… , can still be listenable at times, but the same problem of datedness applies. It’s not simply a matter of not being as good: there is a fundamental wrongness to the return to an ossified style.
Why can’t you write like Keats today? It is obvious that you can’t. It simply can’t be done. The results would be vile pastiche. Yet you can still read Keats fine… Why is Campion’s Latin verse, undoubtedly, lacking in aesthetic interest. It is the relation to the language itself that changes. Imagine an adept forger of Picasso, in 2030. If we like Picasso, wouldn’t it make sense to train people to make new cubist paintings, in that exact style? But almost everyone would agree that there is not point to that. Anything interesting that might come out of trying to paint like Picasso at a much later date would be in its radical difference from Picasso. This shows that what makes modern art valuable is its relation to its own time, its radical contemporaneity. And this applies to “modern” arts of the past two. Horace was his own contemporary. He is still a modern, so to present him in “modern dress,” to contemporanize him, is fundamentally misguided. There is no “past,” there are only other times that used to be the present.
What defines an epoch? What makes the past the past? What is “pastness”? Is it the sense of irrecuperability? Alienness? Datedness? It is us who define the past as such. In other words, the past is deictic.