Roger Scruton has an interesting article that articulates with remarkable precision the frustration I have been feeling with many contemporary forms of artistic expression. Namely, that they seem more interested in cramming as much shock, depravity and hopelessness into a piece than in seeking to uplift or even to explore reality. What is considered “good art” by many in academia seems to be synonymous with “stuff that makes most people squeamish”. In terms of poetry, it’s hard to find any sense of transcendent beauty in poetic works written after the 1980′s. This is not only because of the abandonment of lyricism in favour of a sort of deconstructionist celebration of the futility of language, but also because the poetic art has become either a kind of narcissistic echo-chamber in which the voice of the self bounces back and forth without moving in any direction, or a death circus in which the imagination moves from one destructive desire to the next, from darkness to darkness.
That isn’t to say that all avant-garde experimentation is essentially a wasteland. There was a period in the early twentieth century when, particularly in Hispanic Poetry, the innovations of the poetic art enhanced rather than dampened the experience of beauty. Modernismo, with its celebration of the richness of wrought and created form was a movement where beauty was distilled into a pure, heady spirit. The Vanguardia of the 1930′s and 1940′s, achieved a kind of atomic fission of beauty and form, cleaving it open in bursts of maddening light. This is what I love about Latin American poetry, it fiercely clung to beauty even as after the 1950′s the region itself was saturated in ugliness, in bloody dictatorships, torture and desecrated bodies. It seems, though, that what torturing Generals couldn’t accomplish, however, postmodern consumer culture has done. Latin American poetry has been moving in the same direction as its European and American counterparts, divesting itself of beauty and gathering desecration, both in language (by rupturing word and meaning) and the humanity it depicts.