A Glamorously Hopeless Cause

"Concepts, too, have feelings," Carter Ratcliff says in his afterword to "Arrivederci, Modernismo."

"I am not saying that a concept -- 'number,' for example, or 'constitutionality' -- is literally capable of emotions. What I mean is that there is an emotional tone to the understanding of such things."

An art critic, a writer who specializes in the analysis of mute artworks, who intuits the messages and emotional tenor of physical objects -- perhaps such a writer is more comfortable talking about "emotions" in this broad way. But by 1974, when the poem first appeared, Her Majesty Modernismo had already been deposed by poets who said "I wanted to be more myself," including James Merrill, who went from writing poems such as "The Black Swan" to writing more personal, personable, poems that explored -- among many other things, of course -- his immediate family. I could never really understand this historic shift.
Carter betrays the fact that he never really said goodbye to Modernism; about poetry as dramatic monologue he says: "the point of a poem is not to present evidence about the poet or anything else. Poetry is not forensic. ... A poem puts meaning up for grabs, permanently." And as poets like Merrill and James Schuyler and Robert Lowell, et al., got chattier, it was they who said goodbye to Modernismo. Or put it up for grabs, permanently. I am sitting on this fence, wondering.
There is this lovely essay "Mozart and the Music of Intrigue" on the website of Caffeine Destiny. Its author writes:

"The same nineteenth-century prejudice which charged Mozart with being frivolous upheld an artistic ideal that was the antithesis of Mozart's. Ever since, art which aims to disclose the 'authenticity' of the self has asserted a primacy it has refused to relinquish. Linked to this was an erosion of the idea of music as pleasure, as opposed to the emerging Romantic view of music as 'expression.'
This classical taste was characterized by an indifference toward the self, and toward the need for the "improvement" of either the individual or society. As such, aristocratic mores constituted a personal and social danger: the nineteenth-century taste wished to be uplifted and edified, not beguiled or seduced."

I read this about the time I listened to this Poetry Foundation podcast contrasting poems by Stevens (pleasure) and Merrill (expression). The interviewer must speak for many when he says he prefers Merrill's poem to Stevens's. So I wonder if the shift from classical to romantic in music is comparable to what happened here between Stevens's poem from 1950's and Merrill's poem from the 1990's, or between the earliest Stevens and the latest Merrill.

"Why am I so often drawn to glamorously hopeless causes?" Ratcliff remarks, tongue in cheek. I double-starred it. There are stars in my copy on every page. Modernismo lives to dazzle.