Nothing left but sex and ennui

Great quotation and embedded quotations from novelist Andrew Klavan, as part of his review of the founder-of-Scientology movie The Master:

There’s a reason modernism collapsed into the ruinous and stupid-making morass of post-modernism. Ultimately, modernist reality was smaller and seedier than human life as it is lived. As the novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici points out in critiquing one modernist novel, “describing the smell of sweat and semen during the act of sex no more anchors the novel to ‘reality’ than writing about stars in the eyes of the beloved.”

Myself, I attribute the unrealistic smallness of modernism to its secular nature. Without God, as Tolstoy explained, there’s nothing left to write about but sex and ennui.

via PJ Lifestyle » Why The Master Is No Master-Piece.

What a stunning insight from Tolstoy!   That was back in the 19th century, but he predicted the major subject matter of 20th and 21st century literary art.  I would just add that one can also write about–or make movies about or make music about–attempts to mask the ennui, the boredom, with sensationalistic distractions.  Thus, the explosions, car chases, murders, gore, escapism, and psychological fantasies that make up much of our pop culture.  (Not that there isn’t much of value and even greatness in 20th and 21st century literature–I am by no means dismissing or even criticizing it–but there sure is a lot of sex and ennui.)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • reg

    Love the alleged Tolstoy quote, but can’t seem to find any other references to it on the web, Wonder if he really said it.

  • reg

    Love the alleged Tolstoy quote, but can’t seem to find any other references to it on the web, Wonder if he really said it.

  • Tom Hering

    Tolstoy, What Is Art?, Chapter IX:

    … the lack of belief of the upper classes of Europe has left them with an art fed on the poorest subject-matter … the feeling of pride, the feeling of sexual desire, and the feeling of weariness of life. These three feelings, with their off-shoots, form almost the only subject-matter of the art of the rich classes.

  • Tom Hering

    Tolstoy, What Is Art?, Chapter IX:

    … the lack of belief of the upper classes of Europe has left them with an art fed on the poorest subject-matter … the feeling of pride, the feeling of sexual desire, and the feeling of weariness of life. These three feelings, with their off-shoots, form almost the only subject-matter of the art of the rich classes.

  • Tom Hering

    Oops. Not chapter nine of What Is Art? but chapter nine of Aylmer Maude’s Tolstoy On Art which quotes What Is Art?.

  • Tom Hering

    Oops. Not chapter nine of What Is Art? but chapter nine of Aylmer Maude’s Tolstoy On Art which quotes What Is Art?.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    Yes, great Tolstoy quote.
    Regrettably, Tolstoy’s theology left a lot to be desired.
    His literature, however is sublime.
    Does that disprove the theory that great literature is rooted in great theology?

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    Yes, great Tolstoy quote.
    Regrettably, Tolstoy’s theology left a lot to be desired.
    His literature, however is sublime.
    Does that disprove the theory that great literature is rooted in great theology?

  • Tom Hering

    Pr Mark, Tolstoy’s argument wasn’t that great art springs from great (or true) theology, but rather that it springs from (and communicates) common/universal feelings, like religious belief.

  • Tom Hering

    Pr Mark, Tolstoy’s argument wasn’t that great art springs from great (or true) theology, but rather that it springs from (and communicates) common/universal feelings, like religious belief.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD
  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD
  • Julian

    I’m somewhat torn by his quote.
    I adore Tolstoy, but I also loves me some sex and ennui.

  • Julian

    I’m somewhat torn by his quote.
    I adore Tolstoy, but I also loves me some sex and ennui.

  • kerner

    Julian:

    OK, I concede your point on sex, but what is the attraction to ennui?

  • kerner

    Julian:

    OK, I concede your point on sex, but what is the attraction to ennui?

  • Tom Hering

    Misery loves literary company? ;-)

  • Tom Hering

    Misery loves literary company? ;-)

  • Julian

    I’m a Gen X’er; we’re required to love ennui.

  • Julian

    I’m a Gen X’er; we’re required to love ennui.


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