IN THE jargon of our time, the word “relevant” has taken on a polemical connotation. In the cultural hagglings between those who idolize the present and themselves in it and those whose egos are coerced by tradition into modesty, relevance is almost always the line on which the battle is fixed. The relevantists indeed believe that art is long, life short, and accommodation between the two often not worth the trouble unless some vivid parallel or analogy can be struck between their own notion of the contemporary world and the art that preceded it. This doctrine may at first seem excessively self-centered, but it is really in principle harmless. If the mind expounding it is generous, then, in spite of itself, very little of past thought and passion will be alien to it. It is only when one hears of Dante’s failing to meet the standards set by post-pubescent identity crises or of Plato’s induction into the Third-World movement, that the relevantist doctrine seems absurdly narrow.
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