The Revenge of the Philistines
MIDWAY through the 1970′s, it looks more and more as if the present decade is destined to become the graveyard of all those illusions and chimeras spawned in the radical culture of the 1960′s. The signs of recoil and retrenchment, hesitant and uncertain only two or three years ago, now gather momentum with dizzying speed: the noise of recantation fairly fills the air. In certain notable cases, the very protagonists of the “new sensibility” of the 60′s have suddenly reemerged-chastened, one would like to think, but perhaps only well-practiced in their reading of the opportunities-as spokesmen for the values they so recently lavished with furious contempt. When we open the pages of the New York Review of Books to find Susan Sontag energetically rebuking “the infantile leftism of the 1960′s,” we may be reasonably certain that we are in the presence of one of those geologic shifts that completely alter the ideological terrain on which we stand.
Because the visual arts have occupied the center of the cultural stage in this country since the international success of the New York School in the 1950′s, the evidence of change is perhaps a little more blatant in this realm than in others-but what is happening in the visual arts is surely emblematic of something widespread and momentous. We are witnessing the final collapse of the great myth that dominated the aspirations of high culture in the West for more than a century-the myth of avant-garde intransigence and revolt that gave to all of modernist culture its aura of moral combat-and we are seeing, at the same time, the opening skirmishes of a new contest to determine precisely what the relation of culture to power will be in the post-modernist era upon which we have now entered.
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