Friday 11 February 2022

Loopy Logic: Extraordinarily Forward-Looking for its Time


Whig history... is an approach to historiography that presents history as a journey from a dark and terrible past to a "glorious present". The present described is generally one with modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy: the term was coined to criticise grand narratives praising Britain's adoption of constitutional monarchy and the historical development of the Westminster system. The term has also been applied widely in historical disciplines outside of British history (e.g. in the history of science) to describe "any subjection of history to what is essentially a teleological view of the historical process". (Wikipedia)

What I think of as the American, or Ford car, view of literature, which holds that every new poem somehow incorporates all poems that have gone before it and takes them a step further.
 Philip Larkin

See the whole of Philip Larkin’s intro to his collected music criticism, All That Jazz. He points out that jazz grew out of dance bands, which played popular songs with tunes for people to dance to. This is the kind of jazz he loves. But after the war “Something fundamentally awful had taken place to ensure that there should be no more tunes... There was something about the books I was now reading that seemed oddly familiar. This development, this progress, this new language that was more difficult, more complex, that required you to work hard at appreciating it, that you couldn’t expect to understand first go, that needed technical and professional knowledge to evaluate it at all levels, this revolutionary explosion that spoke for our time while at the same time being traditional in the fullest, the deepest... Of course! This was the language of criticism of modern painting, modern poetry, modern music.... And so they soldier on at their impossible task, as if trying to persuade us that a cold bath is in some metaphysical way the same as a hot bath, instead of its exact opposite (‘But don’t you see the evolutionary development?’)

Beethoven anticipated Wagner who anticipated Schoenberg – as Radio 3 used to tell us practically every day in the 70s. But time's arrow only goes one way: the future can not influence the past.

The music station also avoided Mahler, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev because they were still writing romantic music in the 20th century. Didn’t they know they should have stopped in 1900?

Another 70s trope: Turner, Constable, Velasquez, Bonington, Boudin etc are good because they are Impressionists avant le lettre.

All noir films made before the “official first noir” (I can never remember the title or date) are not noir but proto-noir. There’s a logical flaw here that I can’t quite put my finger on... 

An early example of the mystery genre is not worth bothering about because it did not contain the seeds of progress towards what the genre became, reaching its peak in... 

Painted in loose bravura sweeps like the modernism Goya presages. (Laura Cumming, Observer 2015. Goya came first; the modernists learned from him.)

This gold-colored silk afternoon dress with its green bows and ruffles that help to emphasize the back of the silhouette was on trend in 1866, but its coordinating trompe l’oeil jacket was very fashion-forward. (@FITfashionstory)

Privileged to value a private collection of Francis Towne's work this evening. After his death in 1816, he sank into obscurity, now his compositions are highly regarded and sought after. 'Ambleside,' (1786) is a great example of his very flat, economical, ‘modern’ style. (@ahistoryinart)

This is the Reynolds self-portrait we filmed. I absolutely love this painting, so modern! IMO one of the best self-portraits in British art history. (@arthistorynews)

Villa Cavrois in Croix, between Lille and Roubaix. Designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens and built in 1929-32: way ahead of its time.  (@Birmingham_81)

These weirdly modern touches have aged superbly in the 124 years since A.J. Raffles first strode out onto the Lord’s pitch to dispatch some uppity bowler and save the day, before crying off sick and robbing the man’s hotel room. (

In many ways well ahead of its time, and distinctly modern, Iain Finlayson in The Times writes of Julian Maclaren-Ross’s journalistic “genius”, a view this collection triumphantly confirms.( It is Maclaren-Ross's genius that is "well ahead of its time", not Iain Finlayson.) 

In a Lonely Place is based on a 1947 novel by Dorothy B. Hughes that, in a way, foreshadows a later novel by another female writer: Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 opus Strangers on a Train. (

The poetry of Rimbaud anticipated the Surrealist movement by half a century. (Radio 3, 2021. The Surrealists were very derivative.)

The novel deals with casual sex, brothels, difficult relationships and a whole host of modern themes. (Amazon on Julian Symons’ The 31st of February. It is also a “psychological thriller” ahead of its time.)

Hieronymus Bosch is so now! (Bosch is part of a long tradition stretching from the Romans through the Middle Ages – see sculpture, manuscripts, wall paintings and endless depictions of hybrid/imaginary creatures and grotesques.)

It presents the artist as a cultural magpie possessed of some remarkably modern sensibilities. (Kathryn Hughes on Hogarth, paraphrase.)

Little survives from WilliamWalton's juvenilia, but the choral anthem A Litany, written when he was 15, anticipates his mature style. (Wikipedia)

A film that despite being made in 1944 avoids stereotyping British Characters. ( Gosh, well done poor benighted people of 1944!)

Edison's cast-in-place concrete houses were a massive failure, but way ahead of their time. (@atlasobscura)

This 4,600 year old Egyptian statue made primarily from wood has eyes made from rock crystal and small copper plates. It’s one example of the remarkable level of craftsmanship and realism achieved even in 2600 BC. (@ArtifactsHub) 

Art appeared: art so sophisticated, it proves that the cognitive faculties we value so highly today were fully evolved tens of thousands of years ago (the works here were made between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago). Only a modern human mind, the argument goes, could create a masterpiece like the Zaraysk bison. (Jonathan Jones on the British Museum's Ice Age Art show. It was even subtitled "The Arrival of the Modern Mind".)

It is either reassuring or disturbing or both to recognise many of the dynamics observable in today’s Twitter wars described with such vivid clarity in 1976. (Ian Leslie, substack)

It’s astounding this masterpiece of a book was written in 1934 because even now I can think of only one other book of biographical literature that is so strikingly ground-breaking, so thrillingly compelling in its method of composition. (Amazon reviewer on The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons. Symons invented the “biography as detective story” genre.)

The Petite Messe Solonelle is my favorite Rossini, especially in its original version with just keyboards. It's not only beautiful, and incredibly forward-looking for its time... it's also FUN. (@IAmAPyriteKing)

The Lloyds building – very forward looking for its time. I used to work with people in the insurance industry, they always reckoned it was a ‘cursed building’. (@proctorstudio)

The 1996 Volvo: a Swedish gem. The design is considerably modern for its time and you wouldn't expect it is a 1996 model. More like an early 2000. (@syxq__)

Yuma Territorial Prison during its operation from 1876 to 1909 with 3,069 prisoners incarcerated here. It's often described as a hell hole but the pen was modern for its time with electricity, ventilation and plumbing – 2 bathtubs and 3 showers. There was also a prison band. (@onroadaz)

Pre-Hispanic divorce in the Philippines was pretty modern for its time. (@Nico_Tingson) 

Headline: The Philippine precolonial culture was feminist.

While Philippine lore is undoubtedly rich, what stands out is how it seems to be ahead of its time. (@gmanews)

North by Northwest is a fashion feast. So many fabulous dresses, coats and bags. The cinematography is glorious. Score feels modern for its time. (@nwfoodette The score is by Bernard Herrmann, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.)

Franz Schreker’s music is harmonically and texturally ambitious, employing a huge cast, chorus, and orchestra, and a harmonic language, which, while still tonal, is forward-looking for its time. ( on Franz Schreker’s Der Ferne Klang)

In a straight novel, Giant's Bread, Agatha Christie wrote about a composer who wanted to remake music as pure sound – in 1930. Did Christie anticipate musique concrète? “In 1928 music critic André Cœuroy wrote in his book Panorama of Contemporary Music that "perhaps the time is not far off when a composer will be able to represent through recording, music specifically composed for the gramophone... In an essay entitled "Radio", published in 1936 ... Rudolf Arnheim stated that: "The rediscovery of the musicality of sound in noise and in language, and the reunification of music, noise and language in order to obtain a unity of material: that is one of the chief artistic tasks of radio." (Wikipedia) Musique concrète (created from sounds) got going in the 1940s.

In the character’s determination to find ways of escaping the conventional racism of her upbringing this is remarkably forward-looking for its time. (Tom Hochstrasser on Joyce Grenfell’s sketch First Flight) All three of these monologues could stand alongside Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads in quality of psychological insight and authority of character, and you have to wonder in point of fact how far Bennett himself was influenced by Grenfell in his own later work in this genre.” (Tom H is quite surprised to find himself wondering if Bennett was influenced by Grenfell, rather than Grenfell being influenced by the future Bennett, and struggles to understand that Grenfell was not the cosy, limited observer he has always thought her, and that not everyone in the 50s was racist.

Forbidden Planet (1956) – actually a sci-fi classic. It was rather well-made and very forward-looking for its time, even thought it doesn't look it by today's standards; a very cerebral story based off Shakespeare's The Tempest and very much apparent inspiration for Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. (

Nietzsche is amazingly modern. To him you could trace the tendency in modern politics to analyse all human relationships in terms of their power disparities. And he is the prophet not only of academic moral relativism, but our present state of "post-truth" anarchy and moral warfare, where all consider themselves moral arbiters and responsible for discerning their own personal "truth" from the realms of "alternative facts". (Times Saturday Review, 2022. You could also say that the rot set in with Nietzsche.) 

And Amelia Bloomer and her followers really were ahead of their time – it wasn't the right moment for women in trousers. Mrs Bloomer introduced the “Bloomer costume” in the 1850s. It was the conventional dress of the day, but with a knee-length skirt, worn over baggy, ankle-length trousers. Women who wore it were mocked in the streets and in the press. One by one they “left it off”. Baggy knickerbockers for women were revived in the 1890s when women needed a safe bicycling costume, and in WWI women wore trousers and nobody blinked an eye. After WWI trousers were retained as leisure-wear and sported by Marlene Dietrich.

In 1935 William Stout invented a “mobile office” vehicle he calls the Scarab. Believed to be “too radical and modern for its time,” only nine Scarabs — what many contend is the first true “minivan”— were ever produced. (@reallyrabbit)

Perhaps we should conclude that most things were invented long before you thought they were. The internet, for example, is more than ten years old – are you listening, Nadine Dorries?

Dr Cameron gets it: The utterly extraordinary "Franciscan allegories" for the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience with St Francis deified. By the Giotto workshop around 1315, one of its finest achievements, but often sidelined because it doesn't presage renaissance "realism".  Boo.  (@DrJACameron. But the Christian church would be shocked by the idea that St Francis was "deified". St Francis received the Stigmata, and was Canonised: he was made a saint after his death.)

More twaddle in my timeline about music being 'ahead of its time'. No mate, I was there. It was there. Everyone showed up at the allotted hour. 
(Rob Chapman @rcscribbler)

This mid-20th century novel shows and accepts social and sexual mores different in many respects from those of today. It is valuable to be reminded of changing perspectives to avoid taking one's own point of view as absolute.
 (Goodreads on The Horizontal Manby Helen Eustis) 

I have always believed that in the history of art, nothing has come of nothing and that antecedence is inevitable (if only one can find it). (Brian Sewell)

X writes a novel with an ingenious premise. 20 years later, Y writes a novel with a similar premise that is widely popular and is made into a well-known film. Critics discover the X novel, but the story goes “Interesting that X anticipated the Y story 20 years ahead of its time” rather than “Hey! Y ripped off X!” 

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