Clashing giants

Adrian Ghenie, Impossible Body 4 (2002)

It is surely much more desirable as a reader to tackle a short book. It is surely equally desirable, if not even more so, for a writer to pen a short, rather than a long, book.

It feels more natural, more genuine, less contrived. There is something in the pithiness of an epigram which one can’t find in a Bildungsroman, a kind of lifesize quality which is hard not to admire.

And, let’s face it, a proverb has a higher surviving index than War and Peace, though the latter is not doing bad at all at the moment.

But however short, sharp and sexy a text might be, it is unlikely, on its own merit, to generate a boost in culture that would create something new. For that, we need an architectural structure, a Homer, a Dante, a Shakespeare. A Plato, a Kant or a Heidegger.

The epigrammatic style has the highest velocity, but its impact is limited. That’s where size comes in.

For the most influential writers, and by influential I don’t mean merely canonical, are those whose works are not only weighty, but that have generated a huge amount of criticism and engagement.

The cultural giants have the merit that they can be read on their own, but they are read better in context, that is studied and confronted with other texts, other authors. For often the clash of giants gives rise to those sparks in whose fire culture is enriched and ideas developed.

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