The Radical Romantic 

A manifesto

Wednesday, Aug 29 2001
Illustration by Dana Collins

What the fuck does it take to show you motherfuckers

—Dave Eggers,
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius


Irony’s a dead man’s game. The bootless rage and disappointment that’s been the hollow core of serious art is proving pointless as a peach, and is being replaced by a giant red heart, shining and satin and engulfed in lace. But don’t mistake my bloated metaphors or any subsequent rhetorical fancy for coolness, distance, callow cynicism or irony double-jeu. We who are the new romantics, the radical romantics, embrace all the art in nature and the nature in art — for we believe in everything, and especially in our feelings, which loom large and grand and improbable as whole elephants.

Related Stories

  • Petit Trois Opens

    Petit Trois, the long-awaited space next door to Trois Mec, will open tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. Owned and operated by the Trois Mec team — Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo — Petit Trois aims to offer  Bar a la Carte, described as the traditional French bar experience.  "I...
  • The Pancake Breakfast Is Coming!

    It's August in Los Angeles. Time to listen to Vin Scully on the radio (here's that Time Warner petition), dream of rain, and get tickets to our Pancake Breakfast. Plan your weekend events and juice fasts accordingly. If you haven't seen the (pink!) artwork on your neighborhood's LA Weekly newspaper box, here's a...
  • SoCal Meets Old World: Stone Brewing Co. and Green Flash Announce Plans to Brew in Europe

    This summer has been full of interesting expansion news from several California breweries, including Lagunitas in Petaluma — which recently opened a Chicago tasting room — and Sierra Nevada, which has an expansive North Carolina brewery that is already releasing product. But none of the announcements made in the last...
  • Great Affogatos

    Among the many excellent mash-ups in the food world, one of the simplest and most blissful is the affogato, the marriage of two of Italy's finest exports, espresso and gelato. The word comes from the Italian affogare, to drown, and it's a pretty accurate summation of the dish, in which...
  • Alimento Opens 2

    Alimento, the new restaurant from chef Zack Pollack, opens tonight in Silver Lake.  Pollack is best known as one part of the two-man chef team behind Sotto  the Pico Blvd. Southern Italian restaurant that serves some of the city's best Italian food. Pollack and co-chef Steve Samson opened Sotto in 2011...


Born in the middle of the parting, groping
in with two beautiful eyes on your arm

—Brenda Shaughnessy,


On June 1, 2001, Le Monde announced a new French fascination with the medieval, as providing a paradis perdu of chivalry and unity, of Nature, near and intact, of life unvulgarized, that bears no semblance to anyone’s present existence. Although Le Monde felt obliged to note that in the actual M.E. there were famine, epidemic and “la misère,” still, as “l’Europe au Xxe siècle le tragique champ clos des affrontements nationalistes” (20th-century Europe is a tragic field fenced off by nationalist clashes), the 21st century finds renewal through “‘le Moyen Age énorme et délicat’ cher aux romantiques.” Here, we’ve had Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale (He Will Rock You), and another wave of interest in Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century saint whose catchall appeal is to middle-aged papists what the protean William James is to middle-aged Protestants. The Romantics of the 19th century similarly are affined with the Middle Ages: There was greatness there amongst the meanness, a greatness made more magical by its measure of seeming innocence.

The contemporary American poet Carl Phillips said mystery is needed to preserve innocence. Innocence, it is presumed, is the prerequisite of poetry. (This sounds simple and thus suspicious, but art’s sleeveless job has always been the caulking of the known to the sloppy unknowable. Valéry thought the communicative purpose of prose led to its postcoital demise, where the very incomprehensibility of poetry kept it alive beyond intercourse: The unknowable persists at the expense of the known.) But to insist on poetic innocence these days is as old-time-religion as virgin birth. As the 19th-century Romantics lauded the chaste love of Dante for his Beatrice, we of the 21st would applaud the muddy-handed medieval romances of friendship, such as Amis and Amiloun, where leprosy is inflicted and children slain in their sleep, all in the name of all-knowing brotherly love. For though it’s a coin toss which is rarer — love unpredicated or love hideously aware — we live in a time of inescapable and awful consciousness. We know ourselves and our kind too well.


We want art that’s not impotent.


The victim of an ironic situation is typically innocent.

—Anne Carson,
Irony Is Not Enough: Essay on My Life as Catherine Deneuve
(second draft)


To wit and e.g., the forerunners of radical romanticism, the great postwar writers of Germany and its territories who still wrote in German. Ingeborg Bachmann, an Austrian teenager during the war, wrote poems under an eternal summer sun; in her country, the world was beginning to brown and there was only autumn, then winter’s deeper deaths to come. Like hell and L.A., her poems are brightly lit and writhe regularly in self-immolation. Paul Célan knew his deutsche Margareta and the ash-headed Shulamith would forever dance together, and despite himself, dared to make beauty in that dance. Later, Célan’s poetry would become increasingly incomprehensible as his language turned more and more on itself: the tongue crumbling under the weight of the “word with no meaning” (When I Don’t Know, Don’t Know). W.G. Sebald puts photos in his books of things he’d like to recall as he takes his own small retracing steps, because he knows there’s nothing like a picture of Grandpa in a black shirt to eclipse personal memory and the family scrapbook.

If modernism and postmodernism were born of the failure of war, radical romanticism is the product of sustained prosperity and the absence of befuddling conflict. We grew up dancing on home videos and currently spit Web sites like sunflower seeds; we’ve been taught our homespun genocides and tragedies and been given the gift of absolute virtual anonymity. We are the greasy assassins and the blooming corpses of quiet and unoccupied space; like God, we are everywhere always and want to be kissed. Similarly, I know I was born with blood on my hands, I accept my personal responsibility for slavery, for the plight of all aborigines, for famine and bird-headed babies, and I feel sorry and goddamned as a good German. On the other hand, I’ve suffered too, you know, life’s no bowl of Cheerios, but then again, just like a regular divinity, my sufferings are more or less deserved and my complicity largely assured. Our mystery is our guilty selves, and if we peel the faces from our skulls, what we find is feeling. Our stories lie there, just beneath the bone, bubbling between the seams, and as it turns out, they are stories that sound slick and sometimes cool but which scream what the fuck does it take to show you motherfuckers.

  • A manifesto

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • Lina in L.A. -- Tiki Oasis
    Pin-up girls, beatnik boys and tiki lovers from L.A. and beyond made a splash at San Diego's Crowne Plaza Hotel, which hosted the annual Tiki Oasis event, this year themed "Beat Tiki" with a groovy "60s beat" thrust. The wild weekender took over the grounds with colorful cocktails, non-stop pool and room parties, fashion shows, seminars, shopping and live entertainment including burlesque, bands and more.

    See also: Tiki Oasis, a Convention for Fans of Retro Tropical Kitsch
  • Lina in L.A. -- Swinghouse Studios' Farewell to Hollywood Soiree
    A rocking, raging night was had by all when Swinghouse Studios marked a big move Saturday night. The legendary Hollywood recording and rehearsal space, which has been home to big bands and wild bashes for two decades (first on Cahuenga Blvd. and then on Willoughby Ave. near Santa Monica Blvd.) will soon move to Atwater Village. Food trucks, drinks, and great live sets by Prima Donna, Dorothy, The Beta Machine and Alexa Melo highlighted the bittersweet revelry.
  • Beatlemania at the Flying Morgans' Mansion
    In honor of the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania the Flying Morgans had a Beatle prom this last Friday to celebrate Molly, Bonnie and Gary's Birthday with 400 of their closest friends. All photos by Star Foreman.